Jessica Shuran Yu: Figure skater says others in sport 'want to speak out' about abuse

By Katie Shanahan & Sarah MulkerrinsBBC Sport
Jessica Shuran Yu
Jessica Shuran Yu competing in the Ladies Free Skating event at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, 2017

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A World Championship figure skater says that since going public about her abuse, other skaters want to speak out but fear they cannot do so until they stop competing.

Jessica Shuran Yu, 20, decided to tell her story following claims of widespread abuse in British gymnastics and watching the "cruel treatment" in Netflix documentary Athlete A, which explores the case of Dr Larry Nassar - the USA Gymnastics team doctor who abused hundreds of young women.

Yu says that from the age of 11, she was hit repeatedly with a plastic skate guard and kicked with the blade of the skate until she bled, for being "too lazy" or if she "wasn't performing well enough".

Yu added that after one bad training session, she was dragged from a car and beaten.

Being called "fat," "useless" and "worthless" was something Yu said she had to get used to on a daily basis.

Yu, who is now retired from competitive skating, competed internationally for Singapore, where her father has citizenship, but trained at an ice rink in Beijing, China. She explains that since speaking about her experience in the Chinese system, other skaters around the world have been in touch with similar allegations of abuse.

"Since I posted my story, I've had messages from skaters even outside of Asia who told me they have seen stuff like that happen," Yu told BBC Sport.

"People have said they really want to speak out about this, but they can't until they stop competing. This shows that there are consequences and there is still a stigma.

"A big part of abuse is silence and the only way we have a chance against all of this is to be brutal and loud in an unapologetic effort to make the change."

Yu, who competed at the 2017 World Championships before coaching junior skaters, says she saw others getting abused within the Chinese system.

The Chinese Olympic Committee has declined a BBC Sport request for a response to Yu's allegations.

"There was one girl who was eight years old, she was hit repeatedly, kicked a lot and she was so small," says Yu. "You could see that she was so miserable and so scared. It was brutal to watch."

Yu says she saw one girl get chased around the rink, crying hysterically, while another girl was regularly hit with guards too. She was barely a teenager.

In the past week, French figure skating has also been put under the spotlight following a government report, which alleged that 21 coaches were suspected of offencesexternal-link from sexual assault to physical and verbal abuse.

The report found that coaches had been able to inflict violence on teenage skaters on a scale unlike any other ice skating federation in the world.

Jessica Shuran Yu with her Women's Individual Figure Skating Final gold medal at the 2017 SEA Games
Yu with her Women's Individual Figure Skating Final gold medal at the 2017 SEA Games

Since Yu brought her story forward, she has also been in contact with her former federation, Singapore Ice Skating Association (SISA), which reported it to Sport Singapore. Yu says the federation seems to be handling cases like this in a "relatively positive way".

SISA told BBC Sport it is "dismayed" to hear the abuse Yu suffered and "applaud her strength and courage to be able to speak about her experience in the hope that it will help others in a similar position".

"We have been in touch with [Yu] Shuran and are working closely with the Safe Sport Taskforce to support her and to build on this to increase public awareness of safe sport initiatives," it added.

A Sport Singapore spokesperson said it "works closely with the national sports associations to ensure everyone in the fraternity - athletes, coaches and officials - understands how crucial safe sport is and are aware of the due reporting processes".

The spokesperson added: "To date, close to 100 safeguarding officers have been trained and more safe sport engagements have been prepared to educate the sporting community on how we may collectively safeguard sport."

Yu added: "Hopefully by speaking up, by telling my story and other athletes telling their stories, we are helping young girls and preventing them from walking into these situations. At the time that I was being abused, if there were people acknowledging and talking about it, then it would have helped me immensely.

"Part of me was aware that this was more common than you would think but, to be honest, I was rather shocked when I heard about the American and British gymnasts.

"The amount of news that comes up about abuse in so many sports, in a lot of different countries, shows that it's clearly such a big issue.

"I feel like we all need to be working together for this, because it's just gone too far. It's been far too long and so many people are affected by this."

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