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International, athlete-centred approach the way forward

An interview with Ms Slava Corn, GEF Council member and FIG Honorary Vice President.

Slava Corn is a member of the Council of the Gymnastics Ethics Federation (GEF), which was founded in January 2019 to protect athletes and other participants in gymnastics from harassment and abuse.

Before joining the GEF, Slava Corn served on the FIG Executive Committee for almost 25 years, including 16 years as a FIG Vice President. For her contributions to the sport of gymnastics as a judge, administrator and volunteer in Canada and abroad, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honours, at the end of December 2019.

After her decision to step aside from the FIG Executive Committee at the end of 2016, she became Chair of the first Women in Gymnastics Commission, pushing for greater gender equality at the top level of the sport’s administration. Subsequently she led the working group for the prevention of harassment and abuse which was put in place by the FIG in the aftermath of the Larry Nasser case in the USA and which led to the creation of the GEF.

In the following interview Slava Corn shares details about this working group, her current work with the GEF, cultural changes in the sport and her views on the future.

You chaired the working group for the prevention of harassment and abuse which was put in place by the FIG in the aftermath of the Larry Nassar case. Can you tell us how the work of this working group led to the creation of the GEF? The abuse by Larry Nassar reported in the USA shocked the entire gymnastics community. FIG President Mori Watanabe took action immediately by appointing a working group to focus on safeguarding. As a first step we reviewed the existing FIG Code of Ethics and Discipline. The IOC Toolkit for Safeguarding in Sport was instrumental to give us the basic direction to develop FIG standards and to produce the FIG Safeguarding Policy and Procedures.

As the international organisation leading the sport of gymnastics, the FIG adopted a clear statement and position about safeguarding in gymnastics. Once this policy was approved by the Executive Committee, we focused on the process we would use to investigate and resolve breaches and misconduct. President Mori Watanabe was adamant that an organisation, independent of the FIG, be formed. The working group proposed such a structure, which was approved by the Congress in 2018. This decision established the basis for the Foundation to deal with safeguarding, discipline and compliance. The Secretary-General of the FIG at the time, Andre Gueisbuhler, collaborated with FIG staff and the working group to develop the Foundation’s statutes and its operating rules according to Swiss law.

You were instrumental in setting up the GEF, an independent arm of the FIG, and you are now a GEF Council member. What has been your experience in this role so far?

The GEF Council has five members at this time. I am the FIG representative and Ivana Hong is the athlete representative, both appointed by the FIG. We are the only two members who are allowed gymnastics experience and connections. This was established so there would be some liaison with the sport, but the three other members, including the President, represent the neutral independent aspect required by the statutes. As a group, our collective responsibility in the first year was to install staff, set up the systems and principles for the daily operation of the Foundation. My experience has been very positive, and I feel that after a few in-person meetings held in 2019, we have established the necessary collaborative working relationships to further our future efforts. In 2020 and more recently because of COVID-19, our meetings have been virtual, but still with excellent discussion and decisions.

It has been my role to assist with the understanding of the documents that FIG has approved and under which we operate, namely the FIG Code of Ethics, the FIG Code of Discipline, the FIG Code of Conduct and the FIG Safeguarding Policies and Procedures. I am happy to act in this liaison function. The Council relies on these documents to operate the three sections under the GEF’s authority. The Safeguarding Section in particular has consumed most of our time with reported cases.

What impact is the GEF making and how do you see its future?

The GEF Council has been working to establish a positive and trusted profile within the gymnastics community. The Director has made presentations about our mission and has promoted the GEF as a supportive partner in the gymnastics community to provide confidential assistance to National Federations (NFs) and athletes who seek resolution of complaints or abuse. I believe we are establishing an open and empathetic collaboration with the FIG and the NFs. Many organisations in the gymnastic community, clubs, regional groups and national partners are making efforts to review the culture we have been practising in gymnastics and are calling for change. The GEF is eager to support these efforts so gymnastics as a sport can be more enjoyable and, definitely safer both in training and competition.

What further must be done to put first gymnasts and ensure their wellbeing?

The Foundation will support the FIG and the NFs to establish clear safeguarding policies and procedures. All athletes need to be aware of the trusted places to which they can turn when facing harassment or abuse in their own country. By focusing on the positive standards of behaviour and weeding out the negatives, we can provide a safer environment for athletes to train and compete successfully.

To change our existing culture, we need an international approach with global initiatives. Educational opportunities are required for athletes, coaches, and administrators in the sport. To ensure the wellbeing of gymnasts, I believe that an “athlete centred” model will work best. It will take collaborative decision making between coaches and gymnasts to deal with diet and nutrition, weight control measures, conditioning and training routines, injury prevention, and competition preparation. The gymnastics community should share best practices so we can move from a controlling environment to one of mutual respect and transparency. Change can be difficult, but the Foundation is there for support.

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) is an independent body which ensures that violations of FIG rules, policies, and procedures, including ethical breaches, are handled in an unbiased way. One of its primary missions is to strengthen the safeguarding of athletes and other participants in gymnastics from harassment and abuse.


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