British Gymnastics blueprint and overhaul cannot fail | Gymnastic


BBritain’s gymnastics blueprint, Reform ’25, responds to Whyte’s devastating scrutiny and provides a critical moment for the reform of the sport in this country. For the sake of gymnasts past, present and future, this plan cannot fail. For the rest of sport and society too, it is important.

Anne Whyte KC’s in-depth review heard the stories of hundreds of gymnasts who had previously suffered in silence. Brilliant Rio Olympic bronze medalist Amy Tinkler has publicly stated that she would return her medal if she could change the abuse she had suffered. Now is a crucial time to shape fundamentally different sports stories.

The challenge for British Gymnastics is complex and relies on the support and goodwill of the gymnastics world. Culture is created by everyone in sport. There is no quick fix for changing behaviors, mindsets and relationships. Providing a rewarding experience for thousands of young people encountering gymnastics – positive yet challenging, safe yet challenging, whether novices or Olympians – is not easy to guarantee but is finally recognized as the only ambition to pursue.

British Gymnastics CEO Sarah Powell has been preparing throughout her first year for this moment. Effective and compassionate leadership is needed to galvanize the immense collaborative effort needed for meaningful cultural change. Powell knows she must open up the previously isolated governing body that was disconnected from the real lives of gymnasts and she must work convincingly to create trust and connection between gymnasts, coaches, volunteers, parents and club officials.

New forums have been set up to provide an open communication channel with gymnasts, coaches and clubs. Improving coach development and support is a top priority. There are new leaders, performance managers and a National Wellness Officer bringing fresh perspectives. I was recently invited to join an oversight board set up to review how reforms are being implemented.

As an Independent Advisor, my role is to challenge, bring outside perspectives and draw from my own experiences in Olympic sport as well as my current leadership and cultural change coaching in organizations. It’s a rare moment when a governing body is totally committed to reforming its sport and I feel compelled to help in any way I can.

After 10 intense and sometimes disconcerting years of high performance sport as an Olympic rower, I felt driven to learn more about creating environments where we can thrive while exploring our full potential. It took time after retiring as an Olympic athlete and a career outside of sport to reset my own radar on which values ​​and behaviors are uncompromising if you want to maintain integrity in the pursuit of ‘Excellency.

British Gymnastics’ action plan this week is not only vital for thousands of gymnasts, coaches and clubs across the country. It is relevant to all of us who play any sport, whether as participants, coaches, volunteers, parents, club managers or spectators. This is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what could and should be different. After countless cultural reviews in sports ranging from judo to archery, canoeing to para-swimming and cycling to bobsleigh, there are constant discussions about the next sport. Football and cricket are also plagued. It’s time to stop sweeping cultural issues under the rug and carry on as before with some modified policies.

British Gymnastics has set up new forums to provide an open communication channel with gymnasts, coaches and clubs. Photography: blickwinkel/Alamy

The larger backdrop to the need for cultural change in sport is also the desperate need for change within society. How can we create safe and inclusive environments in our schools and hospitals, police stations and workplaces? How can we better – as individuals and communities – make everyone’s well-being our top priority? How do you cultivate compassion even in times of stress and crisis?

A thread that resonated strongly in all the major reviews, such as the British Cycling Phelps Review (2017), the Australian Cricket Review after the Ball Tampering Episode (2018) or the Whyte Review (2022), was the importance of leadership in shaping values-based environments and developing a broader purpose for the sport than the short-term pursuit of medals. Leadership driven by strong social purpose and integrity is needed to facilitate a shift in mindset, to inspire change where there is resistance, and to open safe channels for potentially uncomfortable dialogue, where all parties agree. listen and where all experiences matter. Leadership should be about tackling what matters most, not what is easiest to measure.

I’ve already had good, open and thought-provoking conversations with Powell about focusing more on impact, not just equities; understanding that to support safe and caring environments in gymnasiums, the national governing body itself must determine how it too needs to change culturally; and that despite the desire to deliver, there are no “right answers” ​​to shaping a new culture – it must be a constant and collaborative learning journey.

This could be a watershed moment for the sport. No medal that comes with an experience of abuse or a ‘culture of fear’ should have any place in British sport. We need to deploy our tremendous expertise in marginal gains to create better ways to succeed that integrate performance and wellness rather than refining bike helmets and biomechanical data. Let us focus our desire to innovate on improving support for athletes to thrive on and off the field of play and provide better role models for mental, physical and emotional health to other members of society.

We’ve had 25 years of an uncompromising approach to medals. British Gymnastics leaders want to pioneer an uncompromising approach to athlete safety. We all need to watch closely and learn what more we can do to ensure that sport is a force for good, not just a force for medals.

Cath Bishop is an Olympic rowing medalist, former diplomat, author of The long victory advisor to the True Athlete project and the chairman of Love Rowing, British Rowing’s charitable foundation.

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