Top gymnasts frequently dealt with harassment and abuse
Two-thirds of gymnasts who took part in the highest level of competitions were victims of various types of abuse, according to a report compiled by the gymnastics association KNGU. The athletes commonly faced "transgressive behavior" including "threats of humiliation, insults, giving negative criticism, making a fool of someone in front of a group, yelling, manipulation, intimidation, isolation, scolding, force, blackmail, control, threatening, continuing to practice with injuries, inciting – unhealthy – loss of weight," according to the KNGU.
Seven percent of adults and two percent of minors reported sexually transgressive behavior, mostly unwanted touching. Two respondents in the research also stated that they were raped. There were significantly more reports among active and retired athletes than among recreational athletes. Some 85 percent of the professional athletes who completed the survey stated that they had experienced inappropriate behavior, compared to 35 percent of the recreational athletes.
"The prevalence of transgressive behavior is the highest among those gymnasts who perform at an international level," the report noted.
After the former top Dutch gymnastics coach Gerrit Beltman admitted in an interview last July he routinely chastised and physically abused young gymnasts whom he was tasked with developing, research was launched by the KNGU. Previously, the KNGU focused mainly on sexual intimidation, but not other forms of transgressive behavior, the association said. It commissioned the report to address the issue and bring cultural changes to the sport.
The researchers also came up with several recommendations to improve the sports climate. In the relationship between clubs, trainers, young athletes and their parents, more space must be created to address unacceptable behavior. The researchers also advocated better aftercare and financial compensation for victims of abuse. According to one of the researchers, the minimum age of gymnasts entering professional sport should be reconsidered.
The researchers also found that the gymnasts association KNGU has not tackled the issue enough in the past. Many reports of undesirable behaviors that reached the union up to 2019 were not seriously investigated, the report states.
The KNGU said it was interested in seeing how an institution can help pay damages to gymnasts who are victimized. It also wants to form support groups for victims, and see how mediation may be used in the future to resolve issues before they develop into serious problems.