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Gymnastics Australia asked child athletes who reported abuse to sign gag orders before meetings

Feet of female gymnast on balance beam
A letter from Gymnastics Australia said child gymnasts and their families must sign non-disclosure agreements to be part of mediated meetings. Photograph: vgajic/Getty Images

Gymnastics Australia has told child gymnasts who made abuse complaints and their families that they must sign non-disclosure agreements if they wish to take part in a restorative justice process.

In a letter sent to the complainants last month, Gymnastics Australia said that, in a bid to “repair relations in the gymnastics community” after the release of a Human Rights Commission investigation that uncovered systematic abuse in the sport, it was holding a series of restorative meetings.

“Gymnastics Australia recognises your courage and desire for accountability as someone who raised a complaint,” the letter states.

“This is an opportunity to share the experience and for the impacts to be personally acknowledged by a senior representative of Gymnastics Australia, in a meeting led by an experienced and independent restorative facilitator.

“Hearing from those harmed is integral to Gymnastics Australia repairing relations in the gymnastics community and it is hoped that the process goes some way to addressing the harm(s).”

The letter goes on to say that Gymnastics Australia planned to hold a series of meetings in July and August with abuse complainants and their families.

The meetings would be attended by a senior representative from Gymnastics Australia and facilitated by a trained mediator who was an independent contractor.

The contents of the letter were first reported by the ABC.

“While participants are free to share that a meeting occurred, they cannot share the content or details about what was said,” the letter said.

“To support this it is standard to agree that what is said in meetings will not be repeated outside of meetings.

“Everyone will be asked to agree to this in advance by signing a plain-language Non-Disclosure Agreement.”

The Human Rights Commission review was commissioned by Gymnastics Australia in August 2020 after serious complaints were made alleging mental and physical abuse of athletes.

The review found “systemic risk factors” within the sport, including for child abuse and neglect, misconduct, bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and assault towards athletes.

While the letter noted that the “safety and wellbeing of all participants is the highest priority, and participation is completely voluntary”, it also said that Gymnastics Australia reserved the right to refuse participation to parents or guardians of complainants if the complainants themselves decided not to attend the meeting.

Guardian Australia is aware of multiple gymnasts who were aged under 10 when they made their complaints, and the parent of one such gymnast said it was unlikely her daughter would agree to sitting in a room with anyone associated with Gymnastics Australia.

The letter noted that the meetings were not a replacement for formal dispute resolution, legal or civil actions, or “other support services that may be needed” but that they were designed to “meet the needs of those affected by harm”.

Gymnastics Australia said the restorative engagement program “was a first for Australian sport” that had been developed in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington experts.

“The purpose of the NDA is to create a safe space for open and robust conversations, rather than silence an individual.

“It is to ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of the importance of respecting the intimate details of what may be shared, establishing confidentiality within the scope of the interview.”

Gymnastics Australia did not respond to specific questions including how many people had taken part in the meetings and whether they had denied participation to any person.

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