Thank you for joining me!
As a sociologist and self confessed gymnastics nerd , I have been following closely the developments surrounding the Larry Nassar case. It has become evident through personal impact statements, media reports, blogs and podcasts that fans, parents, gymnasts and coaches are speaking out about the culture of the sport and demanding change. A culture many believe was introduced to Western society through the migration of coaches in the 80’s and 90’s from communist countries. The most notable being Bela and Martha Karolyi who defected to the US in 1981 and quickly gained notoriety when their gymnasts, Mary Lou Retton and Julianne McNamara secured gold medals for the USA at the 1984 Olympic Games. The Karolyi’s dominated the sport in the US over the next decade and Bela Karolyi was named as the National Team Coordinator in 1999 after the US struggled to maintain their medal count in major events. The role was handed to Martha Karolyi in 2001, a position she held until she retired in 2016 after securing a record number of Olympic medals for the USA.
The Nassar case opened the floodgates and many gymnasts have found their voice, empowered by the women who spoke so candidly and bravely about the culture that enabled a sexual predator to thrive. A new wave of empowerment has gripped these young women and they are reclaiming their sport, a sport they love yet one they could not enjoy.
As part of my research I have considered the role parents play in their daughters gymnastics career and found many parents become socialised into the role of ‘gym mum’. A role many found demanded relinquishing control of their daughters sporting careers and handing over the reins to the coach. Celia Brackenridge, an advocate for child welfare rights and protection suggests parents must question coach decisions involving welfare issues and remain involved in the sporting part of their lives. To step back and allow an adult who’s career depends on the results of a child’s sporting endeavours full control over their lives with no questions asked is simply asking for trouble.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the stories and findings from my research in the hope it will shed some light onto the way the culture shapes parents to conform to the unwritten rules of the sport. Contrary to popular belief, these are not overzealous parents living vicariously through their children with a win at all costs attitude, they are parents doing what the culture expects of them – being supportive emotionally, financially and logistically but not overstepping the mark and interfering in coaching decisions, even if they believe those decisions may be detrimental to their daughters wellbeing.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton