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Letter to the Editor

In the last few weeks, gymnasts across the UK have bravely come forward about their experiences of abuse and bullying within their sport.
It is no easy task but everyone who speaks out is helping to positively transform the culture of the sport for tomorrow’s gymnasts.
This is a sport enjoyed by young people across Northern Ireland and, while not everyone shares these experiences, we know there are many who hear these sobering claims and realise the same happened or is happening to themselves, their children or young people they know.
That is why the NSPCC and the British Athletes Commission (BAC) have jointly set up a free, confidential and independent helpline that is a safe space for you to voice any concerns.

The last time the NSPCC set up a dedicated helpline was in response to the football abuse scandal which led to many referrals being made to police with information about clubs, victims and suspects across the country.

And now we want to hear from gymnasts, parents or anyone involved in the sport at any level.

As a parent or other adult, you may have noticed a young gymnast is increasingly withdrawn and anxious, has experienced dramatic weight loss or has unexplained bruises. But signs of abuse and bullying could also be much subtler, so we urge anyone who feels something might not be quite right to get in touch with the helpline even for advice or just talk about that “gut feeling”.

Our trained and approachable advisers are there to lift the weight off your shoulders. No concern is too small and they will listen to you without judgement and use their expertise to give advice, answer any questions and, if necessary, refer to a relevant agency such as the police.
All callers coming through will be offered the opportunity, where appropriate, for their details to be shared with the BAC who can offer a follow up call to discuss any specialist support or advice you may need. This is all part of the BAC’s newly-established Athlete Support, which will provide end-to-end support to athletes and families affected by the allegations of abuse.

By calling the helpline, you will also be offered a chance to input to the Independent Inquiry commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport.

As the lockdown lifts, people will be returning to sports and should be able to enjoy them safe from harm.

The NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit also has advice on how to choose the best club for your youngster:

Every club should:
•            let you see their policies and procedures on how they deal with any concerns raised about poor practice or abuse
•            give you the name of a welfare or child protection officer in case you have any concerns
•            show you written standards for good practice, such as a code of conduct for staff and volunteers
•            ask you to provide essential medical and emergency contact information, and get your consent for your child to participate
•            be able to let you know about the types of things they do to make sure their staff/volunteer are safe to work with your child

By picking up the phone you are playing your part in positively transforming the culture of the sport for tomorrow’s gymnasts. You are making gymnastics a safer, more welcoming place for all.

If you wish to receive support or report concerns of bullying or abuse in the sport, please call 0800 056 0566 from 8am – 10pm weekdays or 9am – 6pm weekends. Alternatively, you can email help@nspcc.org.uk.

NSPCC Northern Ireland
North Derby Street
Belfast
BT15 3HN

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