The beleaguered British Gymnastics chief executive, Jane Allen, has announced that she is to step down but has denied her decision is related to the abuse scandal that has rocked the sport.
Under Allen’s leadership, Great Britain’s gymnasts became a force at world level, winning 11 Olympic medals. But in recent months the Australian has faced multiple calls to step down, with several leading gymnasts claiming a “culture of fear” existed at the national centre in Lilleshall.
Allen was also strongly criticised by the Olympic medallist Amy Tinkler, who claimed last month that British Gymnastics “lied” and “could not be trusted”, while another GB medallist Ruth Harrold also called for Allen to go after describing food portions at camps that left her and her fellow gymnasts hungry.
Meanwhile world championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie claimed that “cruel” behaviour was “so ingrained in our daily lives that it became completely normalised”.
Allen, who said that she would be leaving in December, denied being pushed or sacked. However, she conceded: “It’s quite obvious that we’ve fallen short,” when it came to handling complaints of abuse, adding: “There are things that as CEO, I take full responsibility for.”
She told the BBC that the governing body needed to look at the “barriers” that stop athletes from speaking out “when and where allegations of abuse occur”, as well as helping athletes through the transition of leaving the sport.
“I would apologise to any athlete who feels that at any time that any of our actions have hurt them in any way,” she added. “I feel devastated by what they’ve gone through. They’ve been very brave to stand up and speak out.”
Allen, who joined British Gymnastics from Gymnastics Australia in early 2010, also denied that the sport had become toxic under her leadership. “I don’t agree with that,” she said. “I have led the organisation for 10 years. Retirement plans were already in place. It’s time at 65 years of age, after 10 years of working hard for GB, for me to step aside now and to allow the next generation to take over.
“I’ve been devastated by the allegations that have come forward over the last few months. We have worked hard over the 10 years I have been CEO to develop the organisation, progress it, and really lift the profile of the sport in the UK. So yes it has been quite devastating.”
An independent review, led by Anne Whyte QC and co-commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport, is ongoing. A support helpline set up for gymnasts by the British Athletes Commission and the NSPCC received more than 120 calls in its first five weeks.
Commenting on Allen’s retirement, Mike Darcey, chair of British Gymnastics, said: “The whole board would like to thank Jane for her dedicated service to the sport. We had originally agreed with Jane that she would retire following the Tokyo Olympic Games in the summer of 2020, but that was extended to help British Gymnastics through the initial impact of coronavirus and then the subsequent worrying news about abuse claims. Prior to her departure, Jane will be working with our legal team on our initial submission to the Whyte review.”