British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen is to retire in December, despite an ongoing investigation into allegations of mistreatment of gymnasts at all levels of the sport.
Here is her full interview with BBC sports editor Dan Roan.
Good to see you. Thanks for your time today.
Clearly, your leadership and your position has come under a great deal of scrutiny these past few months. Have you considered your position?
Well, I've been devastated by the the allegations that have come forward in the last few months. We've worked hard over the 10 years that I have been CEO, to develop the organisation, be progressive and really lift the profile of the sport in the UK. So yes, it's been quite devastating.
When do you go?
At the start of the year, we had discussions at the board about my retirement. I've been considering retiring for the last 12 months, and discussions were held at the board. We made a decision that I would step down after the Olympics and that would give enough time for the transition to take place. An announcement was going to be made in April. Unfortunately, with the pandemic breaking out, the board asked if I would stay and come back in September and consider the timing for my retirement, of which we've done.
So, when will you be leaving your position?
I'll be retiring in December this year.
And is this because of the crisis that has engulfed your organisation?
No, this has been part of a plan that myself and the board put together in March, because I've been 10 years in the role. And it was time for me to consider my my next stage of my life. And the board and I discussed this in March this year.
So, you are categorically saying today that your decision to step down has nothing to do with the crisis that has engulfed this organisation in recent months?
No, this was part of my retirement plan.
So, if that hadn't happened, if all of these allegations hadn't occurred, you would still have gone?
Absolutely, absolutely. It was part of my retirement plan.
Many out there will believe, I think it's fair to say, that you want you to resign because of what's happened and they will not be happy to hear that this is a decision that's being framed as a retirement. What do you say to those people?
Well, I'd say to those people that this is really the plan that was in place, and I followed through with that plan with the board whilst the pandemic was on and then the allegations of abuse that have come through since July. And I think that the retirement in December is appropriate.
How do you feel about leaving with your organisation in a state that is embroiled in crisis and scandal?
I'm shattered. I worked with a great team for 10 years and I think gymnastics in the UK has advanced over those 10 years. So to be leaving, in this manner, is quite upsetting for me.
Again, I asked you categorically that you deny you haven't been told you must go by your board or by UK Sport. This is a decision that you've reached voluntarily?
This is my decision. And it's part of my retirement plan. And I've had the support of the board, and nobody else has had played a hand in in this decision.
This is not jumping before you were pushed. This is not pre-empting. The results of the Whyte review?
Some will say you're trying to avoid the scrutiny that will inevitably come after the Whyte review is published. What do you say to that?
I don't think that that is fair.
Some will say you're jumping before you were pushed, what do you say to that?
No, this has been part of the retirement plan, as I've said.
Wouldn't a braver course of action be to wait, see what the Whyte review results are? Deal with them? Front up to them, face up to them rather than leaving before they're published?
I've thought about that. But as this has been my plan to retire in December, I think that it's appropriate that I keep that plan. And I think that it will be a good opportunity for a new CEO to come in and help with the outcomes of the Whyte review and move the sport forward.
Some will say it is the coward's way out, quite frankly. They'll say the braver way would have been to stick around and lead the recovery, post-Whyte review. Why not do that?
Because I think it's appropriate that I continue with my retirement plans.
For many, your legacy, sadly, will now be one not of medals, but of misery. What would you say about that?
All I can say is that I feel that during the 10 years of my tenure as CEO that I have worked hard. I have put everything I can into the sport. And with a great team behind me, I think we've achieved a great deal. And whilst these last three months have been, as I said, devastating to me, I don't believe that that should absolutely define the last 10 years.
It's been devastating for lots of other people too, lots of young girls, lots of parents, lots of your top athletes. It seems that you're more concerned about how you feel. How do you feel about what it's done to them and your organisation?
I'm devastated about the fact that the athletes have felt that they've had to come forward. You know, I feel that the athletes have been so brave in speaking out. But at the end of the day, I've got to look at what are the barriers that have stopped these athletes from coming forward. And these are the things that need to be fleshed out by the Whyte review, and hopefully be able to make some changes to ensure that the athletes can speak out when these things happen to them and not further down the track.
Why do you think so many athletes felt they couldn't be honest and be open and speak out?
