Sport Integrity Australia found that "inadequate" procedures were in place to protect gymnasts at the Western Australian Institute of Sport ©Getty Images

A damning Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) report has concluded that it was "reasonably likely" that some athletes on the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) women’s artistic gymnastics programme endured abuse and harm.

The culture of the programme between 1987 and 2016 was examined by Australian Government agency Sports Integrity Australia based on submissions from 92 participants, and found allegations of verbal and physical abuse, unnecessary skinfold testing, fat-shaming, an expectation to train and compete with injuries, and extreme training loads.

The 65-page report found that the WAIS' policies and procedures in protecting athletes were "inadequate", and listed four recommendations.

These were for WAIS to adopt the National Integrity Framework and independent process for handling complaints, ensure that all of its programmes for children are "child-focused and age appropriate", embed athlete wellbeing into policies for all of its programmes, and engage in a "restorative and reconciliatory process" with affected gymnasts.

"This review found that one of the main reasons these behaviours were able to occur was because there were no adequate independent oversight mechanisms, safeguarding policies or an avenue for complaints in place during this time period," SIA chief executive David Sharpe said.

"Sport Integrity Australia’s focus now is on working with all sporting organisations, including WAIS, to ensure that their policies protect the athletes and participants of today and importantly, that complaints are handled independently."

Former WAIS gymnast and Gymnastics Athletes’ Alliance spokesperson Jen Smith said the report should have gone further in recommending an independent investigation into individuals responsible for the abuse.

"SIA’s recommendations for WAIS to provide better protection for children are welcome, but without enforcement of policies and measures to hold abusive coaches, support staff and incompetent governance procedures accountable, it will all be meaningless," Smith said, as reported by the Brisbane Times.

"We know SIA does not have the power to sanction or even impose better child safe-guarding practices unless WAIS adopts their national integrity framework voluntarily.

Gymnastics Athletes’ Alliance spokesperson Jen Smith said Sport Integrity Australia should have recommended an independent investigation into abuse perpetrators ©Getty Images
Gymnastics Athletes’ Alliance spokesperson Jen Smith said Sport Integrity Australia should have recommended an independent investigation into abuse perpetrators ©Getty Images

"But, after 18 months of fighting to even have a voice in our dealings with WAIS, we are disappointed that the lead federal agency for sport integrity matters has not recommended those responsible for the abuse be fully and independently investigated and held accountable.

"We therefore call on the Western Australian Government and Gymnastics Australia to do so."

WAIS chair Neil McLean issued an apology to athletes who suffered on the programme.

"The report has pointed to aspects of the gymnastics programme (sic) that failed to provide adequate support, to coaching practices that were at times harsh and inappropriate, and to policies and procedures that did not adequately protect some of the gymnasts in the programme," McLean said.

"This was despite the best of intentions of those involved in the programme.

"To the participants who reported such distressing experiences we have listened to you.

"We are sorry that your experiences were painful rather than enjoyable and we apologise that elements of the WAIS programme failed you.

"To those who experienced abuse and harm we apologise.

"Sport, elite sport included, is meant to be a healthy and enjoyable experience.

"We are sorry that this was not your experience."

McLean added that the WAIS welcomed the report's recommendations, and claimed that the institute had "changed with the times."

Sharpe commended gymnasts who came forward as part of the review, and insisted the findings would result in meaningful reforms.

"The courage exhibited by these gymnasts in telling their stories will result in meaningful change ensuring greater protection of future athletes," Sharpe said.

"Speaking up about abuse, harm, or any wrongdoing in sport can be difficult.

"But the athletes’ voices are now louder than ever and it is their voices that ensure we all better understand the issues.

"Sharing these experiences allows sporting bodies and Government agencies like Sport Integrity Australia to develop processes, policies and education programmes to significantly reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the future."

SIA launched its review of the women's artistic gymnastics programme at the WAIS in June 2021 following allegations of abuse by a group of former athletes.

Abuse scandals in gymnastics have hit several countries following the release of the Netflix documentary Athlete A in 2020, which examined the Larry Nassar scandal and safeguarding shortcomings in the United States.

The Australian Human Rights Commission last year outlined a "toxic culture" within gymnastics in the country, prompting an apology from Gymnastics Australia and a commitment to adopt 12 recommendations contained in the report.