Gymnastics NZ hit with serious allegations of psychological and physical abuse

Former Kiwi athletes have spoken out about their struggles in gymnastics.
Former Kiwi athletes have spoken out about their struggles in gymnastics. Photo credit: Getty File

Gymnastics NZ has been hit with serious allegations of psychological and physical abuse by at least seven former athletes, with claims dating back as far as the 1990s and with kids as young as eight.

Former NZ athletes who competed in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics at various levels, including the Commonwealth Games, have made accusations, days after Gymnastics NZ encouraged anyone who may have suffered from abuse to come forward.

The range of allegations includes athletes being forced to compete with injuries, fat-shaming leading to eating disorders and emotional manipulation, according to Stuff.

One unnamed athlete, who represented New Zealand internationally, says she was "applauded by coaches when she lost weight" and had developed an eating disorder as a result. 

The abuse started when she was just eight years old. 

Gymnastics NZ asked people to speak out, when gymnasts around the world began sharing their own struggles after the release of the Netflix documentary Athlete A, which covers former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to a maximum 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting women under his care.

Gymnastics chief executive Tony Compier.
Gymnastics chief executive Tony Compier. Photo credit: Photosport

Gymnastics NZ chief executive Tony Compier has told Stuff he isn't aware of any of the specific allegations, but "urgent enquiries" will be made in response to the "shocking and distressing" allegations.

"We do not in any way condone body shaming, physical, emotional or mental abuse, or pressure put on athletes with regards to food and weight, or performing whilst injured," he adds.

Anyone who has suffered abuse is encouraged to report allegations through a 'Safe Sport' email function on the Gymnastics NZ website.

"As part of a wider and on-going project, an athlete-based advisory group has been established to advise and inform our direct work around the safety and well-being of our athletes," Compier said last month. 

Gymnastics NZ is following a similar approach to Gymnastics Australia, which has asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to "undertake an independent review" of the sport's culture and practices, after Aussie athletes - including 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Chloe Gilliland and Glasgow 2014 silver medalist Mary-Anne Monckton - spoke out about their struggles.

Gilliland says she suffered bulimia and considered taking her own life, after being told she was "too heavy" during her time in competitive gymnastics, when she was just 17, while Monckton shared her experiences of being "forced" to do things she wasn't capable of doing. 

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin has told Stuff that it will support Gymnastics NZ with its enquiries.