News article

British Gymnastics Chair calls for independent safeguarding body

May 18 2023

British Gymnastics Chair Mike Darcey has called on the UK Government to establish a main independent safeguarding body across sports.

British Gymnastics Chair calls for independent safeguarding body

He said: “We love to watch our sporting heroes compete and triumph on the world stage, but we also expect that the pursuit of success is accompanied by high standards of athlete welfare. Sadly, many sporting bodies are struggling to deliver on these expectations, for reasons of resource, expertise and perceptions of bias. The solution, I believe, is to establish a new independent body to ensure athlete welfare across all sports.”

Darcey said that while good progress has been made since a review by Anne Whyte KC, the organisation’s focus remained on moving the sport forward following “serious failings in the welfare and safeguarding” of athletes. After the review, British Gymnastics published Reform 25, which is a programme that has been designed to address the problems detailed in the review.  

“Against this backdrop of progress, however, one intractable challenge remains, a backlog of historic complaints,” said Darcey. “The issues raised by this backlog, and the parallels we are seeing in other sports, lead us to call for a centralised, independent body to prioritise the welfare and safeguarding of athletes across all sports.”

The British Gymnastics Chair also highlighted how other sports have faced similar issues, and that this is a fundamental reason for an independent safeguarding body to be introduced. He also said that the organisation was “ill-equipped” to deal with the sort of historic cases  and complaints that gymnastics in the UK has faced. 

"If we are serious about this, we need to accept that more needs to be done, and it needs to happen now." British Gymnastics Chair Mike Darcey

“We have neither the expertise nor resources to run a large scale semi-judicial process,” said Darcey. “Second, complainants wait too long for justice, and those complained against are also left in limbo, sometimes suspended and unable to earn for extended periods. Third, British Gymnastics is investigator, judge and jury and one side or other is often unhappy with the result and thinks British Gymnastics must be biased.

“The experience is unsatisfactory for all and the greatest fear is that athletes and coaches lose faith in the complaints process. It would be a tragic backward step if people no longer felt it was worth speaking out.”

Darcey reiterated that this was a call for a body to handle welfare and safeguarding complaints for all sports, and not a call for a sports regulator.

He concluded: “The UK has enjoyed a sustained period of global sporting success. We enjoy the reflected glory, but we agree this cannot come at the expense of athlete welfare. If we are serious about this, we need to accept that more needs to be done, and it needs to happen now.

“The evidence is that we should not leave this to a series of small and struggling NGBs [national governing bodies], because athletes and coaches are being let down, despite the efforts of many committed and well-meaning people. A central body for athlete welfare is the solution and would show we care as much about athlete welfare as we do about medal table success.”

Image: Thandy Yung on Unsplash

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