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Safeguarding in Sport Interview with Dr Thilo Pachmann

Interview with Dr Thilo Pachmann, Pachmann Attorneys Ltd, Zurich, Switzerland

Interview conducted by German Clénin, member of Health4Sport group and Past President SEMS (Sports & Exercise Medicine Switzerland)

Can you summarize the most important findings of the Pachmann Report 2021 for our readers in a few sentences?

The Swiss Gymnastics Federation (STV-FSG) operated a completely dysfunctional elite sport concept in rhythmic gymnastics (RG). The goals set could not be achieved with the resources available. This affected not only the human and financial resources, but above all the infrastructure. To this day, there is no training hall with an RG floor in Switzerland. Nevertheless, the training volumes and methods were not adapted to the targets set, which greatly increased the risk of injuries. This ultimately led to every athlete being overloaded in many respects.

What has occupied you the most in your work, perhaps even frightened you?

The most publicized issue was the questionable treatment of the gymnasts. Almost all of the gymnasts surveyed were regularly (i.e. at least once a month) shouted at, around half of them were hurt by their coaches and one in ten were beaten. Personally, however, I was most concerned by the fact that there was no gymnast in the STV-FSG’s support systems who was older than an average Olympic participant. Gymnasts regularly had to bury their dreams much earlier for health reasons. As early as the age of 13, half of the gymnasts cited health reasons for retiring from top-level sport.

What reactions have you had following this report? Have other sports federations contacted you?

The public is of course still interested, especially when accusations are made against coaches. However, due to the waves that our report has caused, no sports federation naturally wants such an in-depth investigation, which is probably why no one has come forward. However, this is too short-sighted: sports federations should also regularly audit themselves. Just as companies regularly have external audits carried out in order to develop themselves further, this would certainly also make sense for sports federations. An external audit is probably also needed, especially as the existing institutions cannot approach the issue with the necessary distance.

You were a judoka yourself at a good level and are still a coach in this sport. As a lawyer, you were able to carry out and evaluate such a study. This has given you an in-depth insight into Swiss sport. Now the question: What is wrong with Swiss sport? In your opinion, where should or must we start?

I don’t believe that Swiss sport is generally sick, even if the number of reports to Swiss Sport Integrity is increasing at the moment. However, an absolute focus on the overall well-being of children and young people could certainly bring about a significant improvement. Children should not have to choose between sport and school, but should be able to pursue their interests to the best of their ability and be encouraged to do so. This requires more permeable and professional structures between state and private support for children and young people, a network between private and public sports support, whereby the focus must always be on the child and the young person.

What would you like to see from the public authorities? The Federal Office for Sport (FOSPO), Swiss Olympic and the political decision-makers?

A first step has been taken with the Swiss Sport Integrity Foundation. However, this is just the beginning. This institution should not obscure the fact that Swiss Sport Integrity could not have prevented the problems in the STV-FSG. This would have been the task of the institutions you mentioned, in addition to the STV-FSG itself. They did not manage to turn the available information into effective monitoring of the sports federations. There was a lack of critical debate. There is a need for better, more transparent cooperation between the institutions and the sports federations, whereby the sports federations must also be given sufficient autonomy to find their own solutions, as long as these solutions are critically reviewed on a regular basis. If the institutions in question are unable to exercise the necessary control, additional external control is required.

Further information: Pachmann Attorneys:

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