Gymnastics and child abuse: an analysis of former international Portuguese female artistic gymnasts

The growing competitiveness of modern sport means that children, from very early ages, are increasingly submitted to intensive training programmes. These programmes are problematic for young athletes not only because their developing bodies are particularly susceptible to different kinds of injuries, but because athletes are also particularly vulnerable to experiences of different kinds of abuses. Using data collected through semi-structured interviews this study examines the various kinds of abuse that former Portuguese female gymnasts underwent during their sporting careers. Interviewees were asked to reflect on their past experiences and discuss aspects of the gymnastics subculture. Weight control, training/competing with injuries and corporal punishment emerged as key themes. The study therefore shows that the physical and psychological abuse of young athletes occurs even beyond the confines of elite professional sport, and thus that a broader spectrum of athletes learn to consider these forms of exploitation and abuse as normal.