Well, I think that in the main, we deal with over 300 complaints a year within our integrity unit. And I think that there are athletes that can speak out, there are athletes that do come to us with their concerns. At this particular time, we're dealing with a couple of cases that are very complex. And some of those athletes that spoke out in July were involved in those cases. So I think most athletes can speak out.
So the failing is on their shoulders, not yours. It's not your failing?
No, I don't think that they have failed, I just think that they need, we need, to look at the barriers and understand why they can't speak out, and try and encourage them more, communicate more with them, and encourage them to speak out when and where the allegations of abuse occur.
Maybe it would help if the husband of the lead women's coach wasn't on the board. But we'll come to that in a moment. Maybe that would help them speak up? Why wait until now to speak publicly. You've had plenty of opportunity over the last few months to address these issues. In an interview in the media, why wait until now?
I just don't think it was right for the national governing body to engage in public battle with their own gymnasts about their individual cases. No, it shouldn't be trial by media.
It's not just accountability?
No, I think it would have been wrong to speak out against the athletes, we have a duty of care. The cases that were involved in speaking out could have compromised the results of those cases. So there are a lot of other factors as to why we didn't speak out at the time.
Now, Jane, look back the last few months, should you and could you have done more?
Absolutely. What you know, in my view, you always can do more. And for me, if I look back now, I think we should have worked harder at understanding these barriers as to why athletes couldn't feel that they could speak out. And I think also we should work harder. And understanding that transition between an athlete, particularly our high performance athletes, from their competition days into their normal lives. We should have worked harder in that transition period.
Well, you could do that. And you could try and work out, as you said, why some of these athletes feel they can't speak out, but instead you're leaving. And again, some will say that's shirking responsibility, isn't it?
I don't think that I'm shirking any responsibility. I think that it's important that I face the fact that I'm devastated by them. But what I'd like to think is that, as we get to the Whyte review and the outcomes of the Whyte review, it'll help us face those those concerns and put some changes in place.
Isn't it the truth that your position had become untenable months ago?
Not in my view, no.
Not with such a torrent of allegations? Under your leadership presiding over one of the worst athlete welfare scandals in British sporting history, you feel that your position was tenable going forward?
No, I thought my job was to stay in and and be strong and to work through as much as I could to help the organisation through this issue. We immediately called an independent investigation ourselves when they first broke, and then UK Sport and Sport England themselves, commissioned the review, and I think it I felt it was very important as CEO that I stand and support that. And we've done that. And I think that it's the right time for me to retire.
Who do you owe an apology to?
I would apologise to any athlete who feels at any time that any of our actions have hurt them in any way. We've got investigations going on. We've got the Whyte review. And I think let's have a fair and transparent process to understand what has gone wrong. But certainly, I have no problem in apologising to the athletes. I feel devastated by what they've gone through. They've been very brave to stand up and speak out.
I understand you want to wait until the findings come out of the Whyte review. But nonetheless, do you still accept that at times, British Gymnastics has failed in its duty of care towards certain athletes?
I think British Gymnastics has worked hard to develop areas of safeguarding over the 10 years. And where we are today is nowhere near where we were 10 years ago, so we have been conscious of how important it is for the duty of care of the athletes. So, I think we have worked as hard as we can. But we've fallen short, it's quite obvious that we've fallen short. And to that end, I think we just have to look to the Whyte review for some guidance.
And you've fallen short too, you personally have fallen short?
I think the organisation's fallen short. And and there are things that as CEO, I take full responsibility for. I'm the CEO of the organisation, and you take responsibility for the outcomes of your organisation.
But you're not resigning, you are retiring. It's been described as a culture of fear here. Is that how you see it?
I think the organisation's developed over 10 years and progressed over 10 years. And I think that, particularly in the handling of safeguarding and compliance, that one of the things that clearly we must do more on is to understand the barriers for why these athletes can't speak out. So in my view, we're looking to the Whyte review for the outcomes to help us understand those barriers.
There'll be some who will see your departure maybe as you being something of a convenient scapegoat, taking the fall for an organisation that needs more of an overhaul than just you. Looking at British Gymnastics, do you think it needs more than just your departure to move forward? What else needs to happen now? What changes need to occur?
I think that as CEO, you take responsibility for the organisation. I'm retiring. I think that the next CEO will come in and I think that with fresh eyes, with the help of the Whyte review, I think the organisation is a good organisation, it's strong, and it'll have the ability to move forward.
