Survey shows many feel inappropriate conduct is not punished in elite sport

Only 53 per cent of respondents in a survey of elite athletes and coaches felt people behaving inappropriately in the high-performance programme face consequences for their actions.

The 2019 Culture Health Check (CHC) commissioned by elite sports funding body UK Sport found just under a third (31 per cent) of athletes either disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement, at a time when an independent review is being conducted into how complaints of abuse in British gymnastics were handled.

The CHC, which received responses from just under 800 athletes across Olympic and Paralympic sports, also found 10 per cent had experienced and/or witnessed inappropriate behaviour.

The survey, which ran from March to December last year, also reported a quarter of athletes either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they had confidence in the future direction of the world-class programme, although it found that 92 per cent of the high-performance community were proud to be a part of it.

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday said: “It is possible to be successful whilst embracing a culture that puts athletes’ welfare and well-being at its very core. I strongly reject that it is an either/or.

“For anyone who doesn’t want to adhere to the highest standards of ethics and integrity, my message is clear, you are not welcome in Olympic and Paralympic sport.”

A number of gymnasts have complained over their treatment at the hands of coaches, and the independent review led by Anne Whyte QC will look at how British Gymnastics as a national governing body handled those complaints.

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday says those who do not adhere to the highest standards are not welcome in elite sport
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday says those who do not adhere to the highest standards are not welcome in elite sport (Steve Parsons/PA)

Munday added: “We are really disappointed by the stories that have emerged in gymnastics. Such behaviour has just got no place at any level of the sport we fund.

“We need to allow that review to do its thing, to reach its conclusions and then allow us act to on those conclusions.”

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger says she has felt “disappointment, at times disbelief, deep, deep sadness and frequently anger” at the reports of abuse within elite Olympic sports in recent months.

“There are numerous sports where athletes and coaches are recognising that you don’t need a win at all costs mentality to be a winner,” the 2012 Olympic rowing gold medallist said.

“Quite the opposite. Athletes performance better in a positive environment.”

Munday said that while some forms of unacceptable behaviour such as those related to protected characteristics are clear, in some cases it can be harder to define what is a coach pushing an athlete and what crosses the line to be deemed abuse.

She talked about agreements being reached in advance between coaches and athletes about changes to the intensity of coaching, something she witnessed first hand during her time as chief executive at England Hockey in preparation for the 2016 Games.

Great Britain's women's hockey team were gold medallists in 2016
Great Britain’s women’s hockey team were gold medallists in 2016 (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“The teams had to play eight matches in 13 days and physically that is incredibly demanding,” she told the PA news agency.

“So what our coaches will do in the preparation is they will replicate the kind of physical pressure that will create and they will also try to add to that some emotional and mental pressure because clearly being on that world stage where you’re trying to give the performance of your life comes with emotional pressure.

“But that would be contracted up front with the players, so there’d be discussion about ‘OK, this next window of four weeks is going to look and feel really tough, this is the reason why we’re doing it, this is why we want you to experience this now because it’s going to prepare you for competition’.

“The idea being that the athletes get chance to ask questions, to probe, to accept and buy into that approach to training, then it becomes about what the athlete wants to do as well as what the coach wants to do.”

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