July 31st 2020

The world of gymnastics has been shocked to the core with the horrible revelations now on both sides of the World about the way athletes were treated, but should anyone have been surprised? The links are clear, and there is one woman linked inextricably to the scandal both here and Australia: Jane Allen.

You can bet they never said it publicly, but you can also put your last pound on the fact that everyone at British Gymnastics was breathing a collective sigh of relief that the focus of the world on the sport moved from these shores to Australia last week.

A string of horrific allegations were made by Gymnasts Down Under including: Pressure over their weight and incidents of food deprivation; some detailed experiences with bulimia, pressure to train and perform through injuries such as broken bones, being coerced to perform stunts beyond their ability and widespread violations of adult-child supervision guidelines.

Many spoke about what they termed simply, a toxic environment of criticism and negativity.

These had chilling echoes of the words used by – amongst others – the Downie sisters, the Midlands pair who have both competed in world events with distinction, but who spoke out about “ingrained” and “completely normalised” abuse at British Gymnastics. Work done by Sky News and ITV News has uncovered dozens and dozens of stories, as talented young people were driven away in fear from a sport they loved and had dedicated themselves to.

These revelations and countless others prompted British Gymnastics to stand aside and allowed UK Sport and Sport England to lead an “independent” investigation into what has been called a “culture of fear.” Of course, that is seen as something of a joke in national sporting circles given the close, somewhat unhealthy relationship between Phil Smith of Sport England and the CEO of British Gymnastics, Jane Allen.

UK Gymnasts will all have their own opinions as to Allen’s failings both to them and the sport in this country more widely, but it’s her previous job that is particularly interesting in the context of current events, because for the 13 years previous to her appointment into the top job in British Gymnastics Allen had been the head Down Under too.

So for 23 years she has been the boss of two organisations. One now branded as “toxic” and one branded as possessing a “culture of fear”. The stark point here is that although the head offices of BG and Gymnastics Australia are some 10,566 miles apart, the apple has not fallen from the tree. Maybe the problem with the “culture of fear” in the UK and the “toxic environment” in Australia is Allen herself. At the very least you could say controversy seems to follow her about.

Interestingly, Gymnastics Australia put out a statement today in response to their own problems: “These are the first steps in this phase of our ongoing journey of change. We will not be complacent,” said Kitty Chiller, their current CEO.

Their Chief Exec between 97-2010 – Chiller’s counterpart over here too lest we forget –  tried to do the same when the allegations first became headline news in Britain. “Personally, I am appalled and ashamed by the stories I have heard,” said Allen. She might have been, but then the question of what she did between 2017 and 2020 must be asked.

Why? Well, Commonwealth Games Gold winner Rebecca Mason called for Jane Allen’s resignation, because, as she told the Guardian: “This is the same woman who has been in the same position for the last 10-plus years. She was there when stuff happened to Dan Keating, who spoke out about a culture of fear in 2017, as well as other gymnasts who are now coming forward.”

To date no such resignation has been forthcoming and Jane Allen continues to pocket her hefty salary as athletes on separate sides of the world try and come to terms with the abuse they have suffered. Indeed, if she was so “appalled” in 2020, why did Allen stay silent three years before?

Of course, it might not be Allen’s fault that such horrors take place, that’s true. However, there is surely no power without accountability, and at the very least, a pattern is emerging over decades. Indeed, at times like this you can only be reminded of the words of Steven Denn: “You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.”

And, now Ms Allen, the choice is yours. For the first time in decades, do the right thing.

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