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Abuse in gymnastics and the imminent Whyte report

The review by Anne Whyte QC of allegations of mistreatment within British Gymnastics could be finally published this month and I now want to consider the issue of abuse within gymnastics and what broke the silence within the sport.

Posted on 01 June 2022

In June 2020, a documentary was released on Netflix called Athlete A that focused on the gymnasts who were sexually assaulted by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and the reporters who helped to expose the abusive culture within the sport. Nassar was convicted in 2018 to at least 300 years in prison for sexual assaulting over 200 girls.

The documentary was very powerful and it inspired many to disclose the sexual abuse and other forms of abuse that they suffered when they were children. You can still watch it on Netflix and it is something that you should do to appreciate the impact of childhood sexual abuse and the bravery of survivors to disclose their abuse and to bring their abuser to justice in the eyes of the criminal law.

In July 2020 and given hope by the abovementioned documentary, several gymnasts made allegations of mistreatment within gymnastics to include allegations that British Gymnastics had failed to act on complaints of abuse. This resulted in UK Sport and Sport England commissioning Whyte to review these allegations and to provide a report along with recommendations. The review team has received over 400 submissions.

Along with the allegations of mistreatment within British gymnastics, I note below some of those who have been convicted for sexually abusing children:

David Schadek – In December 2021, Schadek was convicted of four charges of sexual assault, one charge of sexual assault of a child and one charge of perverting the course of justice, the abuse taking place between 2004 and 2017. He taught gymnastics at Sudbury Gymnastics Club and then an organisation that he founded called Dave’s Gymnastics Academy. He was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.

Jeffrey Quirke - In March 2022, Quirke, who was a former gymnastics instructor, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of four charges of rape and four charges of indecent assault.

Richard Bristow – In 1999, Bristow was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of indecently assaulting four girls. Bristow was a former senior development gymnastics officer with Dudley Borough Council and then became head coach at the Earls School of Gymnastics. He also coached at Kingswinford and Wall Heath Gymnastics clubs.

Stuart Woods – In 2021, Woods was found guilty of two charges of sexual activity with a child and three charges of engaging in sexual communication with a child. He was a British gymnastics coach and he received a prison sentence of 11 years and he was ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life.

Martin O’Hara – In 2015, O’Hara received a six-year prison sentence (later reduced to four years on appeal) as a result of being convicted of eight charges of indecent assault. He had previously been dismissed by a gymnastics club in Sussex after allegations were made that he had sexually abused a girl in 1995 and British Gymnastics allegedly failed to act on the club informing them of this issue. O’Hara was able to continue to teach gymnastics up to his arrest in 2013 and this enabled him to work at other gymnastics clubs and to abuse others, despite British Gymnastics allegedly receiving further concerns in 2007.

I hope that the Whyte report recommendations are substantive and implemented in full but as often happens when it comes to abuse survivors, we will have to wait to see for transparency and action to happen. Regardless of this however, this is sadly another reason why the Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse (IICSA) should have chosen sport as one of their key investigation strands as shown by the media coverage of sexual abuse within football and my recent articles about sexual abuse within cricket, swimming, athletics and now gymnastics.

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Dino Nocivelli

Dino is an experienced child sexual abuse claims lawyer

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