“Physical, sexual and psychological abuse”, Canadian gymnasts attack their federation for mistreatment

A group of gymnasts filed a complaint on Wednesday May 11 against Gymnastics Canada, the national federation, and provincial organizations for having tolerated a climate of physical and psychological abuse in clubs for decades. “This action (in justice) stems from the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of gymnasts in Canada while in the custody and responsibility of provincial gymnastics organizations and Gymnastics Canada”, reads the document, obtained by AFP.

According to lawyers, “the culture of control” and “abusive behavior” led to the creation of an environment where “Abuse and mistreatment of athletes is commonplace”. Coaches are also accused of having had inappropriate physical contact with gymnasts.

This legal action comes a little over a month after a group of more than 70 gymnasts published an open letter to denounce a “toxic culture and abusive practices that persist in the world of gymnastics in Canada”. In this letter, which since the end of March has collected more than 400 signatures, the gymnasts urge the federal government to undertake a “independent investigation” to shed light on this culture, a request “which led nowhere”, according to Gymnast For Change Canada.

In the UK, British gymnasts launched a similar legal action last year. Since the huge scandal of sexual violence affecting the American gym, gymnasts around the world have denounced past physical and psychological violence: deprivation of food, beatings, humiliations.

The Canadian class action lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia (west), the province where first plaintiff Amelia Cline, a former top gymnast who wants “sports federations are held accountable” abuses perpetrated in this sport.

In this image from 2002, gymnast Amelia Cline competes at the national championships in Winnipeg, Canada.  (HANDOUT / AMELIA CLINE / AFP PHOTO)

“I feel lingering long-term effects from this abuse. Physically I suffer from chronic pain and psychologically I struggle to maintain healthy eating habits,” she explained to AFP, describing the violence inflicted by her trainer as being physical, psychological and emotional.

“The primary motivation for this appeal is to bring about real change in order to protect the next generation of gymnasts.”

Valérie Lord, lawyer

at AFP

The lawsuit targets Gymnastics Canada as well as the federations of six of the ten Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. “All disciplines of gymnastics – rhythmic, acrobatic, artistic, tumbling, trampoline – suffer in one way or another from this culture of control and domination by coaches”, explained the organization’s spokesperson, Kim Shore, believing that “the accountability system must change”.

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