September 18, 2021

British Gymnastics accused of ageism as athlete is ‘considered past it at 25’


British Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport, is facing a claim of ageism from one of its most experienced athletes. 

Mimi-Isabella Cesar, a rhythmic gymnast who has twice represented England at the Commonwealth Games, says she is being bullied out of the sport because, at the age of 25, she is considered “past it”.

Cesar also alleges she was repeatedly called “fat”, told her “thighs are disgusting” and that she would “end up in a wheelchair” if she continued in the sport.

Her claims come after the launch this week of an NSPCC helpline to support athletes with concerns of child abuse after a swell of allegations about a culture of abuse in British gymnastics.

It is easy to see why Cesar was selected as an ambassador for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

The rhythmic gymnast was raised in the city and has a sunny personality, not to mention a wealth of experience in the sport and she runs a business delivering recreational gymnastics classes online.

Cesar has said she is being bullied out of the sport because of her age

Cesar has said she is being bullied out of the sport because of her age

But now she fears she will not be selected for the next Commonwealth Games because she is considered too old.

She says her exclusion from the England squad was predetermined by a selection committee in a direct retaliation for a complaint she had previously made.

British Gymnastics denies her non-selection was based on anything other than performance.

Cesar said: “In rhythmic gymnastics in Britain you’re considered past it when you’re 21.

“I was told numerous times by many of the people responsible for selection that I was too old. I was asked ‘why are you still here? Get a life Mimi, it’s not for you anymore, you’ll never be in a leotard for Birmingham, you’ll end up in a wheelchair.”

Cesar continued training because of her desire to compete at a home games in front of a home crowd in Birmingham in 2022.

She added: “I was determined to rise above it and train really hard, compete well and let my gymnastics do the talking. There is something called qualification testing which is a test you have to pass to be considered for selection. I have never failed it since I was 13 and then in 2019 – after the comments about my age – lo and behold, I failed. How could I have gone that low down to fail a test that I’ve passed for the last 10 years?”

Cesar claims that she repeatedly phoned British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen to complain about her mistreatment in the sport but was referred back to the very people she was complaining about.

She continued: “I decided to write a complaint to the head of British Gymnastics and tell her what had happened and where I had found myself.

“I didn’t hear back for six to eight weeks so I decided to chase it up, I emailed, I rang and rang and rang and eventually I caught her off guard and she said she’d pass it down.

“She passed it down to the rhythmic side of things… the exact people who had made that decision.”

Cesar represented England at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in 2014 and Australia in 2018.

She is the same age as Ekaterina Selezneva, who won two gold medals at the world championships last year, but says the decision not to select her for the British squad was predetermined on the basis of age.

Cesar said: “Gymnasts ranked below me had their names on the squad list.

“They didn’t have an explanation for that. I feel like I’ve been bullied out by them and I don’t know how I’m going to move forward. I think they wanted younger gymnasts because you’re easier to manipulate and control and you just want to do everything that you possibly can to please your coach. As a younger person it’s easier to subside to the abuse and not really realise that the abuse is even happening.

“You adopt everyone’s thoughts and feelings of yourself.”

Dozens of gymnasts have gone public in the past two weeks with allegations of physical and emotional abuse within the sport, and it has come as no surprise to Cesar.

She suffers with a lack of self-belief and says she has very few happy memories of her time in gymnastics, a sport she started at the age of six.

Cesar said: “I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough, I’m not the right body shape, I’m inconsistent, that the judges don’t like me.

“I won a national competition when I was 18 and someone said to me ‘your thighs are horrible, there was nothing wrong with your routine but your thighs!’

“I was constantly told my thighs were disgusting or ‘that leotard doesn’t look right on you because it doesn’t pull you in’.

“It takes away anything that you feel good about in that competition because all you can think about is your thighs and you’re at that age where your body is developing and your training eight hours a day, 30 hours a week, what more can you do?”

Cesar, centre, is seen at the three-year countdown to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

Cesar, centre, at the three-year countdown to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

The NSPCC helpline, established in partnership with the British Athletes Commission (BAC), has already had dozens of submissions since opening this week.

It is offering advice on counselling and also legal support for athletes who allege abuse in the sport.

BAC chief executive Mahdi Choudhury said that British sport needs to redefine what success means in the light of bullying and abuse revelations in gymnastics, cycling, canoeing and Paralympic sport.

“It’s the first time we have done an initiative like this,” he told Sky News, “and the stories we’re hearing are deeply saddening. The BAC wants to hold the entire system to account.”

British Gymnastics said in a statement: “British Gymnastics condemns any behaviour which is harmful to the wellbeing of our gymnasts. It has been recently announced that UK Sport and Sport England will co-commission a review into allegations of athlete mistreatment in gymnastics.

“Any gymnast who feels they have been mistreated should report it to the British Gymnastics Integrity Unit and will also be able to disclose these to the Independent Review or call the BAC/NSPCC free helpline on 0800 056 0566.”

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