They might seem unshakable on a beam, heads held high, but their performance hid a deep ache. Canadian gymnasts speak out against their sport’s “toxic” culture, physical and psychological abuse, and sue their national federation. On Wednesday, May 11, several athletes filed a lawsuit against Gymnastics Canada and provincial federations for tolerating a climate of physical and psychological abuse in clubs for decades.
Public insults, extreme weight control and food deprivation, excessive forced stretching, forbidden tears, inappropriate physical contact… The bodies and minds abused in gymnastics are coming to light in Canada. In late March, a group of more than 70 gymnasts released an open letter asking the government for an independent investigation into “the toxic culture and abusive practices that persist in the world of gymnastics in Canada.” Since then, more than 400 current and former gymnasts have signed it, but Ottawa’s response is still pending.
In February 2021, in Great Britain, 17 former gymnasts launched legal action against their federation. In particular, they blamed their trainers for “an inappropriate and widespread use of physical force” and an “unjustified” application of weight control techniques. In May of the same year, the Australian gym was targeted by a damning report on the practice of gymnastics over the past decades: bodies twisted excessively to make them flexible, sexual assaults, teenagers humiliated , because always too big…
In 2019, the International Federation (FIG) created a Gymnastics Ethics Foundation, an independent body responsible, among other things, for cases of abuse and aggression. Asked by Agende France-Presse, the FIG explained that it had also developed initiatives since 2018 to ensure the protection of gymnasts. The body says it has strengthened its code of conduct, developed an awareness campaign called the 10 golden rules of gymnastics and introduced “safeguarding officers” at all international competitions.