Well before the advent of Athlete A, but particularly since that time, gymnasts from around the world have responded to the various traumas they’ve experienced by lobbying their relevant authorities to conduct independent reviews. General themes have emerged. Athletes want acknowledgement of their traumas. They want governance to account for what went wrong. Further, they want the system to change and they want the next generation protected from harm.
Some countries’ authorities have obliged with inquiries and reviews. Others have not. And not all responses have been to the satisfaction of the gymnasts. Some reviews have examined systemic issues, and others have adopted narrower terms of reference.
What follows is a list of countries that have conducted some form of national inquiry. I have listed these in order of the first inquiry to the most recent. The findings of several are yet to be published, and the list may not be comprehensive, but I will keep you updated when more news comes down the line. Please also be in touch with me if you’d like to contribute.
The American situation
Several inquiries have already been completed across America. Early out from the starting blocks was the Deborah Daniels review, an impressive and comprehensive survey of the USA situation. But not everyone agrees with this summation. At page 4 of the Daniels review it states the purpose of the investigation was to review “by-laws, policies, procedures and practices related to handling sexual misconduct matters, and make recommendations.” In other words, the Terms of Reference (TORs) did not include a mandate to target individual transgressors for questioning. Past athletes along with governance contributed to the review. And while the point was not to secure accountability for specific transgressors and enablers, the public perceived this as a shortfall. Below is an except of a media report from the Orange Country Register that quotes attorney John Manly, discussing the TORs with Daniels in a deposition.
That said, the review found significant and concerning levels of abuse in the sport, along with damaging reports about governance attitudes and approaches. In this respect this report, and others that followed, confirmed what American gymnasts had been saying for decades – that abuse was significant, and that the time had come to bring miscreants to account.
Accountability was achieved through a combination of civil and criminal justice proceedings as well as congressional hearings. Nassar was imprisoned for life and Congress has largely investigated those who covered up the abuses. Clearly accountability has been at the forefront of the American process; the question that remains is whether survivor cohorts believe these actions have been sufficient. Has trust in USAG been restored?
While it may still be too early to argue trust has been completely restored, arguably a lot has been done in this direction.
To get this far, the restoration process has involved a three-stage process. First came the governing bodies’ agreement to subject itself to a systemic review. In reviews like the Deborah Daniels report, the TORs offered confidentiality to athletes wanting to disclose abuse, encouraging the more reticent cohorts to come forward without fear of retribution.
Next came an accountability phase, where Congress earmarked those responsible for the abuses, sometimes by employing vital levers, such as compelling witnesses to testify under oath, disclose documents, and evoke parliamentary privilege. Specific laws were passed to strengthened whistleblowing and mandatory reporting laws, to give provision for redress to victims, and to sack the existing USAG board.
Last but not least was the auditing phrase, exemplified in the 2021 Daniels review, which set out to ascertain if genuine reforms had taken place.
The 2021 audit found that USA Gymnastics had “made significant forward progress towards not only improving its written policies but also improving its performance in terms of athlete abuse reporting and response to reports of abuse.”
The author hopes this summary rings authentically for survivors and that further audits will show increasingly improved measures towards a safer environment for kids.
The German Situation
The German Gymnastics Federation last year commissioned the law firm Rettenmaier Frankfurt to investigate the allegations made by gymnasts training at the Chemnitz centre and specifically against the head coach, Gabriele Frehse. The commission was triggered by various newspaper revelations, published by Der Speigel in December. The law firm completed their investigation in January, and the results handed to the Federation mid January 2021. The firm did not publish the report but the German Gymnastics Federation has responded to the report and included its summaries here. For a journalist’s contextual appraisal of the results, go here. In short, the law firm and the peak sporting body, the German Gymnastics Federation, concluded that myriad allegations of psychological violence were supported and that terminating Ms Frehse from her employment at Chermnitz was justified. As to her criminal liability, this question, to the author’s knowledge, has not yet been resolved.
This author welcomes anyone who has more updated information on the German situation to contact me.
