Advocates hope complaint alleging age discrimination over young gymnast’s bullying claims will help address ‘power imbalances’

In a corporate boardroom in Melbourne’s CBD, a young girl was ready to speak.

Across the table were two investigators from Sport Integrity Australia (SIA), there to interview her about allegations of bullying and verbal abuse she had made against her gymnastics coach and club.

“You’ve got this very timid, very quietly spoken child [who] had this powerful voice and a powerful story that she wanted heard,” says her mum, Kate* (not her real name).

Gymnastics Australia, SIA and the National Sports Tribunal set up a confidential complaints process in 2020 – called the Supplementary Complaints Management Policy (SCMP) – after the sport was rocked by revelations about former USA Gymnastics doctor and abuser, Larry Nassar. 

After years of complaining to Gymnastics Australia and her daughter’s club about what she described as “relentless attacks”, the new system gave Kate hope.

Kate* says daughter was “re-traumatised” by her experience with SIA.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

“I felt that we had finally had the complaint land with an organisation that was equipped to be dealing with a complaint of such severe nature,” she says.

“I had no other choice but to engage in a system where they’re telling me it’s child friendly, and it’s independent, and they’re experienced, and they know what they’re doing.”

In the course of the SIA investigation, Kate alleges age discrimination occurred. 

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‘Champagne moment’ as Gymnastics Australia opts in to compensate child abuse survivors

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. 

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’

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