File Gymnastics Abuse

The dossier on Structural Abuse in Dutch Gymnastics in a documentary like it has never been shown before.

It is perhaps the Sports News of the year 2020 in which Dutch Top Gymnasts have brought out their stories about the systematic abuse that took place during their training sessions by their coaches. The reason for the stories of the gymnasts, all of whom belonged to the Dutch top, was a major investigation by the Noordhollands Dagblad into gymnastics culture in the Netherlands. Gymnastics coach Gerrit Beltman admitted to that newspaper that he physically and mentally abused and humiliated young gymnasts. "I went too far in that, thinking it was the only way to develop a top sports mentality," said Beltman, who has not been a coach anymore in the Netherlands for almost a decade.

In the Noordhollands Dagblad, ten gymnasts spoke anonymously about the gymnastics culture. They were called names of fat cow, fat pig or sow, humiliated, manipulated and separated from their parents by several coaches. Several of them then reported their stories on Instagram, under the hashtag #dossierturnmisbruik. Other gymnasts also joined in. After that, the case received media attention and several gymnasts were interviewed about it.

A photo of coach Gerrit Beltman with a pupil.

An important distinction with previously shown portraits is that this documentary will be a docudrama in which the overall picture will become visible. And in which many parties will have their say who are all important pieces of the puzzle. On request and in consultation with the gymnasts, reconstructions will be made of a number of situations in which the abuse took place. In order to really show the seriousness of the abuses and boundary violations that took place in the gymnasiums and locker rooms. Because the testimonies now take place by adult women, many forget that the testimonies given occurred to young, vulnerable girls between the ages of 10 and 18.

Also, the testimonies are given in the form of "just words" but what should the audience imagine about the abuses in Top Sports? Words like humiliation, constant intimidation, manipulation, abuse and boundary crossing are words that actually contain a whole world. Which still cannot interpret what it really was. A world that has not disappeared because they are now adults. If you can make visible what really happened under the watchful eye of all the other gymnasts who were prepared for the National Championships and the World Championships, you will understand how incredible this was and how destructive for the further development of these women. Also psychologists who have worked with these women will tell their story. A large number of gymnasts want to participate and are happy, how crazy it may sound, that their stories and experiences will be portrayed.

The invisible becomes visible

Because how do you make the meaning of constant intimidation and constant threats visible? Coaches throwing chairs at you, dragging you by your hair through the gym because you didn't perform an exercise to their satisfaction? Or you stand insecure on the balance beam, afraid of a new exercise. You're gathering courage and the coach walks by and taps you in the knees. You fall and then he yells at you; "Now keep your dirty feet on that beam! You know what, get lost in the locker room, I can't see your ugly face anymore." In the locker room there is nowhere to hide and you wait anxiously for the coach to come in and start screaming at you nose to nose.

"By now you have learned to turn off your feelings completely and leave your body and flee to another world. So that you hear and experience as little as possible how he yells at you...'.

This is what adult women tell us. But no one now, in 2020, really seems to realize that it was that serious. And that it is therefore unbelievable to the gymnasts that certain coaches are allowed to continue working while an investigation is ongoing into more than 150 reports of excessive unacceptable behaviour.

The gymnasts themselves have asked for these reconstructions to make it clear that this may never happen again and that their complaints must be taken seriously. The coaches and trainers who admit that they did cross the line on occasion say in the media that they did indeed once or twice give a fatherly slap that went too far. The gymnasts look at these statements with a certain bewilderment because these trainers or coaches do not tell the media that they have done much more. In this, they feel totally denied and the same thing that happened in the gym repeats.

For this docudrama we are therefore also talking to psychologists who have treated these gymnasts and recently started a petition: Sports psychologists for a safe sports climate. Two motions were also passed in the House that week at the request of members of the House of Representatives who also spoke to these women. These are the following motions:

Opening the Damage Fund for Violent Crimes to gymnasts. Read carefully: violent crimes.

And a motion for immediate and adequate help because many of these young gymnasts have major problems. Large number can no longer work and some are seriously suffering from suicidal feelings.

These women must be helped without them having to search for and pay for help themselves while they cannot work. And therefore cannot afford the help.

The story told from all perspectives

The psychologists like to explain what happens when you burn down and abuse young children so much in their development and there is only one thing that counts; the Topsport. Also, the Haptonomist who finally was able to really help a number of gymnasts wants to tell about the continuous hyperventilation that these girls kept having and started to normalize. And in the meantime they had all kinds of physical complaints and thought it was their fault.

Parents are eager to participate and come forward. Parents who just didn't understand why their daughters, both on the National Championship team, didn't talk to each other or were grumpy when the coach brought them home and picked them up. And if this one also stayed for dinner. A few didn't understand their daughters weren't just grateful for the extra attention from trainer. Or if their daughters were given priority status if they were allowed to stay at the trainers' house for a time so they could get even more attention....

Some young gymnasts were even convinced that the trainer had placed cameras and microphones in their house. As a result, they did not dare tell anything to their parents. Which was not true but indicates the seriousness of the situation.

Those young gymnasts of the time, now grown women, are still suffering today from the treatment they experienced. How this suffering arose and why it is perfectly understandable that this pain is still there today, this docudrama will make clear.

We are thinking of the form in which the gymnasts, their parents, psychologists, director of the Federation, members of parliament, journalists, trainers and coaches, tell their stories which brings the whole story into focus. Meanwhile, you see the preparations the gymnasts make to reconstruct their story. They will be assisted by psychologists and they will watch on the set whether the reconstruction will really do justice to their story.

A beautiful, special and intense documentary that does justice to this enormous and grand abuse in the top sport of gymnastics, where so many people have looked away and some still do. We think, based on all the conversations we now have, that this story must be told in order to make the dark side of Topsport clear and that at all times it must be prevented that children are abused in order to achieve Top performances.