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The Whyte review into abuse in Gymnastics – is it good enough?

At the end of August, UK Sport and Sport England finally confirmed that the review into allegations of mistreatment and abuse within gymnastics would be completely independent from British Gymnastics.  It will be conducted by Anne White QC, a barrister and Deputy High Court Judge who has a wealth of experience in dealing with vulnerable witnesses and sexual offences.

I certainly welcomed this announcement, having previously raised concerns about the need for any investigation to be truly independent (see here).  The problem with the previous proposals was that it was to be conducted by British Gymnastics – which in effect meant that they would be investigating themselves.

I am pleased that there is now an independent review and hope that this will be the first step towards a full inquiry into abuse in gymnastics.

Now that we have the review, we have to ask, will it go far enough?

Limited aims

As the name suggests, the Whyte Review is a review of the safeguarding and complaint system in place in the sport of gymnastics.  Its aim, as set out in its terms of reference, is to investigate complaints received by British Gymnastics between August 2008 and August 2020 in order to determine whether:

  1. gymnasts’ wellbeing and welfare is (and has been) at the centre of the culture of British Gymnastics, its registered clubs and member coaches and if not, why not;
  2. safeguarding concerns and complaints have been dealt with appropriately in the sport of gymnastics and if not, why not; and,
  3. gymnasts, or their parents, carers or guardians, have felt unable to raise complaints with appropriate authorities and if so, why.

The Review will not determine the merits of any complaints that were made but will make recommendations for the future.  Unlike a statutory inquiry, the Review can invite evidence from witnesses but has no legal power to compel anyone to give evidence.

Unfortunately, the Review has primarily limited itself to dealing only with whether the complaints and safeguarding systems at British Gymnastics are adequate.  A review into how complaints of abuse are dealt with at British Gymnastics is welcome but clearly this is not a comprehensive inquiry into the full extent of abuse within gymnastics as a sport.

Limited period of time

The Whyte Review will only investigate complaints received by British Gymnastics between August 2008 and August 2020.

This means that many survivors of abuse, including adults who were abused as young children and have raised complaints prior to August 2008, are arbitrarily excluded from the scope of the Review.

The Call for Evidence

The Review has called for evidence to give an opportunity for individuals to provide relevant information.  The “Call for Evidence” page on their website is not particularly clear as to what evidence is actually being called for but simply refers to “information relevant to its Terms of Reference” – which will be rather meaningless to anyone who has not read the terms in detail.

Not only that but the Review has allowed an unbelievably short period of time for survivors to submit their evidence – the call for evidence closes at 5pm on Friday 9 October 2020 (evidence can be submitted via email to info@whytereview.org).

It is also not clear whether the Review’s call for evidence is receiving the proper publicity that it needs.  There has been very little comment in the national press since it was first launched in August.  Many people will not be aware of the Review by the time the call for evidence has closed.

On the 23rd September, the Review released a video asking for anyone to come forward with relevant information – but it is not clear how many people this has reached, with the video on YouTube registering only 837 views at the time of writing.

In addition, there may be many survivors who are aware of it but still feel traumatised by their experiences and are struggling with the decision as to whether to give evidence, which they may worry will re-open old wounds.  They may need more time and support before they feel comfortable to contact the Review to share their evidence.

By limiting the call for evidence to such a short period of time, the Review is placing a further limitation of the amount of evidence it will likely receive.

No guaranteed anonymity for victims

The Review does not guarantee anonymity to anyone who wants their evidence to be used (unless they are under 18).  Although the Review states that the report “will only name individuals and organisations where this is necessary in order to fulfil the Terms of Reference and to make robust evidence-based findings and recommendations”, it does not make it clear how this will be applied.  They state that they may not be able to use the evidence of anyone who wishes to remain anonymous.

I do not expect the Review will name anyone unnecessarily, but these comments will not be reassuring to those who are being asked to provide very personal details relating to unpleasant experiences with the Review.

What does the Future hold for the Review?

Although there are many limitations to this Review as I have set out, that does not mean that the Review will not be useful and perhaps a first step towards a more in-depth inquiry: the Reviewer will prepare an interim report once she has considered the evidence and, based on the nature and scale of the information received at this point, she can recommend changes to terms of the review.

On their FAQ page, they do encourage people to submit information even if they are not sure if it falls within the parameters of the review – but this is not made particularly clear in any other part of their publicity.

For that reason, in my opinion it is very important that anyone who feels able to share their experience of abuse within gymnastics, does so – whether they are within the time limits or not and whether or not they have made a previous complaint.

Whether the review expands into a full inquiry will very much be dependent upon the evidence that the Review receives as a result of its call for evidence.  Given lack of publicity so far, I am not altogether hopeful that survivors will get the full inquiry that they deserve.

Joseph Carr is a senior solicitor in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Joseph free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4807 or at josephcarr@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you.  Find out more about the Abuse team.

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