In June 2022, the Whyte Review was published in response to gymnasts and parents raising concerns about mistreatment within the sport of gymnastics. In this blog, our Head of Safeguarding Adults in Sport, Emma Gibson, shares her reflections on the review.
The review describes an ‘unacceptable culture’ of physical and emotional abuse within the sport. The review is a difficult read, both shocking and upsetting. I felt very emotionally charged when reading some of the individual accounts about the experiences of some young gymnasts.
In the Ann Craft Trust, we have been reflecting on the findings from the review. There has been a feeling of what next? What does the report tell us? What learning is there? How should that shape the safeguarding adults work we do broadly and of the sports team in particular?
In January 2022, the Ann Craft Trust collaborated with the CPSU to host a conference which included a reflection about the lessons learned from safeguarding in sport reviews. The Whyte Review focused largely on the experiences of young people, and in particular young girls. Yet the lessons from the review and the eleven recommendations are disappointingly similar to previous sport reviews, including those in athletics, football and tennis.
The Whyte Review, and other sporting reviews, have provided the recommendations for how we can generate safer cultures in sport. In this blog, we share some of the key themes from the Whyte Review and consider how we at the Ann Craft Trust can support organisations to create safer cultures through our work. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers in this area and that sporting organisations, charities and communities will need to work and learn together to implement positive change.
Listening to the Voice of the Participant
Obtaining the participant voice has been a key agenda item for the Ann Craft Trust for some time and is also a focus in the Sport England strategy ‘Uniting the Movement’
The Whyte Review reports that many gymnasts did not speak out if they were struggling or had a concern and parents were afraid to say anything on behalf of their child, or if they did there were negative repercussions. The participants were effectively powerless.
Through our work, we hope to create platforms where sporting participants can safely speak out and be listened to. We are doing this by:
- Continuing our work on participant forums where we can speak to adults taking part in sport about what makes them feel safe. Through these forums we can learn about the real experiences of some adults in sport and identify both good practice and areas where improvements need to be made.
- Delivering bespoke training to adult athletes regarding their rights and how to raise a safeguarding concern. We are working with high performance sports to deliver this information in a safe and supportive environment.
- You can read more about our work in relation to the participant voice in our blog: Listening to the voices of sports participants
Conflicts of Interest and Power
There must not be close relationships between people who are holding positions of power in sport. Even if there is no abuse of power in these instances, there can be a perception of unfairness if difficult decisions are being made. This perception of unfairness can be damaging to the participant.
I found the comments on the relationships between key decision makers in British Gymnastics surprising. The quote below is extracted from the report:
The structure of the World Class Programme involved a conflict of interest from 2012 because the Executive Director of Sport with ultimate responsibility for the programme was married to the WAG Head National Coach. This created line management delicacies that became more pronounced from 2015 to 2017 when the same Executive Director stepped in as interim Performance Director, thereby becoming technically responsible for his own management as well as his wife’s.
In the Sport team at the Ann Craft Trust, we are mindful of the impact of power within sport, and will be focusing on this topic at our conference in November. You can book onto our conference via our website.
To learn more about power relations in sport, explore our resources:
- The Ann Craft Trust have published a blog illustrating the complexities of athlete and coach relationships.
- The Ann Craft Trust have published a blog about adult grooming in sport and activity.
Safe recruitment relates to how an organisation’s staff and volunteers are vetted (if appropriate for the role), interviewed (which should include a discussion about competencies in relation to safeguarding, equality, diversity and inclusion), inducted and trained on an ongoing basis. You can read more about safer recruitment on our website.
In the review, there were issues identified in the report around safe recruitment, noting the over reliance on coaches and staff from Eastern Europe and Russia, areas where it was known that coaching methods had been at best questionable and at worst abusive.
‘These coaches were simply mapped across and awarded a high level of qualification with little or no requirement to undergo any further training. There was scant regard given to cultural differences and the non-technical elements of coaching which at this level make up the bulk of the work. These coaches were expected to deliver with the inevitable consequences given their background and training.’
