Podcast: Extra Time

Who’s hearing our athletes’ cries for help?

On this week's Extra Time podcast: After significant investigations into cycling, football and hockey in New Zealand, now gymnastics is in the spotlight around their athletes' welfare.

Allegations of multiple New Zealand gymnasts suffering from verbal and physical abuse, bullying and unsafe training methods have surfaced over the past week.

And governing bodies of New Zealand's elite sports have done little to nothing to address athlete welfare concerns raised two years ago, according to the head of the New Zealand Athletes Federation.

Gymnastics NZ has come under fire over the past week - with athletes, parents and coaches coming forward with allegations of emotional and physical abuse, and a lack of action over complaints.

The concerns are emerging as serious issues with the sport and its treatment of elite athletes continue to be exposed around the world.

So just how bad is the problem in New Zealand, and are complaints being dealt with in a manner that will bring lasting change for gymnastics in this country?
 

New Zealand Athletes Federation boss Roger Mortimer told Extra Time a report by sports lawyer Stephen Cottrell in 2018 investigated these very issues.

Cottrell's 119-page document interviewed over 100 people and found that representing New Zealand at the elite level is not justification for unreasonable or excessive demands on athletes.

"The coach-elite athlete relationship is critical to performance and is also a key potential risk to the welfare of elite athletes. NSOs [National Sports Organisations] need to be very clear as to the expectations of their coach and management team in respect of the way people, including elite athletes, are treated and to provide the support needed to ensure these standards are met. In addition, checks and balances need to be in place to ensure there is effective management and monitoring of the elite athlete environment," Cottrell said in a summary of his report on the relationship between coach and athlete.

Mortimer said Cottrell's recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. "I have seen no action taken on that report in now what is nearly two years," he said.

"Stephen spoke a lot to the culture of environments, to leadership within those environments, to not having a culture based on a binary performance outcome - which is either you win or you lose, you're good or you're bad - so I'm yet to see fundamental structural change from a cultural perspective and also from an athlete's perspective in terms of athletes having a seat at the table.

"I really would like to go back to Georgia's [Cervin comments] and how she talked about wanting autonomy and you could sense she wanted sport to be a positive experience, as it should be.

"When I first started in this business, government funding was $3 million a year; it is now $150m a year, so there's been an explosion of investment in a whole lot of different areas and I think all we're doing is muddying the water for athletes like Georgia to actually have a positive, inspiring experience in sport.

"We actually need to take a step back and look at the place of sport in New Zealand, how sport is funded, those are really fundamental issues that have not been addressed and Stephen's report raised them, it didn't come up with the solutions, but no action from what I can see has been taken."

Joining Mortimer on Extra Time this week are two of the journalists leading the coverage of the story - Stuff senior sports journalist Zoë George, and RNZ sports journalist Felicity Reid.

* Extra Time is brought to you by RNZ, Stuff and LockerRoom.

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