Young athletes at the National Centre of Excellence in Melbourne are allegedly subjected to punishments for ‘being cheeky’.
Young athletes at the National Centre of Excellence in Melbourne are allegedly subjected to punishments for ‘being cheeky’.

Brutal ‘punishments’ at kids’ gym

YOUNG Australian athletes striving to become elite gymnasts are subjected to private training sessions where their parents cannot watch, told not to hug one another and forced to hang on bars until their hands bleed, according to an explosive report.

Gymnasts at the National Centre of Excellence in Melbourne are also forced to perform handstands until their arms give out and squat until their knees can no longer support their body weight, parents claim.

The shock allegations have been made in an ABC investigation into the treatment of young gymnasts, most aged 15 years and under.

The national broadcaster spoke with more than a dozen parents from the Windsor-based gymnastics centre.

One parent said children were reprimanded for a number of reasons but that "punishments" were cruel and unusual.

"Punishments are given when you have not performed, when you may have been perceived to being a bit cheeky or didn't pay attention, any misdemeanour."

Another said their children were "yelled at on a daily basis, multiple times in a four-hour training session".

"They're not allowed to comfort each other," the parent said. "If they do, they get told off for giving the other gymnast a hug."

Parents complained to staff about medical appointments and massages being performed without their knowledge and behind closed doors.

"You don't know what's happened when they were in there," one parent told the ABC.

"They are in charge of your child's entire health. You don't know what the follow-up is because, 'You don't need to know, you're just the parent.'"

An investigation was carried out by Gymnastics Australia (GA) but parents say that investigation led nowhere and did not adequately address their concerns.

Gymnastics Australia CEO Kitty Chiller issued a statement, saying the investigation had been concluded "without any disciplinary action".

"The majority of allegations … were found to be incomplete and GA concluded that further investigation would not lead to a changed outcome for any party," Ms Chiller said.

"The investigation took longer than anticipated and extension would likely increase the burden placed on all parties involved.

"Based on the investigator's interim report, GA did not find that any staff member was in breach of their employment."

She said Gymnastics Australia "takes child safety very seriously and will take all such necessary measures to ensure that our sport operates in a child-safe environment".

The statement falls well short of what is expected, according to former GA board member George Tatai, who told the ABC the concerns of parents were "basically swept under the carpet".

"The investigation at least should have said if it didn't find anything," he said.

"If it was inconclusive, at least come back and make a statement to the parents."

The National Centre of Excellence is expected to close at the end of 2018, leaving only one national centre for gymnasts in Perth.

The move to return gymnastics to local clubs was announced by Gymnastics Victoria in December last year.

Athletes who are training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be allowed to use the centre until the games begin, The Australian reported.

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