Historic Gymnastics Sexual Assault Case: Survivor Says ‘Disastrous Failures’


A victim of historic child sexual abuse by a former trampoline coach has accused British Gymnastics of “catastrophic failures” in what she says is the biggest case of sexual abuse in the governing body’s history.

Olympic diver Brian Phelps, who won a bronze medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics as a teenager, retired as a trampoline coach at a gymnastics club. But he was later jailed in 2008, aged 64, after admitting a series of indecent assaults on three children.

Phelps, who also won gold at the 1962 and 1966 Commonwealth Games, served six years of a nine-year sentence.

However, “Emma” claims that there are at least 12 other victims, including her.

In the interview, Emma revealed how in the mid-1970s, aged five, Phelps raped and molested her at the trampoline gym he ran with his wife Monica.

The gym, which joined British Gymnastics, then moved to new premises in Poole, Dorset, and was named “Olga”. Emma says the abuse continued in the basement.

She said: “They called the basement Happyland. Disney characters were painted on the walls, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“Horrible things [відбулися тут], the worst thing that can happen to a little girl when she is in the hands of a pedophile. I think a small part of your soul, when something so violent happens, is torn apart.”

Emma told police about the abuse in the early 90s, when she was suffering from anorexia, but did not feel strong enough to press charges. But she said the recent revelations of abuse in the sport, as well as the White Review’s investigation into “systemic” physical and emotional abuse in gymnastics, made her feel “empowered” to speak out.

She is speaking to lawyers and considering legal action to force British Gymnastics to pay her compensation for her years of therapy and to fund a center for survivors of abuse.

Emma added: “There were catastrophic failures in many institutions that contributed to what happened to us – at county level, obviously, GBG, everyone else who was supposed to be regulating what was going on at the time.

“Now it’s about redirecting the deep, deep shame that exists within ourselves as survivors to where it belongs — and that’s everyone who was complicit in whatever happened to us.”

GB Gymnastics said it “sincerely apologizes for any offense caused to the sport” and said Emma had received extensive one-to-one support from her safeguarding team for several months.

It added: “Our Reform ’25 action plan sets out clearly what we have learned from the past, including working with survivors to develop recovery support over the next two years.”

Phelps told the BBC that he “vehemently denies all allegations” made against him by “Emma” and said he did not even go into the basement. He said that in 2008, the child protection team searched for “a lot of children who were closely connected to me through sport, looking for victims who had ‘slipped through the net’ – with no answers”.

What is the background?

Phelps jumps from the springboard during training

Emma was 12 years old when she told her parents that she could no longer attend Olga Phelps’ gym. But it wasn’t until 2008, when Phelps pleaded guilty to 42 counts of historic indecent assault and gross indecency against three children aged six to 15, that she realized she wasn’t his only victim. He was put on the sex offenders register for life. Phelps was also charged with rape and attempted rape, which he denied.

Revered as an Olympian, a charge of exposing himself to a child was dropped just weeks before he won double gold at the 1966 Commonwealth Games.

In 1979 he was a finalist on the popular BBC show Superstars. More allegations were made about Phelps’ behavior in the 90s, but no action was taken. It was only after three women spoke out in 2003 that he was suspended from British Gymnastics the following year and convicted four years later.

Despite its association with a convicted pedophile, the Olga gym brand continued to operate in the Poole area, with a second facility opening in 2016, both run by Everyone Active in partnership with Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council.

“What was it like to know that it was still going on? The horror,” says Emma. “What was it like to see them expand it afterwards? Cruelly. It felt like they kept the celebrity element of the brand alive and just buried the horrible part — it really hurts.”

The BCP board and Everyone Active told the BBC that with the help of British Gymnastics, they are now changing their name, uniforms and branding.

In a joint statement, they said: “Olga Poole has a long legacy, but also a history that continues to resonate negatively with some of its former members years later. We fully understand the consequences of continuing to use the original name. have.

“We do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation and are working closely with everyone involved to make the transition to the new name as smooth as possible.”

“There is nothing historical about Olga for us,” says Emma. “People don’t realize the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse and other things that happened in gymnastics — how we were just taught to ignore pain and suffering and just take it on the chin and suck it up.

“Put it all together, it completely changes the trajectory of our lives.”

In June 2022, the Whyte Review, a magazine created in association with UK Sport and Sport England, was published. It found that the wellbeing and welfare of gymnasts was “not at the heart of the culture of British gymnastics”.

The review said the difficulties currently facing British Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, were “related to inadequate practice and procedures” and reflected a culture that was a product of “the way people behaved and were allowed to behave”. .

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