Has it felt a bit of a witch hunt at times these last few months? For you personally, how difficult has it been?
It's been difficult at times. But when you look at the athletes and how they've spoken out, it's obviously been very difficult for them to come forward. And so, in my mind, it's not really about me, it's about the situation. And as I said, I applaud the athletes that have spoken out. I hope that the investigations we have in place and the Whyte review will give them some some understanding as to the organisation's need to move forward and improve.
What regrets do you have if any? What would you have done differently if you had the chance?
I think that probably looking back now, I think more of an understanding of these barriers were needed. And I think that the most important thing is that we could and should do more work to help the athletes in their transition from the end of their careers to back into the normal lives.
What would your message be today to those athletes that have come forward in recent months?
I'd say I think they've been very brave. I think the athletes are probably the best people that could speak out on these matters. And I think them speaking up will make things better for the next generation. But I also implore them to think about bringing together the sport with the coaches, because we have some terrific coaches in the sport, both at the community level and at high-performance level. And they're so important to the sport as well. And so I really urge athletes and coaches to come together to really improve on these cultural issues that we have in gymnastics.
I know you've said in the past, there should be an ombudsman. You wrote about this a few weeks ago. Do you feel that way still? And explain why there needs to be some kind of external independent watchdog to oversee complaints. Why is now the right time?
It's just when you think of the work that we've done in establishing our integrity unit, building it up to 12 people working on complaints and safeguarding issues, it's just become too hard for sport. What we've got is our members and our athletes and our coaches. We represent both athletes and coaches. And when we're dealing with complaints and safeguarding issues, there's always somebody that's aggrieved out of that process. And where do they go? If they really feel that the process that they've gone through hasn't been fair, hasn't been handled correctly? Where do they go? And this is, it's just too hard because for each of the individual NGBs, there needs to be a sports ombudsman. And, if there was, then there'd be a place for athletes or coaches to go, if they were aggrieved with any of the outcomes of the of the complaints to a national governing body.
This is your chance to just say a few home truths to the UK sporting leadership. Is the UK sports culture broken right now? Does it, by linking funding to medal success, inevitably mean that athlete welfare is sacrificed at the altar of medal glory? Does something systemically need to change now?
When I first arrived here, 10 years ago, I felt that the sporting system, and I still feel sporting system in this country, is one of the best in the world. And I think athletes and coaches and everybody involved in it should be very proud of the system.
Well, it has been very good at medals, but it wasn't very good at athlete welfare in recent years. A litany of scandals, and we can't be too proud of that, can we?
I think that there's always a need for athletes to speak out, there's always a need for us to understand the welfare issues. I absolutely don't think that there's been nothing done on athlete welfare. I believe that in our national governing body, we've worked hard on on athlete welfare, we just haven't done enough. And, as I said, it's this battle. It's just understanding the barriers as to why the athletes don't speak out when and where the issues occur. But, coming back to the sport system, I think it's it's a very strong sports system. I think that there isn't an emphasis, and it hasn't been in our organisation an emphasis of medals at all costs. I refute that claim. I think that we have really worked hard at encouraging the athletes and the coaches to work together to deliver the best outcome that they can possibly deliver. And I think that the system, high performance is hard. Our sport is one of the hardest in the world gymnastics, it's always been considered one of the hardest sports, but there's a line and if that line is crossed, we have to be able to address it.
And have you crossed the line do you think, looking back now?
Do you honestly deny that you haven't prioritised winning over athlete welfare?
Absolutely. And I think we need to do more. We need to look at the reasons why the athletes find it difficult to speak out. And we need to work hard on the whole transition of the athlete. And once they finish their career, they need to be able to feel that they can move on to other things. And I think that's the piece that's missing for us and we should be working hard on them.
The Whyte review. Do you have any idea about how many gymnasts have come forward to now make submissions?
No I don't
How confident are you that the organisation will bring about the changes needed from the Whyte review?
Very, very confident
Will that be made public, the findings?
Yes, I think the findings and the report are all going to be made public.
Why weren't the terms of reference expanded to include greater timeframes? Some have said that they're too narrow, too restrictive. Is that fair?
I have no idea, the terms of reference weren't in our control.
