The Maltreatment of Athletes in Gymnastics and Toxic Culture

Unfortunately, this entry is different from the rest because I offer no advice, nor do I want to write it. This write-up is my reluctant sharing of a letter penned by a group of gymnasts to Sport Canada regarding the maltreatment of athletes in the sport of gymnastics and its toxic culture. 

CBC published an article about the letter titled, “My self-confidence is almost non-existent”: Canadian gymnasts’ letter on abuse spurs roundtable. It starts by mentioning that “While alarming in any sport, abuse in gymnastics usually involves minors.”

UPDATE: As of May 18th of 2022 the article has been removed from CBC’s website. We can only speculate that this results from pressures applied by Gym Canada and it’s legal defence.

In that article, the person lamenting her non-existent self-confidence is former Olympic gymnast Brittany Rogers, who represented Canada at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. 

Brittany Rogers training in Canada

“You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re not good enough,” are some of the invectives Rogers endured at the mercy of her coaches. 

She also says in that interview, “Something new surfaces almost every day. My self-confidence is almost non-existent. I doubt myself. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror sometimes because I’m either so judgemental in my physical appearance or it’s just instilled in me that I will never be good enough.”

Personally, and as I told my athletes in a conversation about the need for mutual respect in the gym, the idea of belittling anyone is beyond my grasp. 

That same idea becomes unacceptable when children enter the equation. 

And there is no other way to describe it. The conception of making a child – the future of our sport and our world – feel undeserving of respect is obscenely inadequate. 

That notion is ethically, philosophically, and, dare I say, humanly insufficient. 

The letter points directly to GymCan‘s leadership’s lack of action on this issue, making the organisation’s financial motivations a contributing factor to the problem. 

I could not bring myself to expand on the letter; it is well-written, and the honesty poured into it by the athletes who penned it makes it worthy of careful consideration. I have linked to the original letter below. 

Support Athletes’ call for Independent Review of GymCan Leadership + Sport Culture

To: Vicki Walker, Director General Sport Canada 

cc: The Honourable Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Sport 

As current and former elite Canadian gymnasts, we have been and continue to be subject to a toxic culture and abusive practices within Canadian gymnastics. We are and have been members of the Olympic Team, the National Team, and other competitive programs. For almost a decade, the fear of retribution has prevented us and scores of other athletes from speaking out. However, we can no longer sit in silence. We are coming forward with our experiences of abuse, neglect, and discrimination in hopes of forcing change. We ask Sport Canada to take action to ensure the next generation of Canadian gymnasts is not subject to the physical and psychological trauma that we have had to endure.

You can use the link to sign the letter and support our athletes in making the changes our sport requires. 

I have also posted a copy of it here to preserve it should it become inaccessible. 

Let me clarify that my hesitancy in saying more about the letter is in deference to the people responsible for it. It should not imply an unwillingness to talk about the subject on my part. 

I will always speak loudly about children’s well-being. There is no better reason to shout and fight. 

Thank you for reading

— Coach José

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