Italy’s rhythmic gymnastics coach to keep job despite abuse claims

MILAN (Reuters) – The coach of Italy’s female Olympic gymnastics team will keep her job in spite of ongoing investigations on the alleged psychological abuse and mistreatment of young athletes over their weight and eating habits.

In a Thursday decision, sports authorities confirmed Emanuela Maccarani as coach, but stripped her of the added role of technical director of Italy’s women national rhythmic gymnastics training centre in the northern city of Desio.

Sports and civilian prosecutors are probing Maccarani and her assistant Olga Tishina on the back of former team athletes’ allegations that they were bullied and mocked.

“It’s my own decision,” Gherardo Tecchi, head of Italy’s national gymnastic federation, said, adding it was made after consultation with the head of Italy’s Olympic committee Giovanni Malago.

“We fully trust the sports judiciary and the public prosecutor’s office in Monza, we hope they will act quickly,” Tecchi added.

According to the accusations reported by the media, Maccarani forced the rhythmic gymnasts – who were underage at that time – to weigh themselves before teammates and coaching staff insulted the athletes if they appeared overweight.

Maccarani, who was indicted by the national gymnastics federation’s judicial body this month, denied any wrongdoing in an interview on Tuesday with the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

She partly blamed the scandal on the role social media played in echoing the reports and claimed most of the accusations came from former athletes excluded from the Olympics teams due to poor sporting performance.

Some athletes and their parents have sided with the coach.

Italy has a strong record in the sport and won a silver medal in the rhythmic gymnastics group all-round event at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 as well as two bronze medals in London in 2012 and in Tokyo two years ago.

British Gymnastics last October launched a new action plan, including the reporting of banned coaches’ names, to provide a safe environment for athletes following a damning report that uncovered a culture of abuse in the sport.

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni, editing by Alvise Armellini and Josie Kao)