Looking back now, what's happened? Was it incompetence on your part, or corruption? Was there a cover up here of some of these cases?
Not at all. What we've had is two very difficult cases that have gone on for quite some time and we've struggled with them. But there are reasons why we've struggled with those and I hope that those cases, when we get help with them, I think that they'll be resolved.
You seem surprised in some of your statements. Were you were you shocked by this, these flood of allegations?
Was I shocked by the intensity of the media scrutiny and the flood of allegations? Yes. And I think that we have, as I said, we have strengthened our complaints and our safeguarding unit, and with 12 people working and coping with 300 complaints a year on average, you know, we had strengthened our resolve to be able to deal with safeguarding issues, and we've had outstanding reviews on all our systems and processes. So, I felt confident that we were in a good place then and our intent was to be looking after our athletes and our members.
You say you were confident you were in a good place, and yet we read some of the comments of some of your very top athletes. Amy Tinkler said the people running British gymnastics, that's you, cannot be trusted. "They've let us down. They lie," she said. Nile Wilson, top male gymnast, told me the athletes are treated like pieces of meat. The Downie sisters spoke of cruel behaviour that was so ingrained in our daily lives, it became normalised and there was an environment of fear and abuse. These are some of your very best, most respected, most senior gymnasts. How did you not know, given their status, how unhappy they were? How can it come as such a surprise to you? Were you asleep on the job, or were you just trying to cover it up? Which of those two?
I don't think either of those. Well, I think that the organisation was working hard with its high performance programme. I think that the athletes themselves, at times, didn't speak up when they felt that way.
So they're partly to blame then are they?
No, I think that unless they speak up at the time...
Dan Keating spoke up in 2017 didn't he? One of your top Olympic medallists.
He spoke up at the time.
And he was dismissed by the sports minister who said that she'd spoken to you and that things were being done about it. But he feels he wasn't listened to. The warning signs were there but they were either ignored or covered up
In 2017, particularly on the issues that Dan Keating spoke up about, we dealt with one of our coaches in that year. And we did deal with the issues that the athletes spoke up about and other athletes spoke up.
I mean, let's go back even further than 2017 to your time in charge of Gymnastics Australia. A recent article has said that when you were in charge there, a senior coach wrote to junior athletes, saying when they were on their way to a senior tournament, if crying occurs any time during training they would be put on probation and their status in the squad would be re-evaluated. Did you know that was being told to young gymnasts at the time?
I had no idea.
You have no idea?
No idea about that case.
What do you think of that?
I think it would be unacceptable and culturally wrong.
But it was on your watch Jane, one of your senior coaches. So again, I ask, you're telling us that you weren't aware of it?
I wasn't aware of that particular issue
In 2012 we learned that British Gymnastics, when you were in charge, failed to tell the parents of a child athlete about allegations she was being physically and emotionally abused by a coach. That was Catherine Lyons, allegedly hit by a coach so hard that he left a print on her thigh. Her parents weren't told. Again, on your watch. What do you say about that?
That's an ongoing investigation and it would be difficult for me to comment on that now.
Craig Lowther - the 2013 trampolining coach - says "coach Jane Allen's words to me, was 'to bring trampolining into the 21st century kicking and screaming if I have to'. I have to have full support to do whatever is necessary to do that". You know, from that you could see how, whether it's inadvertently or not, you were the instigator for this culture of fear. You are being used to justify a very harsh regime. By the looks of it, we now know that he was the subject of a joint grievance. And when he left British Gymnastics, you wrote this about him. We'd like to thank Craig for his commitment. And in particular, for the program, we ask that you do not make any statements he said to the athletes through social media or respond to any of the questions about the above, even though you'd agree that there was a potential case to answer. What on earth were you thinking, thanking him like that when he's been investigated?
Craig left under an agreement and it would be inappropriate for me to talk.
You didn't have to thank him though did you?
It would just be inappropriate.
But that hurt athletes , that upset athletes. Can you understand that?
I don't want you to talk about the case, or you tell me whether he's guilty. I get that. I'm just asking you why you felt the need to defend him publically?
I think in hindsight, I can understand the athletes' feelings.
Good. And you regret making that statement now?
In hindsight, I can understand the athletes feelings.
