As this year comes to an end, I am reflecting on our Foundation’s activities in 2021 and what has happened more broadly in the important area of athletes’ well-being and safeguarding during the past twelve months.
2021 was another year earmarked by the global COVID-19 pandemic which has challenged athletes’ training routines, their mental health and physical well-being. For the public, this was certainly most visible during the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, when several athletes spoke out about the problems they had been facing in the run-up to the Games.
Some of them went further, taking the courageous decision to put their well-being first, setting aside the “win at all costs” mentality. The gymnast Simone Biles was certainly one of the most prominent examples and in doing so, she has become a role model also outside the gym. It is fantastic to see the strong public support for her brave actions. Most importantly, she has used this public attention to pass on valuable messages: ones that can have an important and lasting impact on young people, encouraging them to take care of themselves and to speak up if something feels wrong. This awareness among the younger generations is essential to bring about positive and lasting change in the sporting culture.
Given of all this, I am thrilled to see Simone Biles being named one of “People of the Year 2021” by PEOPLE Magazine and “Athlete of the Year” by the Time Magazine. It is so well deserved!
Looking at the Foundation’s activities, we have been extremely busy in our third year of operations, having dealt with 40 cases coming from all corners of the world. The large majority of these cases fall under the Foundation’s safeguarding section, which includes reporting and investigations. Every case provides us with a greater understanding of the issues at play in a given environment, be it a gymnast’s club, family or a National Federation. We aim to use these insights to strengthen national safeguarding systems where necessary.
This year we have again undertaken a number of measures to increase the Foundation’s visibility. It is crucial that the gymnastics community knows about us, our independent status and the confidential reporting mechanism. We continue to enhance communication with stakeholders, engage in new partnerships and we presented at several expert events.
As the Foundation is becoming better known, we anticipate the number of cases will continue to increase in the future. Whilst we feel each case is one too many, it is good that people are coming forward and confronting the issues at stake. We all appreciate that this is not easy.
Our Foundation’s objectives for 2022 are to maintain and extend our services to the gymnastics community as needed. We also aim to strengthen our collaboration with a number of expert organisations so as to maximise our efficiency and impact. The issue of abuse and harassment in sport is larger than any one organisation!
The conversation about the safeguarding of athletes must continue in 2022. Public scrutiny tends to accelerate action and action is what is needed. We must all do our best and work together to ensure a safe sporting environment. This is such a basic requirement that, sadly, is still far from being a matter of course. We ALL must strive for positive change now as there is no time to lose.
A big thank you to everyone who supported us in fulfilling our mission in 2021. We promise to start the new year as committed as ever to offering greater accountability and key support to the gymnastics community.