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British gymnast sisters speak out on 'culture of fear'

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London (AFP)

World gymnastics medallists Becky and Ellie Downie have spoken out about the "environment of fear and mental abuse" that blighted their rise to the top of the sport in Britain.

Becky and her younger sister said they decided to speak publicly after witnessing the "brave" testimonies of an increasing number of contemporaries.

It comes after British Gymnastics this week launched an independent review into allegations of abuse in the sport.

Becky, 28, and Ellie, 20, both won medals at last year's world championships in Stuttgart.

In a joint statement released via their respective social media channels, the pair said they had experienced a litany of historic bullying and abuse, including a focus on weight, which Ellie said had "left deep scars which will never be healed".

"We certainly didn't realise how wrong it was at the time," they said. "It's taken years and years to understand and come to terms with it.

"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 well-being of young girls has been of secondary importance to a dated, cruel, and -- we'd argue -- often ineffective culture within women's gymnastics training."

Becky described how she had been "trained to the point of physical breakdown" on many occasions in her career, adding: "Only in recent years I've understood properly the mental impact that's had upon me."

They said: "We're speaking out now, just a year before the peak of our sport, the Olympic Games, because we have a duty to the well-being of the young children coming into gymnastics, and their safety is more important than any Olympic medal."

Becky said that having found the courage to first raise her concerns with British Gymnastics staff in 2018, she had recognised "clear and obvious changes" for the better.

British Gymnastics, which said it would not immediately comment on the sisters' statement, added: "We are determined to get to the bottom of these issues."

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