Do you accept looking back, and I mentioned some of these cases, that you failed to treat whistleblowers with some of the respect they may have deserved? You know, you've said that we encourage athletes to speak out and I'm giving you some examples of when they've spoken up, and they're not happy with how it was treated. And then of course, that gives the impression to other athletes, maybe you have an issue they can't speak out to you. Now looking back, you and the organisation could have handled some of these things better?
Absolutely. I think at all times when you look back things could have been handled better, but at the time, we we dealt with them in the best way that we felt and in my view, I think you can only learn going forward.
Let me just talk to you about a particularly high profile case, and I assume it's one of the of two you refer to earlier - it's Amanda Reddin and Amy Tinkler. I realise British Gymnastics recently apologised to Tinkler for the amount of time it's taken on the communication. What would you say to Amy Tinkler, tday, after all, I think I'm right saying your only female floor medallist in Rio? Or what would you say to her given how unhappy she was with the way the organisation's handled her complaints?
I mean, she is an Olympic medallist. She has a special place in British gymnastics history. And I was absolutely floored by some of the allegations that came through. And I'm very, very concerned about at the time they came through. We've put investigations in place.
Will you apologise to Amy directly?
I will apologise to any athlete that that has gone through a process of investigation, fair and transparent for all parties. And I'll certainly apologise to any athlete if there's been any allegations or any abuse against an athlete. Absolutely.
But you're not in a position yet to decide whether that's the case with Amy. Or is it?
There is an investigation going on at the moment. And for it to be a fair and transparent process I shouldn't really comment on it. Last week, there were some emails that came out that I was absolutely shocked by and immediately I sent an apology on those emails. It was unacceptable, unprofessional and I sent Amy an apology on behalf of the organisation immediately.
This is the use of the fat dwarf comment by the coach, correct? I mean, she's angry that she had to wait more than 240 days for an outcome to her complaint, given her status. Is that right? Is it right that she has to find out via a third party that her case has been dismissed?
I think that, you know.
Can't you apologise for that?
No, because I think I'm best to wait until the investigation's clean. To understand it exactly. And then then if there's an apology needed, it'll be given
It reinforced mine and every gymnast's fear, she said, which is that their complaints aren't dealt with fairly and independently. This is why we don't speak out. This is why we suffer in silence? What do you think when a female gymnast feels the need to quit aged 19? Because you can't handle things more anymore? How does that make you feel?
Well, the thing that I remember about Amy is that, at Rio, doing that fabulous floor routine. She turned up in Rio in the best form of her life. She was prepared well by a club and her coaches, and she gave an absolutely outstanding performance to grab the silver medal. And in 2017, she moved clubs. And I think that at the end of the day, we could have done more, we could have done more for Amy during that period. And that's what I've spoken about. It's the barriers and the transitions; we should have done more to help.
The subject of her complaints, partly, is Amanda Reddin, a very senior women's coach, who I know has stepped down pending investigation. The issue that some have with this is that her husband, Martin Reddin, is an executive director on your board. And clearly, there's a danger therefore, that there might be a perception of a conflict of interest. Whether there is or not, regardless, there's a perception it might be one that is not healthy, from a governance point of view.
Amy's allegations were really concerning. And those allegations, as soon as we heard those allegations, we put an investigation in place. There's an independent investigator looking into the complaints against that women's head national coach. The perception of bias, in my view, is that it is important with that independent investigator for us all to step back, and be able to allow him to do his job, as I say, in a fair and transparent way, for all parties involved. Some of the allegations that have been levelled at Amanda Reddin is not the Amanda Reddin I know. She's a good person and a good coach. So that's why it's important that we all step back and allow an independent investigator to deal with this and to allow all parties to be heard.
On reflection again, is it right that her husband should be on the British Gymnastics board at a time when there might be complaints against her? Does it create the impression or the perception that there is a potential conflict of interest that it is too cosy at the top of this organisation?
At any time, when any decisions have been made regarding these matters, Martin Reddin's role has been to step aside and not be involved in those decision makings. It's a normal conflict of interest practice.
So you can categorically say here today that that hasn't any way been used to help protect her, or to aid any kind of cover up when it comes to Amanda Reddin?
The independent investigation that we've got in place will absolutely handle the allegations for all parties concerned.
