GB Gymnastics have been accused of sending a sinister warning to whistleblowers by dropping 2019 world silver medallist Becky Downie from their Olympic team for Tokyo. The surprise decision came less than a year after Downie spoke out about an “environment of fear” in the organisation.
The 29-year-old has won 14 major medals for Team GB and England during a glittering career, but her relations with the governing body have become increasingly strained. Last July she and her sister Ellie claimed that “cruel” behaviour in British Gymnastics was “so ingrained in our daily lives that it became completely normalised”.
Last month Downie was granted an additional trial following the sudden death of her brother Josh. However a selection panel overlooked her for a place on the four-strong team and she has not been named among the three reserves.
The decision was immediately condemned by Gymnasts for Change, a group of former gymnasts – including Olympians Jennifer Pinches and Hannah Whelan – who are making a group-claim lawsuit against British Gymnastics, alleging physical and psychological abuse.
“Becky Downie is on world-beating form and easily one of the most talented women’s artistic gymnasts of her generation,” its statement said. “The decision to exclude her from the Tokyo team is a total shock.
“It is incomprehensible why the bars specialist has been dropped in a year she achieved a 6.8 SV in training in what has been touted as one of the most difficult routines in the world. With Becky having criticised the culture in British gymnastics, it’s hard not to assume that their motivation in effectively ending her career is a sinister warning to those who might speak out in future.”
However British Gymnastics performance director James Thomas insisted that the decision was purely based on merit. “Many will have seen some very good performances from Becky in 2019,” he said “The panel viewed that based on current form they hadn’t seen the level of performance required to win a medal.”
He also denied that Downie had been punished for speaking out. “For me I’m very confident the team were considered on their gymnastic merits and nothing else,” he added.
Thomas said that Downie had missed out after the number of places in the women’s team went down from five to four, and a decision was made to prioritise all-rounders for the team event rather than those with individual specialisms.
He added that independent members of the panel had agreed with the decision, including the BOA and British Athletes Commission, and that Downie’s appeal had been rejected.
However, Downie’s sister Ellie, who withdrew herself from consideration following the family tragedy, made her displeasure felt on social media. “I would say it comes as a shock but after how we’ve been treated this year it’s not really,” she tweeted.
The British team in Tokyo will be made up of 2019 European beam champion Alice Kinsella, 20, the 2021 European uneven bars bronze medallist Amelie Morgan, 18, and the identical twins Jennifer Gadirova and Jessica Gadirova, who are 16.
An ongoing review into abuse by Anne Whyte QC revealed in March that British Gymnastics received 300 complaints a year on average between 2015 and 2020. The full review, which was set up by UK Sport and Sport England in July 2020 is not expected to be completed until after the Tokyo Olympics.