Gymnastics: A Culture of Abuse, review: British Gymnastics needs to change its woeful culture

An ITV documentary meets former gymnasts suing the sport’s governing body
An ITV documentary meets former gymnasts suing the sport’s governing body - Mike Harrington

Gymnastics: A Culture of Abuse (ITV1) got off to a punchy start. “Here’s a fact. Today, in a gym right now, some kid is being verbally abused, physically abused, God forbid, sexually abused. Today. Fact.” The words of Carlton Webster, a gymnastics coach and one of several contributors to a documentary highlighting British Gymnastics’ woeful failure to get its house in order.

The Whyte Review, published in 2022, concluded that physical and emotional abuse was “systemic” in the sport. Meanwhile, former coaches have been convicted of sexual abuse.

David Schadek was convicted of sexually assaulting two children and jailed for four-and-a-half years; on trips to Europe, he would share a bedroom with young teenage girls. A colleague who featured in the programme claimed that he had reported Schadek to the British Gymnastics hierarchy after seeing him ply a child with Bacardi and Coke, but was told: “That’s up to him, don’t get involved.”

Stuart Woods was sentenced to 11 years for sexual activity with a child and sending sexual communications while teaching at a private school in Wokingham. He was also a national gymnastics coach. The impact statements from his victims were devastating. Webster, who had worked alongside him, said: “I don’t think enough parents in our sport know exactly what this culture is all about.”

Parents whose children want to pursue gymnastics should watch this programme and then decide whether they feel there are sufficient safeguards in place. Organisations should watch it and learn how not to handle corporate communications. Nobody from British Gymnastics appeared to be interviewed, merely submitting a statement saying that it “is half way through an extensive programme of action” to make the sport safe for all, and insisting that “abuse, mistreatment and harm have no place in gymnastics”.

A number of the sexual abuse allegations made here were about Stan Wild, a former Olympian who was banned by British Gymnastics in 2021 for “safeguarding” issues. Wild has denied the allegations and the CPS has repeatedly said there is insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.

At one point, the contributors were handed a print-out of an email sent by David Kenwright, a senior coach for British Gymnastics, after the successful 2022 World Championships. In it, he criticised the “naysayers” and crowed: “I have always believed that success is the best revenge.”

A good insight into Kenwright’s mindset, but the email was made public more than a year ago. The documentary appeared to have been hanging around for quite a while, which only added to the sense that nobody much cares about how this sport is being run.