Coaches have been banned from weighing gymnasts and must allow toilet and hydration breaks under new safe sport rules issued by British Gymnastics.
The new policy comes almost 18 months after the independent Whyte review heavily criticised British Gymnastics for presiding over a culture where young gymnasts were starved, body shamed and abused in a system that put the pursuit of medals over the protection of children.
Whyte also warned of the “tyranny of the scales”, which led to gymnasts suffering from eating disorders, and unearthed stories of children being sat on and deprived of food and water by coaches as a punishment.
Under the new rules, which British Gymnastics says are a “significant and positive step forward”, gymnasts can only be weighed with their permission by a qualified sport science or medical practitioner and “with a clear, scientifically valid rationale”.
The sport’s governing body also warns coaches: “Inappropriate or excessive weighing of gymnasts is an example of poor practice which may be on the fringe of abuse and if/or repeated could amount to abuse. The use of belittling or humiliating language around body weight and body composition is an example of emotional abuse.”
Alongside the weighing rules, British Gymnastics’ new hydration policy says it is “physical abuse” to restrict a gymnast from drinking water or going to the toilet while in training. It stresses gymnasts should be encouraged to take on fluids regularly, while visits to the toilet allowed “at the earliest available opportunity”.
A third section of the organisation’s new welfare rules also bans clubs from scheduling training during school hours, which led to children and parents missing school in order to chase their Olympic dreamsThe new rules come as British Gymnastics continues to work through a backlog of around 350 “concerns” from gymnasts, many of which date back more than a decade.
Sarah Powell, British Gymnastics’ chief executive, said the new policy was the first of a series that would be introduced over the course of the next year focusing on protecting gymnasts’ welfare. “We still have much more to do on our reform journey, but the implementation of these policies form a significant and positive step forward for gymnastics,” she said.
Crucially the new rules are mandatory, which means that clubs who fail to comply would face sanctions. “We’ve been really clear with this moving from guidelines to policy,” Powell said.