Ele Wilson

The Whyte Review isn’t just important for gymnastics, but a lesson for all sports globally. Because issues around the behaviour of coaches - and what constitutes abuse - have become a tinderbox waiting for sparks to catch fire.

For British Gymnastics, the review findings and recommendations have delivered everything that’s needed for progress, for a positive future. A clear-sighted diagnosis of the situation across elite gymnastics and the national network of clubs - a strong set of recommendations.

What matters now is leadership from the top, as well as leadership at grass roots level. It’s going to take courage. Being the one who has to draw the line and have the difficult conversations can be a lonely experience. 

But it’s imperative that the leaders involved with British Gymnastics are seen to be committed to a new future, that they have an action plan, and they’re out there in the clubs and talking, seeing what’s happening for themselves. Most of all, making sure there’s transparency to everything that’s said and done.

One of the most important recommendations from Anne Whyte was the need for a six month, twelve month and 24 month review. The starting point for greater reporting and accountability. The mud has been thrown and it’s going to stick for some time, there’s no way back.

So progress needs to be demonstrable - a visibility in terms of the processes put in place and the access to welfare support, and the clarity of advice being given to the coaches, athletes and their parents or guardians. 

This is how we do things, and this is what you can do when there’s an issue. No fudge. The fresh start and commitment to transparency is vital for gymnastics globally, for governing bodies, event organisers, sponsors and other financial backers.

Meanwhile, there is going to be no quick fix in terms of behaviours, attitudes and trust. The review picked out the crux of the problem in gymnastics (as it is across sports), how forms of bullying and "abuse" have become normalised. 

Gymnasts begin their training from an early age when they don’t think to question their treatment, the demands put on them. It becomes what’s expected as part of the cycle of training and improving performance. In turn, the athletes themselves become the coaches, and that’s all they’ve known.

Whatever new campaigns and processes are in place, it’s all about trust. As we know from working with employers across different sectors and types of workplace, bullying and harassment simply tends to evolve into other forms, work under the radar. The stakes are just higher when it comes to finding ways to evade formal attention. 

The Whyte Review is an important lesson for all sports, not just gymnastics, according to a workplace relationships expert ©Getty Images
The Whyte Review is an important lesson for all sports, not just gymnastics, according to a workplace relationships expert ©Getty Images

There has to be a culture of trust and confidence around how the processes work - meaning it will only be when there is no fear of reprisals in terms of selections and losing places in teams (or a fear that the complaint will be brushed under the carpet), that there will be real change. 

Rather than a threat to coaches (and all the volunteers in local clubs who give up their time), this kind of culture should mean a fresh beginning, a sense of clarity and purpose with grey areas removed.

British Gymnastics needs to make sure there are no gaps in the action plan. 

For example, while the launch of Sports Integrity, the independent disclosure service, is an important step forward (with its link to independent investigations), this is only for elite athletes. What about the grassroots? 

The clubs where expectations are established, norms created. Because so many gymnasts are children (around 75 per cent are said to be under 12), reports of issues as well as the advice and information currently available comes under the umbrella of "safeguarding", how children need to be protected. 

Meanwhile, that means many serious problems for older athletes seem to have nowhere to go. New processes have to be visible, clearly understandable and accessible for all.

The Whyte Review emphasises the need for a Director of Education to ensure there’s a consistency of focus and oversight of training of coaches and welfare officers across the whole system. This appointment can’t come soon enough.

Coach training for the moment doesn’t include enough on the most challenging human elements - how to have difficult conversations, manage disputes, what constitutes bullying and harassment, and how to treat people fairly.

Performance of British gymnasts may well dip with the end to "bullying", just while we get the new culture and expectations right. But having happy and healthy athletes has to be the priority, and has the potential to open up new channels of motivation and high performance. 

Then we’ll have a model for all athletes and sports - it’s okay to speak out, there’s going to be understanding and support.