WA child gymnasts injected with cortisone without parent consent, former Olympian claims

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WA child gymnasts injected with cortisone without parent consent, former Olympian claims

By Daile Cross

Close to 60 West Australian gymnasts have come forward to tell how they still struggle with mental health issues, eating disorders and stress after suffering abuse as child athletes.

Jen Smith, a former Olympian, appeared on Sunrise on Tuesday morning, clearly struggling with reliving the abuse she suffered while training in WA.

Jen Smith says she was injected with cortisone without her parent’s consent and has trouble thinking about her days as a young gymnast.

Jen Smith says she was injected with cortisone without her parent’s consent and has trouble thinking about her days as a young gymnast.

She said she suffered a constant stream of injuries as a child and was injected with cortisone and prescribed painkillers without her parents’ knowledge.

“It feels like I’ve avoided reliving my childhood for the last 20 years,” she said, recounting her training schedule of more than 30 hours per week at just 12 years old.

Ms Smith said she believed parents had made complaints over the years but they had not been investigated adequately by authorities.

The WA Institute of Sport board met on Monday night to discuss the Australian Human Rights Commission’s investigation into gymnastics in Australia, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

The disturbing report, released Monday, details hundreds of instances of abuse of young gymnasts across Australia.

It found even now coaching practices in the strict sport created “a risk of abuse and harm to athletes” and there was “insufficient focus” on understanding the range of behaviours that could constitute child abuse and neglect.

“I had a grown adult sit [with all of their weight] on my kneecaps while my heels were placed on an object 30-50 cm tall, for minutes at a time on a daily basis. The coach stretched me to the point I wanted to die.”

Submission to the AHRC report
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“Gymnastics at all levels has not appropriately and adequately addressed complaints of abuse and harm and are not effectively safeguarding children and young people,” the review found.

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The report paints a picture of systemic dysfunction.

The WAIS board released a statement on Tuesday saying it was disturbed and saddened by the findings which showed a systemic failure across the sport to provide safe and age-appropriate training programs.

“The report points to a pervasive ‘win at all costs’ mentality. It is a great concern to read of the ‘costs’ paid by vulnerable children and adolescents,” WAIS board chairman Neil McLean said.

“On behalf of the WAIS Board and management we offer our sincere apologies to any person who has experienced distress or injury associated with their participation in the WAIS gymnastics program.”

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WAIS no longer runs a gymnastics program.

“We will continue to offer whatever support we can to those former gymnasts and their families who participated in the WAIS gymnastics program and who have come forward with their stories through the process of this review,” Mr McLean said.

Former gymnast Julia Murcia said members of Gymnast Alliance Australia knew first-hand the effects of childhood trauma from abuse.

“We hope that this review will not only lead to improvements in child and athlete safety in gymnastics, but also encourage parents, organisations and Governments to make child and athlete safety the number one priority in sport,” she said.

“We encourage all organisations to embed a child-safe culture, implement best practice and make a commitment to protect and empower children and young people.”

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