Brave Nile Wilson can be the catalyst to get our athletes heard – Sam Meade
Five weeks ago, I wrote a column about the documentary Athlete A and the reaction from British gymnasts to the exposing of a cultural problem in the sport over how gymnasts were treated.
I questioned whether the current model of funding via UK Sport put extra pressure on a sport like theirs and made it susceptible to athletes being crudely seen as vehicles for medals and therefore funding.
Today, I am so glad I asked those questions.
Having watched Nile Wilson’s extraordinarily brave interview with the BBC in which he opened up about the cultural issues in the sport, and the way in which his own complaint over an incident with a person of authority at Leeds Gymnastics Club was dealt with by the club and British Gymnastics, I feel angry.
I know Nile and he is the epitome of a lovely lad – cheeky, adventurous and confident. To see him so drained of energy and to describe that he felt ‘worthless’ and ‘not heard’ was utterly heartbreaking.
The rights and wrongs of Nile’s incident and the nature of the complaint are something I am not privy to.
But the least you would expect is that a young sports person feels they are being heard when they get to a place where they make a formal complaint.
Nile would not have done that lightly, especially within his sport.
I found the statements by Leeds Gymnastics Club and British Gymnastics telling as well – they hid behind process.
The point is that the process left the athlete feeling worthless.
I also read a piece this week by the CEO of British Gymnastics, Jane Allen, admitting they had fallen short in protecting their members, yet simultaneously saying that some gymnasts are just aggrieved with the outcome of their complaints.
And her suggestion for a solution? Add more process to the whole thing. No wonder gymnasts feel they have nowhere to go.
As I write this, I can feel myself getting emotional.
I am an Olympian who cares deeply about all sport in Great Britain. I want us to win but I also want us to do things the right way and care for our athletes.
I don’t ever want to hear one of our top athletes, or any athlete for that matter, say they feel like no one cared. You can hide behind process all you like, but that is unacceptable.
My previous boss at England Hockey, Sally Munday, is now CEO of UK Sport. She recently said that she had confidence in Jane Allen. But with the line of stories in recent weeks from gymnasts, and Allen’s response, I find this troubling.
I don’t believe British Gymnastics is on its own with these issues. Indeed, I saw Jess Ennis-Hill’s former coach Toni Minichiello write a tweet of support for Nile and say the same problems existed in athletics.
Now is the time for change, starting at British Gymnastics.