Here is the English translation of the German Gymnastics Federation response to the law firm’s investigation, as well as a summary of the law firm’s investigation.
The New Zealand Report
A plethora of newspaper articles in the New Zealand press prompted Gymnastics New Zealand to commission a lawyer and two other experts related to the field to interview, investigate and compile recommendations. For more information go here.
The question of accountability remains, as does that of auditing whether the report and the ensuring reforms have made any difference to way the sport is governed.
The Australian Situation
After a deluge of social media and traditional press articles on abuses in the sport following Athlete A, Gymnastics Australia commissioned the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to conduct an inquiry. Called the ‘Gymnastics in Australia’ review, the report was released on Monday, May 3 and can be found here. I have dedicated a separate blog to my response to this report and have written an opinion piece for The Age & Sydney Morning Herald, which is here. I’ve also written an opinion piece for the UK advocacy group, Gymnasts for Change, published on May 25, which details my response to the twelve recommendations for reform.
As with the New Zealand report, the question of accountability remains, and it is unclear whether there will be an external audit of reforms. Internal auditing is slated to take place shortly with the introduction of a new integrity committee within GA’s organisation.
On the question of accountability, the situation, as of June 2021, remains complex.
Our Federal government has already instigated and funded a new independent investigative and complaints handling process through Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) and the National Sports Tribunal (NST). On occasion, the outcomes of NST reports will be published, but there is no blanket rule mandating access to outcomes. In this case, then, it will be difficult for observers to know to what degree perpetrators and/or enablers have been made accountable for their transgressions.
To further complicate matters, federal-state funding models in Australia have meant that not all organisations have met, or will meet, the jurisdictional requirements for an SIA-NST hearing.
Those outside the SIA framework have needed to lobby their former governance organisations to broker deals for their cases to brought within the new SIA framework, meaning more stress for a community that is already traumatised.
Time will tell if the new SIA-NST accountability process will prove as effective as similar processes in the US, namely the Congressional hearings.
With accountability working through three distinct avenues – the SIA-NST route, the criminal justice system and civil litigation, the question remains whether this approach will ultimately be characterised as scattered and slow, or thorough and effective.
Watch this space for more updates.
The UK Response
In the outcry following Athlete A, gymnasts in the UK rallied for justice and Sport England, along withUK sport, co-commissioned a nation-wide inquiry. Barrister Anne Whyte, QC, and her team, took up the call. An interim report clarified the terms of reference to include Scottish gymnasts’ grievances. More information about the Whyte report is here, and Anne Whyte’s updates are here. The report is due late August 2021.
In the meantime Gymnasts for Change, an advocacy group with clearly stated points for reform, are keeping a close eye on the outcomes of the report to see if they will meet their needs of their well-galvanised survivor cohort.
The Belgian Situation
Belgium gymnast Dorien Motten was among those who spoke up after the release of Athlete A and for more about her story, see the Dvora Meyers blog.
For other independent anonymous testimony go here.
As part of the governing body responses, Gymfed, the Belgian Gymnastics Federation, has created a new ethics commission consisting of Bart Meganck, Judge in Ghent, Caroline Jannes, a sport psychologist, and Herman Huygens, a Magistrate. More about their investigation can be found here: https://www.gymfed.be/newsletters/webview/1680. The investigation started in August last year and is ongoing. “Gymfed ensures that the findings and advice, whatever the consequences, are taken into account, followed up and started.”
Stay tuned to this space for more on the Belgium situation.
The Dutch Response
Even before Athlete A, gymnasts in Holland were speaking out about abuse, with the focus on former national team coach Gerrit Beltman.
Beltman, speaking to a newspaper mid last year, admitted he’d abused and humiliated gymnasts for years. Since this time, the Royal Dutch Gymnastics Federation has commissioned the Verinorm firm (Marjan Offers & Anton van Wijk), together with the Free University and Bureau Beke to run an investigation – https://verinorm.nl/. This investigation is ongoing.
The situation with reviews and recommendations is always developing. Stay tuned to this space for continued updates.
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