It's been reported that UK Sport conducted a walk-the-floor visit here in May of last year. Is that the case? And do you know, to what extent that UK Sport knew there was an issue developing around British Gymnastics before this summer,
UK Sport introduced that walk-the-floor project for all national governing bodies. We welcomed it. It was, we believed, a very, very good process and an independent group of people came in as specialists. And and we looked forward to the report and the report when it came out, helped us understand some of the issues in our program. We discussed it with UK Sport, and good action plans being put in place.
One other thing I wanted to put forward to you. ITN News put out an interview with Ros Anwyl, who said this about you: "If you dared to speak out you were very quickly put back in your box, there was a culture of fear that she fostered". What's your response to that?
When I first arrived at the organisation I tried to establish myself as somebody who cared about the organisation, which I do. I've worked hard over 10 years and in my view the outcomes of the organisation and where we are at the moment you can only get through with hard decisions sometimes, but I've done it fairly and I believe that the organisation's in a good position.
She said that in late 2011 when she was dealing with welfare complaints of one of those concerned, a high profile coach, she said the police and the local authority agreed the coach should have been suspended whilst an investigation was being carried out, but the disciplinary decision made you angry. Is that another case of you putting the careers of coaches who have been complained about above athlete welfare or do you deny that?
I don't remember that situation, I certainly deny that anything would make me angry when it comes to athlete welfare.
When you hear all this, and it must be difficult to have all this put to you, do you feel to some extent you wish you would have left this position years ago and avoided the scrutiny?
Not at all. I've worked in this organisation for 10 years and I've come to love British Gymnastics. I think it's a very strong organisation. It works into the community level as well as dealing with high-level athletes. I've enjoyed my time here and I've totally been working with a fabulous team at British Gymnastics over the years. No, I've enjoyed totally my time here.
In 2017 the Guardian reported that they had spoken to several senior coaches who wanted you to resign. They referred to appalling leadership, culture of fear, painted a picture of an organisation ruled by favouritism where athlete and coach welfare was relegated behind medals. I mean it's just a reoccurring theme isn't it. Are they all wrong?
I think that when you work in an organisation for 10 years and make difficult decisions, you're always going to have people that are unhappy with those decisions and I think that when you look back at the growth of the organisation and how gymnastics has improved its profile in the UK, I think we worked hard to do that. I think that at the end of the day there are always going to be people at some stage that don't agree with you but that's part of being a CEO at an organisation.
On reflection, do you think it was a mistake to have on the board the husband of the lead national woman's coach, the husband of your best friend, a best friend who's now head of Welsh Gymnastics? Do you understand how that doesn't look great? Was that a mistake on reflection?
Not at all, they are all good people, all strong people and brought their skills to the board, they all did a good job in their own right
No regrets over the governance?
No regrets at all.
And you feel it's ok to speak out in support of Amanda Reddin even though she's currently stood down pending investigation? Is that not the kind of thing you think people would look at and say "there you have it"?
Immediately when complaints came out and people spoke out, we put an independent investigation in place and we did so because of any perception bias and I think that we need to wait and hope that that is a fair and transparent process and that the athletes will feel we've done the right thing.
Just quickly, Nile Wilson told us that as well as feeling like gymnasts were treated like meat, that by speaking out it may jeopardise his selection for the Olympics. That's an extraordinary thing to say. How did that make you feel? What would your message be to him?
Nile Wilson was an outstanding athlete for us and came to the organisation on a couple of occasions, spoke to the staff, an outstanding ambassador for the sport. He has gone through a difficult time at the moment and I wish him well, I hope that he recovers from his injuries that he has at the moment. Outstanding athlete and a really good person.
But by speaking out he's not jeopardising his selection chances, right?
No. Absolutely not.
What does the future hold for you? When you say retirement, is that it or do you want to play a role in gymnastics going forward in any way?
No, I think retirement is retirement. I'm 65, it's time to probably go back to Australia and engage myself with my family and friends, and I've been away for 10 years. It's been a fabulous time here, I've enjoyed every minute of it. I've given my heart to this sport and I shall go back and I'll obviously watch with great interest the sport that I've come to love over the last 10 years. I wish everybody, including the athletes who have spoken out, I wish them all well and I hope that in the future British Gymnastics will come back and be able to work together with athletes and coaches. Because we have to remember that coaches themselves too are an important element of the sport, and there is some fabulous coaches out there.