Olympians call out 'dated, cruel, ineffective culture' in British gymnastics

Becky Downie has won 14 major medals for Great Britain and England while sister Ellie Downie became the first British gymnast to win a major all-around title at the European championships in 2017. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Becky and Ellie Downie, Olympians and two of Britain's most decorated gymnasts, have called out the "ingrained" and "completely normalised" culture of abusive behaviour in British gymnastics.

British Gymnastics announced on Tuesday it was going to conduct an independent review of allegations of abuse and bullying in the sport.

A number of ex-gymnasts have come forward describing abusive behaviour from coaches and staff.

In a statement posted on social media, the Downie sisters said they were afraid to come forward with the experiences despite wanting to for a long time.

"It's taken years and years to understand and come to terms with it," they said.

"While exact experiences obviously vary, we both recognise the environment of fear and mental abuse those before us have described so bravely.

"For too long, the health and wellbeing of young girls has been of secondary importance to a dated, cruel, and -- we'd argue -- often ineffective culture within women's gymnastics training."

As well as the joint statement, both sisters divulged details of their personal experiences.

"This never-ending focus on my weight has left deep scars which will never be healed, I suspect," Ellie, 20, said.

"After a deep emotional battle, I've finally found a place to be happy with my body outside of the gym, but I'll always feel overweight whenever I'm in a gymnastics setting.

"We've seen too many girls descend into eating disorders and mental health problems because of this, and while this is changing, there is still a culture of less is best."

Older sister Becky, 28, said she had been trained "to the point of physical breakdown" over the years and said when she tried to speak up as recently as 2018 at a national camp she was "shot down" as "mentally weak" for feeling pain.

"I genuinely believed I couldn't take food in my luggage on a plane until I was in my twenties, such was the fear instilled in us by having our bags searched by coaches," she added.