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Independent council to review culture of abuse in gymnastics

06:18 30/08/2020
From Flanders Today

An independent commission has been set up to hear testimonies about abuse within gymnastics clubs in Flanders, following a series of bullying accusations during the summer. The commission will both advise the sector and hand out sanctions where necessary.

“Every complaint is one too many and must be seriously investigated,” said Flemish sports minister Ben Weyts, whose department will finance the commission. “A sports club should be a safe haven where every athlete can turn to their trainer or coach.”

The region’s gymnastics federation, Gymfed, already has an ethics committee, but the creation of a separate commission is intended to ensure impartiality and objective treatment of complainants. It will be composed of Bart Meganck, a judge in Ghent’s court of appeal, sports psychologist Caroline Jannes and magistrate Herman Huygens. None of the members has any link to Gymfed.

Earlier this summer, a number of gymnasts testified of physical and psychological abuse by coaches. The reports came after Dutch coach Gerrit Beltman, head coach at Gymfed in the early 2000s, admitted in an interview with Noord Hollands Dagblad that he had engaged in such tactics with athletes during training sessions, and that he was not the only coach to do so.

At the end of July, four former top gymnasts who competed for Belgium – Aagje Vanwalleghem, Gaëlle Mys, Dorien Motten and Laura Waem – published an open letter in which they said: “Many of us sounded the alarm years ago. Reports were made, complaints were made, cases were brought before the [Gymfed] ethics committee. The applause for winning medals, however, was louder than our cries for help ... We will, of course, remain available to engage with a truly independent ethics committee to share our painful experiences with them again.”

Anybody wanting to testify to the commission can email in strict confidence. The commission secretary will organise a time for the complainant to appear before the commission and provide further information.

Depending on the content of the testimonies, the commission will then call other witnesses, carry out a number of hearings and compile a final report. “I fully support the work of this independent commission and repeat my call to all witnesses to share their stories,” said Weyts.

The commission will be in operation until the end of January and will provide monthly updates to Weyts, with a final report at the end of the process.

Photo ©Getty Images

Written by Flanders Today