British Gymnastics’ chief executive Jane Allen has denied the governing body has a ‘win at any cost’ mentality and said athletes’ welfare has ‘the highest priority’.
The Australian, who has run the sport since 2010, was responding to a report in Monday’s Guardian newspaper that said British Gymnastics was ‘in crisis’ with athletes and coaches in open revolt against the Lilleshall-based governing body.
The paper claimed most of Great Britain’s most successful gymnasts were being threatened with losing their funding because they have refused to sign new contracts, while several grassroots coaches believe Allen should resign over a series of bullying and safeguarding cases and other failures.
In a statement published on the British Gymnastics website, however, Allen defends her record.
On the contracts, the former Gymnastics Australia boss writes the governing body is currently ‘in consultation’ with some elite athletes about their annual ‘agreements’, which cover their ‘respective responsibilities and obligations’, including codes of conduct, medical support and commercial relationships.
She acknowledged the sport wanted these contracts signed before last month’s World Championships but claims the governing body agreed to wait because some athletes ‘wanted more time to review the agreement’. This was granted and more than half of the squad have now signed it.
‘No athlete has refused to sign and the consultation process is still ongoing,’ wrote Allen.
On safeguarding, Allen refuted two cases mentioned by newspaper, claiming the sport’s processes are ‘robust’ and complaints are dealt with ‘fairly’.
She did, however, admit the governing body has ‘been made aware of additional welfare concerns’ today and encouraged anyone with a complaint to come forward.
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And on her leadership, she wrote she was ‘proud’ to be driving an organisation trying to create ‘lasting success’, even if it meant having to make ‘difficult decisions that may well be challenged’.
Adding that she welcomed ‘debate and constructive feedback’, Allen concluded: ‘We want to make the nation proud but ‘how we win’ is just as important.
‘This administration has never had a desire to win at any cost and under my leadership I expect the athletes’ welfare to be given the highest priority.’
Any reasonable assessment of Allen’s time in charge of British Gymnastics must include the fact the team won seven medals at the Rio Olympics last year, including two golds, and have maintained that success this year.
This has resulted in a huge rise in the sport’s profile and the government has invested £25million in elite and grassroots in the four-year build-up to Tokyo 2020 – a vote of confidence reflected in British Gymnastics being named national governing body of the year in 2016.
But Press Association Sport understands the sentiments expressed by The Guardian are widely held within the sport with many at the elite end saying the governing body is placing too many demands on athletes who are becoming increasingly self-sufficient, while grassroots coaches claim British Gymnastics has been slow to tackle bad practice and was not ready to capitalise on the sport’s post-Rio upsurge in popularity.
The contracts issue, however, also raises serious questions for funding agency UK Sport, as it is understood to involve the number of days athletes are expected to make themselves available for the National Lottery’s marketing efforts, as well thorny questions about whether athletes are employees or not, and the point at which they are means-tested out of funding.