Can gymnastics be a career

Sport should never be so Darwinian

It is an important step that the Swiss Gymnastics Federation has the problematic sport examined externally. A central point here must be the role of the association management. Critical questions are also directed to the Federal Office of Sport.

Is that still sport? Or degenerate human discipline? Such questions are asked by those who are concerned with the latest revelations about the conditions in rhythmic gymnastics. The experiences of former athletes do not relate to a distant time or country, not the GDR, the Soviet Union or China - but Switzerland and the last few years.

They deal with the psychological terror of several association trainers, with relationships of dependency, with an environment in which injured people are gunned down as simulators. They are about young people in a bubble who are still children or teenagers and may only realize after their careers how reprehensible and wrong they have been treated. Because, as exceptional masters in a sport with up to 40 hours of training per week, they know nothing else, because when they are active they are often not yet stable personalities with the skills for appropriate self-reflection.

On Monday, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation (STV) decided to stop training for the national team and the European Junior Championships project with immediate effect and until further notice and to commission an external investigation. After serious allegations against the head coach became public at the beginning of last week, the STV dismissed the two senior coaches. Since then, the association and the public have received more and more accusations, some of which also concern the junior boss, who is obliged at the beginning of the year.

There are also gymnasts who vehemently contradict the representations. However, the bottom line is that the line between harsh and aggressive, inhumane methods has not only been crossed in individual cases, but that such practices are inherent in the system at the higher levels of performance. Also in Switzerland. It may be that some athletes survive a career in this system intact. But even sport must never be so Darwinian that victims of psychological violence and physical coercion are accepted. Especially not in the case of athletes, some of whom are still very young, who are consumed instead of protected.

It is an important step that the STV will now have the conditions in this problematic sport thoroughly examined. A central point of this reappraisal must be the role of the operative association management around the top sports director Felix Stingelin and the managing director Ruedi Hediger, that of the department head Doris Klein and that of the central board. Because the allegations do not come out of nowhere, grievances have been an issue for years. Changing coaches is not enough. Although the cooperation culture is shaped by them, the superiors in the association management are also responsible. The repeated faults give Stingelin, Hediger and Klein bad marks.

When the Federal Office for Sport (Baspo) temporarily discontinued its cooperation with the Gymnastics Association in Magglingen last year due to differing views on questions of support and training methodology, the STV stuck to the person who was primarily responsible for these differences: the head coach. But the baspo also has to put up with critical questions. It recognized grievances and sanctioned them, but from today's perspective it would have better have given rhythmic gymnastics in Magglingen a permanent house ban in order to put even more pressure on the STV.