British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen is to retire in December, despite an ongoing investigation into allegations of mistreatment of gymnasts at all levels of the sport.
Allen told BBC Sport a plan was put together in March for her to retire after the 2020 Olympics, which were postponed because of coronavirus.
She said it is “quite upsetting” for her to leave with the sport in turmoil, but believes it is “appropriate” to allow a new CEO to “move the sport forward” after a decade in charge.
Speaking exclusively to BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Allen said: “This is my decision. It’s part of my retirement plan. I’ve had the support of the board, and nobody else has played a hand in this decision.”
Allen, previously the CEO of Gymnastics Australia for 13 years, added: “While these last three months have been devastating to me, I don’t believe that that should absolutely define the last 10 years.”
Mike Darcey, chair of British Gymnastics, said: “The whole board would like to thank Jane for her dedicated service to the sport.
“We had originally agreed with Jane that she would retire following the Tokyo Olympic Games in the summer of 2020, but that was extended to help British Gymnastics through the initial impact of coronavirus and then the subsequent worrying news about abuse claims.
“Prior to her departure, Jane will be working with our legal team on our initial submission to the Whyte review.”
Reacting to the news of her retirement, Olympic medallist Nile Wilson posted a video on Instagram calling it “a great day for the sport”.
And 2012 Olympian Hannah Whelan said it was a “good start for her to step down but far more change is needed”.
What is the background?
Since July, BBC Sport has revealed a series of stories of former and current gymnasts alleging mistreatment at all levels of the sport – including Olympic medal-winning gymnasts Amy Tinkler and Wilson, plus Olympians Becky and Ellie Downie.
An independent review, led by Anne Whyte QC and co-commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport, is ongoing, with its call for evidence closing last Friday.
A support helpline set up for gymnasts by the British Athletes Commission and the NSPCC received more than 120 calls in its first five weeks.
Asked if she should have waited for the outcome of the Whyte Review to be published before retiring, Allen – who was appointed in 2010 – said: “I’ve thought about that. But as this has been my plan to retire in December, I think that it’s appropriate that I keep that plan.
“I think that it will be a good opportunity for a new CEO to come in and help with the outcomes of the Whyte Review and move the sport forward.”
She added: “I feel that during the 10 years of my tenure as CEO that I have worked hard, I have put everything I can into the sport, and with a great team behind me, I think we’ve achieved a great deal.”
Under Allen’s leadership, Great Britain’s gymnasts won 11 Olympic medals.
But she admitted the organisation had “fallen short” in protecting its athletes, adding “there are things that as CEO, I take full responsibility for”.
She said the governing body needed to look at the “barriers” that stop athletes from speaking out “when and where allegations of abuse occur”, as well as helping athletes through the transition of leaving the sport.
“I would apologise to any athlete who feels that at any time that any of our actions have hurt them in any way,” she said.
“I feel devastated by what they’ve gone through. They’ve been very brave to stand up and speak out.
“They’ve found their voice, I think the athletes are probably the best people that could speak out on these matters. I think them speaking up will make things better for the next generation.
“But I also implore them to think about bringing together the sport with the coaches, because we have some terrific coaches in the sport, both at the community level and at high-performance level, and they’re so important to the sport as well.
“So I really urge athletes and coaches to come together to really improve on these cultural issues that we have in gymnastics.”
After a series of athlete welfare scandals in other British sports in recent years, Allen said the time had come for an independent process to be established to deal with complaints from athletes.
“It’s just become too hard for sport” she said. “We represent both athletes and coaches. And when we’re dealing with compliance and safeguarding issues there’s always somebody that’s aggrieved out of that process. And where do they go? It’s just too hard. There needs to be a sports ombudsman.”
Dan Roan: Some might say you leave BG in a state of disrepute. Is it broken beyond repair?
Jane Allen: Absolutely not. It’s a fabulous organisation, I want the members to know and I want the public to know, that it’s a very strong organisation with dedicated staff, highly skilled staff, all working for the good of the sport.
DR: You say it’s your decision to leave, but you must accept that after everything that has happened, after so many allegations, that your leadership has become toxic? There was no way you could stay?
JA: I don’t agree with that. I led the organisation for 10 years and retirement plans were already in place. It’s time, at 65 years of age and after 10 years of working hard for British Gymnastics for me to step aside now and to allow the next generation to take over.
DR: You haven’t been pushed? You haven’t been sacked?
JA: Absolutely not.
DR: You’re not jumping before you are pushed?
JA: Absolutely not.
Allen on Tinkler
In July, Olympic floor bronze medallist Tinkler revealed she had made a formal complaint to British Gymnastics in December 2019 about her “experiences as a club and elite gymnast”.
Her complaint was dismissed in August, for which she say the governing body failed to give an explanation.
In September, she released a series of emails that showed national coach Colin Still refer to her as “heavy” and saying he was relieved she wasn’t “turning into a fat dwarf” after she had taken a break from the sport following the Rio Olympics in 2016.
British Gymnastics said the emails were “very worrying”.
“Amy is an Olympic medallist, she has a special place in British gymnastics history,” said Allen. “I was absolutely floored by some of the allegations that came through.
“Last week, there were some emails that came out that I was absolutely shocked by and immediately I sent Amy an apology. It was unacceptable and unprofessional.”
Allen admitted British Gymnastics “could have done more” for Tinkler after the Olympics, and added that if an investigation into her complaint finds reason for an apology, “it will be given”.