Regular or even some safeguarding training could have gone some way to mitigating this risk, but this opens up the whole area of coach licensing, minimum standards for coaches in safeguarding and other areas and regular CPD. We are not saying do not use coaches from other countries but there has to be a safe and effective recruitment process to enable them to operate for the benefit of athletes.
Safeguarding Awareness and Training
The lack of safeguarding awareness was a common theme in the report. An increase in safeguarding awareness can only come about through training. We offer training in safeguarding adults from e-learning general awareness to e-learning club standards and advanced learning for designated safeguarding leads in sport and Board training.
We also have an e-learning UK Coaching course on safeguarding adults in sport for coaches.
Safeguarding training needs to be regularly refreshed and absolutely should be linked to registration (and insurance) for coaches, this is for me, non-negotiable.
All Ann Craft Trust safeguarding training information is available via our website.
The word culture comes up a number of times in the report. Gymnastics is seen to be operating a coach led culture, a win at all cost culture, when it should have been participant lead, poor behaviours became the norm:
This quote from the report illuminates poor practice within the sport:
Certain inappropriate coaching techniques and styles have been allowed to flourish within the sport at all levels for decades, especially in the women’s disciplines and most notably WAG, Acrobatic Gymnastics and Rhythmic Gymnastics. Some of these techniques were viewed as normal because they were so prevalent and because too often, other coaches or club personnel stood by and said nothing. Such techniques took priority over considerations of welfare and were deployed by coaches in the misguided belief that they were necessary to achieve the podium success that young vulnerable gymnasts and their coaches aspired to. BG now acknowledges that unacceptable coaching practices were normalised and allowed to develop in some quarters in the pursuit of success. BG is now working to re-define the culture to be more athlete focussed.
The importance of a positive safeguarding culture is something that we at the Ann Craft Trust have been very aware of for a long time. We initiate discussions about the importance of organisations creating a positive safeguarding culture. We reflect on this in our training programmes that we deliver at all levels for Board and designated safeguarding leads.
A safer culture is an open one where participants are valued and listened to, where complaints and concerns are raised and dealt with fairly and transparently. The review author refers to a number of cultural themes including coach-led insularity and a culture of fear, which she notes ‘seemed to dominate the culture at the expense of athlete welfare’.
We launched our Culture Campaign #SaferCultureSaferSport in 2020. We recognise that participants, athletes, volunteers and staff should feel empowered to recognise and report concerns without fear or judgement and that to create a safe culture, organisations must listen, learn and lead.
The Culture Campaign provides organisations with the tools to address these issues. We are now into our second year of the Culture Campaign, and focusing on embedding listening.
The Safeguarding Adults in Sport Framework
Arguably, all of the above is captured in the Ann Craft Trust Framework for safeguarding adults in sport. The Framework is an online tool that promotes a safer involvement in sport and activity for all members of society, values diversity and reflects current up to date practice and legislation in Safeguarding Adults.
The completion of this framework is now mandatory for all Sport England and UK Sport funded sports and Active Partnerships.
There are six themes within the framework to enable sport organisations to embed good safeguarding practice into their sport and activity:
- Safeguarding Governance
- Implementation of Adult Safeguarding Responsibility
- Training and staff Development
- Safe Recruitment
- Codes of Conduct
- Managing Safeguarding Adult Cases
For further information on resources to support safeguarding and governance in your sport see:
- Safeguarding information from Sport England
- UK Sport Code for Sports Governance
- Safeguarding Information for Sport Wales
We recognise that creating safer cultures in sport is a two-way conversation. At the Ann Craft Trust we want to hear from sporting organisations and sport participants about the challenges they are encountering and what resources they would like to see from us to tackle these issues.
Likewise, staff at the Ann Craft Trust pledge to reflect on their own resources to ensure the message we deliver remains relevant to those we are supporting. We encourage people to provide feedback about our training sessions, resources and e-learning packages and we update our training regularly in relation to developments in legislation and good safeguarding practice.
At the Ann Craft Trust we aim to provide the tools for organisations to create safer cultures, but we cannot implement these changes ourselves. This change requires commitment from sporting leaders, funders, coaches, volunteers and participants. We need to work together and learn together to ensure people access and participate in sport safely.
Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.