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Former WAIS gymnasts to be offered $15,000 for damages caused by their training practices

The Washington government has offered payments and counseling to former participants in an elite gymnastics training program two years after a report found children were subjected to physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

Minister for Sport and Recreation David Templeman said the $15,000 payment was recognition of the trauma and abuse suffered by girls and young women who were part of the West Australian Institute of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics program. Sports (WAIS), which ran from 1988 to 2016.

“It’s a payment that recognizes what they’ve been through,” Mr Templeman told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth.

“It’s part of a process to help them heal.”

Sport Integrity Australia released a report in 2022 revealing children were subjected to a “culture of fear” which included verbal and physical abuse, frequent and traumatic skinfold testing, weight shaming and being forced to train in case of injury.

Make abuse public

The investigation was sparked when a group of former gymnasts went public with their experiences and demanded an apology and for WAIS to engage in a restorative justice process.

Mr Templeman paid tribute to their efforts to highlight abuse.

“I really want to sincerely thank them for that,” he said.

“I know it hasn’t been easy.

“I have met a number of gymnasts over time and have always appreciated the fact that they have always sought not only justice, but also understanding and belief that what they experienced was real and the impact it had on their lives.”

Head of a man dressed in a blue jacket and tie in front of a countdown sign

David Templeman says payments are made in good faith.(ABC News: Zathia Bazeer)

He said while $15,000 wasn’t a lot of money, he hoped it would go some way toward healing the several hundred gymnasts who participated in the program.

“I don’t think you can put a number on that because, frankly, it’s the person who has experienced the trauma who knows what it’s like to experience that pain and suffering,” he said. .

“But this is a payment of recognition and I hope it goes a long way to those who have suffered. It is genuine and good faith recognition.”

Possibility of closing

Former WAIS gymnast Julia Murcia welcomed the minister’s announcement, saying it was an opportunity to end the long campaign for justice.

“We are really grateful… and we are really happy to bring this matter to an end,” Ms Murcia said.

“This is in no way compensation for mental and physical experiences and damage.

“This probably won’t be enough to cover the costs we have incurred.

“But it’s something tangible and I think it really shows that the government believed what happened to us and realizes that the program was unacceptable.”

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Ms Murcia said her former teammates suffered complex fractures after being forced to train while injured.

She said one teammate needed a hip replacement at 17 and another had a “spinal fusion” after landing on her head during training.

“These were preventable injuries because they were half-starved, overtrained and just pushed too hard,” she said.

“There are a lot of costs associated with that and, of course, there is the mental health element on top of that.”

Strengthen governance

Mr Templeman said his goal was to ensure what happened in the gymnastics program could not happen again at WAIS.

Last year, he named a new board and president, and longtime chief executive Steve Lawrence resigned after 22 years at the helm.

“There have been changes to the board, which I think have been very important and have reinvigorated the focus on governance,” he said.

He said they included a commitment and implementation of a child safety program and approach.

“I wanted the culture of WAIS to be rooted in the fact that when you are an elite performance entity that deals with young people, particularly in this case, children, you have to have all these measures in place and they must be respected and they must be truly integrated into the culture of WAIS,” he said.

Applications for the recognition payment will be open until August 31.

Mornings with Nadia Mitsopoulos are live on ABC Radio Perth every day of the week from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tune in at 7:20 a.m. on digital radio or on the ABC Listen app.