Following this week's publication of the Whyte Review, BAC Chair Vicki Aggar gives her assessment of what the Review should mean for British sport as a whole.

Back in the summer of 2020, I was among those who watched Netflix’s ‘Athlete A’ documentary which laid bare the full, unimaginable scale of the systematic abuse within USA Gymnastics.

Within weeks of the documentary being aired, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the issue of abuse in gymnastics was far from confined to the United States, as hundreds of British gymnasts and their families courageously stepped forward to tell their stories of mistreatment within the sport.

I’m proud to say that, from the outset, many of these gymnasts chose to put their trust in our team at the British Athletes Commission (BAC), and I was very pleased to see the team’s ‘tireless’ work commended by Anne Whyte QC in the Whyte Review, which was published on Thursday.

While our primary responsibility is to provide independent and confidential support to World Class Programme athletes in Britain, it is also crucial that we do everything within our power to ensure that the experiences that were being relayed to our team should never be repeated, in any sporting environment.

Therefore, as the scale of the problem began to truly reveal itself, my concern escalated over the way that these allegations were set to be investigated.

Back in early-July of 2020, British Gymnastics had announced it was going to undertake an ‘independent’ review of the situation. However, as I wrote in the Guardian at the time, the ‘independence’ of the proposal seemed to me incredibly dubious, at best.

As I wrote then, ‘we owe it to our athletes to ensure it (the review) becomes thoroughly independent, so that their concerns…(are) not brushed under the carpet’.

It was therefore pleasing to observe the chain of events which followed: British Gymnastics stepping aside from the review, UK Sport and Sport England co-commissioning a truly independent review, and the appointment of Anne Whyte QC to lead the review.

In the nearly two years which have followed, our team at the BAC has continued to support and advise the 280-plus individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. Along with the NSPCC, our team has worked tirelessly to ensure that this independent support is robust, effective and provides a genuine way forward for people who have gone through inexcusably traumatic experiences in sport.

More than anything, I hope that this week’s publication of the Whyte Review brings them a sense of relative contentment that their experiences have truly been heard, acknowledged and will contribute to genuine, positive change within gymnastics.

However, it is absolutely crucial that this Review – and the journey that we have taken to get to this point – serves a number of other purposes within sport as a whole.

  • It must set the irreversible precedent for athletes’ concerns to be looked into independently. Only this will allow us to rebuild a sporting system which can truly operate with trust and integrity, and make good its numerous pledges to prioritise athlete wellbeing
  • It must be a genuine watershed moment in how sport treats its people. In many instances over recent years, we have seen promising but ultimately false dawns in regard to ‘culture change’, which observers can be forgiven for thinking have become little more than buzz words. Sport has – in my opinion – an unrivalled potential to power positive change in our society. Only by ensuring that people within sport are treated correctly can we expect this potential to continue to be fulfilled
  • It must lead to sustained efforts to remove the fear of repercussions of speaking out on an issue. As stated in the Review, our experiences show that if ‘an athlete is fearful of the consequences of disclosing concerns or making a complaint, that of itself might create delay’. All those involved in sport must have the confidence to report issues when they arise, and the knowledge that they will be investigated fully and without bias
  • It must lead to continued investment into independent bodies, such as the BAC, which will enable them to proactively and effectively represent and support our athletes, through meaningful engagement and trusted partnerships. Crucially, there must also be a more severe penalty put on sporting bodies who fail to engage with this independent support – such a measure will help us in reaching a point by which sport is truly open, transparent and trusted. As stated in the Review, ‘the BAC felt as though British Gymnastics staff had acted as 'gatekeepers' and that this had reduced opportunities to engage with gymnasts’. These barriers to athlete awareness of the full range of support available to them must be broken down


2022-06-18 08:37:57
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