Five years after Gymnastics Australia’s former leader said there was “no evidence” of child sexual abuse in the sport, the organisation will today join the National Redress Scheme for abuse survivors.
- Gymnastics Australia vowed to join the scheme in 2020, with survivors waiting more than two years for an outcome
- Survivors may now be eligible for up to $150,000 in compensation, counselling, and a personal response from the sport
- In 2018, the former head of Gymnastics Australia denied there was an issue with child sexual abuse
The organisation now holds a different view, with current chief executive Alexandra Ash describing any abuse inside the sport as “abhorrent”, “unacceptable”, and capable of causing a “catastrophic impact” on the lives of athletes, families, and friends.
More than 90 per cent of Gymnastics Australia’s 800,000 members are under the age of 12.
Ms Ash said children and young people were “the heart of our communities”.
“Gymnastics Australia believes the safety of all children comes first, and that abuse — no matter when it occurred — is abhorrent and unacceptable,” she said.
“We have a zero tolerance to abuse in gymnastics.
“We want to ensure that every person who walks into gymnastics clubs feel safe and supported to achieve their personal goals.”
Ms Ash said Gymnastics Australia “recognised survivors’ bravery” and would work with them through the redress process.
‘Nothing will take away the trauma and suffering’
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth and Sports Minister Anika Wells made the announcement on Thursday morning, with 11 other groups and institutions, including Little Athletics, also joining the scheme.
She said being part of the scheme would make it easier for those who experienced abuse to seek redress.
“However nothing will take away the trauma and suffering experienced by those who were abused,” she said.
Ms Wells said adding more institutions and groups was an “important step”.
“Abuse haunts and stays with athletes for life, so this is welcome news for survivors and their wellbeing,” she said.
Once part of the scheme, survivors may be eligible for a personal response, counselling and psychological care, and up to $150,000 in compensation for individual claims.
Survivors say sign-up is ‘change for good’
When the organisation denied abuse in the sport in 2018, it was despite the 2017 conviction of former gymnastics coach Graham Partington who groomed and raped 14-year-old Alison Quigley in Victoria in 1981.
Now on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Ms Quigley has been advocating for Gymnastics Australia to sign up to the redress scheme since it began.
She said the news of its joining the scheme was a “champagne moment”.
“This is indicating a turn, and it’s a change for good,” Ms Quigley said.
“It sends a good message out to the community that Gymnastics Australia cares.”
Ms Quigley said she was buoyed by Gymnastic Australia’s promise to sign up to the redress scheme in 2020, but felt frustrated as the process went on without a result.
She continued to push for the body to finish joining the scheme through a parliamentary petition signed by hundreds of people, journal reports, and media interviews.
Ms Quigley said she understood that it took time for the sport’s culture to change.
“Having said that, I wish [the wait] had been a lot shorter,” she said.
“I wish that the promise made to us in December 2020 had actually matured into a proper sign-on in July 2021, which is when I applied.”
A foreign scandal, local changes
The path to signing up for the scheme began with the release of Netflix documentary Athlete A, which chronicled the jailing of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nasser for molesting more than 200 young female athletes.
In response, then Gymnastics Australia chief Kitty Chiller appointed a new child safety coordinator and created a National Child Safety Working Group to ensure children were kept safe.
She stressed that the sport did not have an existing issue with child abuse.
“There’s never been any evidence or complaints that anyone’s been unhappy within the Gymnastics Australia environment,” she said in 2018.
That is despite Geoffrey Dobbs being jailed in the early 2000s by a Brisbane court after preying on more than 100 girls over three decades while a teacher and gymnastics coach.
Two years after her comments denying an issue, in 2020 Ms Chiller commissioned the Australian Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into Gymnastics Australia, which led to the damning Change the Routine dossier.
The report found the sport was not safeguarding children and young people, that a focus on the “ideal body” could result in eating disorders, and coaching practices were putting athletes at risk of harm and abuse.
It was also in 2020 that Gymnastics Australia vowed to join the National Redress Scheme.
Fears Gymnastics Australia would break promise
The process to join the scheme takes an average of three to six months, but three years on, survivors were kept waiting.
They were surprised earlier this year when Ms Ash told a parliamentary committee into the scheme that it simply did not have the money, saying Gymnastics Australia was “in a financial position that prevented it from being accepted by the scheme”.
Ms Ash said it took “a significant period” of working with the Department of Social Services and the National Redress Scheme to ensure the organisation could meet every criterion to participate.
Ms Quigley said she would advocate for state and territory bodies to join the scheme, alongside Gymnastics Victoria, which had already signed up.
The National Redress Scheme now involves more than 600 institutions covering 71,000 sites including churches, schools, homes, charities, and community groups across Australia.
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