British Gymnastics chief admits it fell short following recent mistreatment claims

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
British gymnasts are treated like 'pieces of meat' - Nile Wilson

The chief executive of British Gymnastics says it has "fallen short" in protecting its members after recent allegations of mistreatment.

Jane Allen said she was backing the idea of an independent sports ombudsman to "hold governing bodies to account and provide a higher level of review for controversial cases".

"Such a move would protect the athletes, coaches and sports" she added, admitting she had been left "appalled and ashamed" by the claims.

The sport has been hit by a wave of complaints from gymnasts over a culture of abuse and bullying in recent weeks.

The national governing body announced an independent review would be launched last month.

But Allen - the most powerful figure in the sport for the last decade - has been under mounting pressure over the crisis.

The Australian has declined requests for an interview.

But writing in the Daily Telegraph,external-link she commented on the controversy for the first time, saying, "If bad things happen in our sport, or any sport, a light must be shone upon them.

"Those that speak out about mistreatment in gymnastics must be heard. And change must follow.

"While our safeguarding systems, processes and staff performance have been audited, accredited and championed by leading experts in the field, we clearly must do more. The review will ensure that real lessons are learnt".

The creation of a government-appointed sports ombudsman to oversee duty of care issues was first recommended by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2017 after she led a review following a series of athlete welfare scandals.

Allen says the time has now come for it to be adopted.

She added that "sport should not police itself", especially because athletes and coaches might "worry that the system is against them".

"At present, the mistrust from those judged against leads to a vicious cycle that threatens the entire process," Allen said.

This week, Olympic medallist Nile Wilson criticised a "culture of abuse" in British gymnastics, saying athletes are "treated like pieces of meat".

He also told the BBC he had been left feeling "worthless" by the outcome of a complaint he lodged that he felt was "brushed under the carpet." Both British Gymnastics and his former base of Leeds Gymnastics Club defended their handling of the case.

Olympic medallist Amy Tinkler has also criticised the governing body for a lack of urgency with an investigation into her claims of bullying and abuse.

"Complaints that have been heard and judged by independent experts are being questioned by gymnasts who believe they have not been "backed" by the system" said Allen.

"Some complaints made through the media in recent weeks have never been seen by our Integrity Unit.

"Some of the recent claims made through the media are not appropriate for a national governing body to rebut in public.

"We cannot be pulled into a public debate with individual gymnasts over the details of their cases; they are our members and we have a duty of care to them and others involved in the process.

"Even when we fundamentally disagree with some of the things said, and have recorded evidence to back it up, it would be wrong to engage in a trial through the media when, in some incidences, only a partial view could be aired in hugely complex and legally privileged cases."

Allen said that British Gymnastics had received an average of 300 reports per annum made to its Integrity Unit over the last five years, ranging from allegations of poor practice and rule-breaking to more serious claims of misconduct and abuse.