July 16th 2020
Sport England, British Gymnastics, and Independence
Sport England

British Gymnastics announced today that they would step aside to allow Sport England to conduct the review into the ‘culture of fear’ within the organisation, following the recent spate of stories from gymnasts who have been abused and badly treated under Jane Allen’s reign.

Firstly, why doesn’t Jane Allen herself simply resign? Wouldn’t this be the obvious first step into solving the problem? Why is she clinging on when it is obvious to everybody that new leadership is required in the sport?

And secondly, is anybody fooled that Sport England are independent?

Back in March of this year Ms Allen was so worried about a competitor to British Gymnastics monopoly of the sport, that she asked if Sport England would breach their independence and support British Gymnastics in a case against a competitor.

Sport England did more than that. They sent one of their key Directors, Phil Smith, to the High Court to help British Gymnastics win this battle. No matter to Mr Smith or Sport England that the end result might have been British Gymnastics monopoly and income increasing further, prices going up in the sport, and hundreds of gymnasts leaving the sport they love. No, Sport England were going to support their friends British Gymnastics even if it meant they could no longer be seen as independent.

But what did Mr Smith actually say at the High Court about British Gymnastics?

Well, this. British Gymnastics, he claimed, showed “robust management and governance procedures”.

He went on to claim that Sport England invest in British gymnastics “to ensure that people are taking part in their chosen activity in a safe environment”.

But it doesn’t end there.

Mr Smith also asserted that Sport England gives money to British Gymnastics to ensure that they have the relevant safety standards and that British Gymnastics customers and participants are protected.

Hopelessly out of touch, or just desperate to ensure their friends and partners in British Gymnastics retained their monopoly on gymnastics?

Sport England are not independent. They already have a view on British Gymnastics and Jane Allen herself. Sport England’s view, as recently as March of this year was that she was doing an excellent job and ensuring that everybody was safe in the sport of gymnastics. Sport England were even prepared to go to court, takes sides with British Gymnastics, and make these claims on the record.

And now we are all led to think that Sport England are completely independent of British gymnastics. Is anybody fooled by this?

Perhaps, if we were being charitable, we could say that Mr Smith was so wildly out of touch (and let’s face it, in the same High Court he didn’t even know that there were multiple governing bodies in mainstream sports such as darts and boxing, for instance) that he genuinely believed that there were no problems whatsoever in the sport of gymnastics.

Perhaps Mr Smith and Sport England stuck their heads in the sand when these allegations first appeared three years ago. In Mr Smith’s desperation to support Jane Allen he simply pretended there were no problems whatsoever and there was nothing to worry about.

But if Sport England really believed that British Gymnastics was so excellent in their record of safety for gymnasts, what makes anybody think that they will suddenly think differently now, after being silent on this issue for so long, and publicly supporting British Gymnastics and Jane Allen as recently as a few months ago?

It is not an independent review that we need in gymnastics. It is more choice so that gymnasts and clubs up and down the country don’t have the choice of either being tied to British Gymnastics, or having to give up the sport entirely.

At some point the penny is going to drop with British Gymnastics, Sport England and indeed the courts themselves who have shown a willingness to support the status quo and preserve this monopoly. The penny has already dropped with the public a long time ago.

Andy Thorley andythorley@leisureleagues.net

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