He excelled in the athletic spotlight, but his exploits on the beam and bar hide a darker reality: Canadian gymnasts are taking legal action to denounce the “toxic” culture of physical, sexual and psychological abuse by the sport’s top officials. are. After suffering decades of loss, victims around the world have come forward in the wake of a US gymnastics scandal that broke out in 2015 before spreading overseas, including in the UK, where athletes launched similar legal action last year .
As a child gymnast in Vancouver, Amelia Kline dreamed of Olympic glory. In his teens, the elite athlete devoted thirty hours a week to training.
The former gymnast, now 32, told AFP: “Unfortunately, my early years of gymnastics, as positive as they were, have been somewhat wiped out over the past three years.”
She and other athletes filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gymnastics Canada and several provincial federations for enduring an environment of abuse and abuse for decades.
“The lawsuit is essentially designed to hold these institutions accountable for systemic psychological, emotional, physical and sexual violence,” she said.
In late March, a group of more than 70 current and former gymnasts published an open letter to Sports Canada condemning “the continuing toxic culture and abusive practices within Canadian gymnastics”.
The number of signatories has since grown to over 400, with the group calling for an independent investigation to shed light on the game’s problems.
“The general public doesn’t really understand the magnitude of abuse at the gym,” said former gymnast and spokeswoman for Gymnasts for Change Canada, Kim Shore, who says her daughter has also faced abuse in the sport.
“It seems logical to us that an independent investigation be conducted,” said Michelin Calmi-Ray, president of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation, created in 2019 in response to the scandal.
Gymnastics Canada said Thursday that the allegations in the lawsuit “describe unacceptable behavior in any sporting environment, and we take them very seriously.”
grilled about my weight
In a blog post, Kline says that at age 14, she weighed 85 pounds (38.5 kilograms) and “was told my weight on a weekly basis.”
Nearly 20 years after quitting gymnastics, she says she still suffers from the “long-term effects” of abuse that left her with chronic pain and made it harder for her to maintain healthy eating habits.
Like many of her peers, she laments the “culture of fear and silence” in gymnastics clubs across the country. “You don’t question what (the coaches) are doing. They are experts, and they are the ones who are taking you to the Olympics,” she explained.
“I was always afraid of my coaches,” another gymnast told AFP on condition of anonymity. “I loved gymnastics. I loved traveling. I loved being with other girls, but I was so afraid of them.”
He described a powerful loneliness felt by child gymnasts whose parents were often banned from practices. Very young athletes were even told never to speak up about their training.
“Many times kids are told that what happens at the gym stays at the gym,” recalls Shor.
She says gymnastics has been corrupted by a “culture of control and dominance” over athletes.
“Provincial bodies are made up of individuals who are conflicting,” he said, “in some provinces, the chair of the board is also the head coach of a gymnastics club.”
Now that a claim has been filed and the problems have been uncovered, Kline and his attorneys believe the number of plaintiffs “will increase significantly.”
Kline just wishes her nightmare would never be experienced by other young gymnasts.
“There really is no other mechanism within Canada to hold such institutions accountable other than the legal system,” she said.
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