“I was terrified of gaining weight” – the “culture of fear” in British gymnastics


Nicole Pavier says she became “terrified” that she would gain weight

Nicole Pavier says that an eating disorder always “poisons” her life. A former gymnast from England, she says that she was weighed every day during her career.

Pavier, 24, told BBC Sport how she developed binge eating at the age of 14 and retired three years later after becoming “someone’s shell”.

She is one of the gymnasts who spoke to BBC Sport about what they called a “culture of fear” in the “mentally and emotionally violent” sport of gymnastics.

British Gymnastics has announced that an independent review will take place following allegations of ill-treatment by a number of athletes in recent days.

“It is clear that the gymnasts did not think they could voice their concerns to British Gymnastics and it is essential that an independent review helps us to better understand why so that we can remove the barriers as quickly as possible,” said the Executive Director Jane Allen.

Pavier said that she became “terrified” that she would gain weight and find “mechanisms” to try to prevent it from doing so.

“As an adult now, you really realize how much it has affected you, eating disorders, chronic pain, waking up from nightmares every night, never feeling well enough,” said Pavier.

“He has such a long-term implication. “

She alleged that the gymnasts were sometimes weighed twice a day, and said that her trainer, Claire Barbieri, “would discuss the weight of people in front of the whole group” and would post their weight on a whiteboard.

Barbieri told BBC Sport that “so far there has never been a formal complaint against me by a gymnast”.

“I recognize that the training regime for elite gymnasts can sometimes be difficult,” she said in a statement. “However, throughout my career, I have followed best practices in British gymnastics and I continue to consider the well-being of the gymnasts I train as my priority. “

She added, “In accordance with current practice at the time, the club had a system for weighing and measuring elite gymnasts daily. Following the advice of the GB medical team, this number was reduced to twice a week.

“I am fully aware of the risks of eating disorders among gymnasts and have ensured that professional advice is obtained and followed up where potential problems have been reported.

“Although a whiteboard was used initially, I recognized the concerns of some gymnasts about it and changed the practice – by introducing a system where gymnasts had more privacy and kept their own records . “

The independent review of British Gymnastics will be carried out by Jane Mulcahy QC.

Allen said, “The behaviors we have heard of in recent days are completely contrary to our safe coaching standards and have no place in our sport. The British Gymnastics Integrity Unit is set up to investigate all allegations when they are reported or identified by our national network. clubs and regional social protection officers

“There is nothing more important to British gymnastics than the well-being of our gymnasts at all levels of our sport and we will continually strive to create a culture where people feel they can voice their concerns. “

Pavier says she was 21 when she took control of her eating disorder, but admits that she is “picking up the pieces.”

“I always hate how I look, I always feel like I’m overweight, I always wake up and I don’t want to eat breakfast on certain days or I won’t eat anything,” she says.

“There is no day when I wake up and look in the mirror and be happy with what I see. “

Athletes “seated and made to sit in cupboards”

BBC Sport also heard testimony from several other gymnasts – at all levels of the sport, who had several different coaches and trained in several different clubs – as well as from certain parents.

According to their testimony, BBC Sport learned how certain gymnasts were:

  • Made to sit in store closets if they cried or refused to practice a skill to train;
  • Hit by a coach on the legs with a wooden stick;
  • Sit if they were not completely on the ground during the division.

It has been claimed that a coach forced his gymnasts to do three hours of conditioning after seeing some of them eating potato chips.

Another trainer reportedly stood in line and watched as he ordered the cleaners to search the garbage cans for discarded snack packages.

Other gymnasts also stated that they trained due to injuries. A parent told BBC Sport that his daughter broke her wrist during training. As soon as her daughter got out of a splint, she said that she had to use the wrist in her movements, causing her so much pain once that she vomited.

Gymnast says she broke a rib in training but chose not to tell her coach, the injury eventually caused her a punctured lung that prevented her from competing and training during a year.

Many BBC Sport gymnasts have said they are still suffering from psychological effects, including anxiety and depression, for which some continue to take medication and others are on therapy.

One says that she continues to have night terrors, years after her retirement, while a parent spoke of young gymnasts whom she knew had fallen out because of the stress they felt.

Coaches frequently “shouted” to gymnasts and their parents, a parent saying they had been “cared for” and their children, who they knew would be “punished” if training methods were not accepted .

Many of the athletes we met said that they would not want a child in the future to do gymnastics.

British Gymnastics declined to comment on any individual case, but told BBC Sport in a statement: “British Gymnastics condemns any behavior detrimental to the well-being of our gymnasts. Such behavior is totally contrary to our safe training standards.

“Our Integrity Unit investigates all allegations brought to our attention or identified by our national network of club social protection officers and takes disciplinary action to prevent them from happening again.

“We have worked particularly hard in recent years to ensure that our culture of athletes and coaches is transparent, fair and inclusive.

“British Gymnastics reaches out to any gymnast, past or present, who has concerns about specific incidents or behaviors and encourages them to contact our Integrity Unit. “

“We want to show our support”

Last week, former British gymnast Jennifer Pinches, who competed in the London 2012 Olympic Games, contacted other gymnasts on social media.

“We wanted to get together and just show our support for anyone who has been abused,” the 26-year-old told BBC Sport.

“It’s about creating gymnasts and a support network.

“Unfortunately, certain types of behavior have become a bit standardized in gymnastics, unacceptable behavior – and it’s not just Britain, it’s around the world.

“There is a better way, we know, so we want to take a stand against any type of harmful behavior and support those who have been abused. We want a safe, happy and healthy environment for gymnasts. “


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