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New Whyte Review stresses profound impact of culture within sporting organisations

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After nearly two years, the Anne Whyte QC Report has been released. At 309 pages, it is both comprehensive and detailed, with over 400 call-to-evidence submissions involved in its findings.

The report was commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England following a significant number of allegations regarding mistreatment within the sport of gymnastics, as well as claims that British Gymnastics had failed to deal with the complaints it received appropriately. Safeguarding has been, and is now, a hot topic over recent years, and there is a clear movement within the sporting sector to ensure that the athlete’s voice remains at the centre of decision-making, whether that’s in an elite or a grassroots club.

This report highlights, however, that the culture of a governing body or sporting organisation has a profound impact on those participating in the sport but that, as Anne states: “One of the common themes running through the disclosures was a sense that the Governing Body in the UK, British Gymnastics, had not only failed to prevent or limit such behaviours, but had condoned them”.

Sarah Powell, the new CEO of British Gymnastics, responded yesterday by apologising and admitting that she found reading the report “emotional”. She stated that British Gymnastics accepted all the recommendations and will take steps to restore confidence in British Gymnastics. She added that it was important for children to enjoy the sport of gymnastics, but that the Governing Body would need to rebuild trust, something that wasn’t going to be easy.

The report has 17 recommendations covering the themes that the Anne Whyte QC report was expected to deal with. Most of them mirror the recommendations that Clive Sheldon QC made last year, with both reports highlighting the need for a safeguarding agenda to be driven openly and transparently at Board level.

In particular, the Anne Whyte QC Report emphasises the need for all governing bodies, clubs, and organisations in sport to have an appropriate safeguarding framework and policies in place. Here are the recommendations in more detail:

  1. Reassess the level of responsibility given to volunteers in sport.
  2. Revise and update safeguarding courses.
  3. Revise and improve welfare provisions for high-performance gymnasts, including a more thorough induction process, access to independent disclosure and access to a dedicated welfare officer outside of the gymnast’s club.
  4. Review the levels of support provided to non-Olympic disciplines and ensure they are improved.
  5. Ensure case management systems for complaints are fit for purpose and enable records to be kept monitoring performance and identifying patterns of behaviour.
  6. Provide better guidance on internal policies for investigating complaints and concerns.
  7. Require clubs to have complaints policies for safeguarding concerns and operate a system for the mutual reporting of low-level concerns.
  8. Ensure welfare related complaints about employed coaches are independently investigated.
  9. Ensure that governing bodies are notified of complaints and that all actions, developments, and outcomes involve the respondent.
  10. Appoint a Director of Education with overall responsibility for the education and training of coaches and welfare officers and co-ordinate this with standards of conduct and policy.
  11. Review polices and update them to provide clear guidance to gymnasts.
  12. Produce and make available a gymnast’s handbook that includes codes of conduct, key policies, information on roles of welfare officers, who to make safeguarding reports etc. Update this every four years.
  13. Review and update educational programmes for coaches and welfare officers to address gaps and weaknesses.
  14. Increase direct contact with registered clubs to promote and monitor compliance as set out in the handbook.
  15. The BG Board must assume responsibility for implementing recommendations and publish progress reports at six, 12 and 24-month intervals.
  16. Appoint independent Board members with relevant professional expertise in safeguarding and athlete welfare.
  17. Introduce effective governance pathways to ensure that the views and interests of the athletes and parents are known to the Board and taken into consideration during relevant decision making.

We often see organisations falling short of this, simply due to a lack of training and communication regarding the safeguarding agenda. Those in a position of responsibility, whether staff or volunteers, should be aware of safeguarding risks and any control measures that their sporting organisation has in place.

A robust safeguarding regime is no longer a tick-box exercise within an organisation’s general compliance package, but a necessity for the protection of children, young adults and adults at risk when participating in any level of sport.

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