Olympic gymnast Jen Smith has called on Sports Integrity Australia to be given the power to sanction sporting bodies and impose modern practices following a scathing review into the handling of child gymnasts by the Western Australian Institute of Sport.
SIA released its report on Wednesday into the WAIS gymnastics program, which was shut down in 2016, finding it was “reasonably likely that some athletes suffered abuse or harm” with 92 submissions received from athletes, families and other parties.
Smith, a spokesperson for the Gymnastics Athletes’ Alliance and former WAIS gymnast, said the SIA should have powers to take action, not just report findings.
“SIA’s recommendations for WAIS to provide better protection for children are welcome, but without enforcement of policies and measures to hold abusive coaches, support staff and incompetent governance procedures accountable, it will all be meaningless,” Smith said in a statement.
“We know SIA does not have the power to sanction or even impose better child safe-guarding practices unless WAIS adopts their national integrity framework voluntarily. But, after 18 months of fighting to even have a voice in our dealings with WAIS, we are disappointed that the lead federal agency for sport integrity matters has not recommended those responsible for the abuse be fully and independently investigated and held accountable. We therefore call on the Western Australian government and Gymnastics Australia to do so.”
Smith called on WA Premier Mark McGowan, who is a patron of the WAIS, and Gymnastics Australia to “fully investigate” the coaches and administrators involved in the program.
SIA found it was “reasonably likely harm or abuse was experienced by athletes” and it issued four recommendations from its review starting with the WAIS needing to adopt the national integrity framework and the associated independent complaints process.
It also recommended WAIS ensure all sports programs involving children were child-focused and age-appropriate, that the WAIS embed athlete wellbeing into policies, procedures and practices in all sports programs and the WAIS engage in a restorative and reconciliatory process with the athletes who suffered harm or abuse.
SIA chief executive David Sharpe praised the courage of the athletes who participated.