Gym coach admits past transgressions

With Singapore’s sports community abuzz with news of athlete abuse, former women’s artistic gymnastics national head coach Gerrit Beltman has admitted involvement in unacceptable behaviour.

In Dutch newspaper Noordhollands Dagblad’s report on Friday, the 64-year-old Dutchman said: “I mistreated and humiliated young gymnasts to win medals.

“I am deeply ashamed. Never have I consciously intended to hit, to curse, to hurt or to belittle. But it did happen. I was talked into that, to think it was the only way to cultivate a top sport mentality. I blame myself for failing.”

It is understood that these incidents took place in Belgium and the Netherlands. He had been Belgium’s national coach from 2002 to 2008 before becoming head coach of the Dutch national junior team.

On Saturday, Belgian Olympian Aagje Vanwalleghem took to Instagram to highlight that abuse is “present here in Belgium since the start of my top-class career in 2000 until today”.

While she did not mention Beltman in her post, she later spoke to Belgian TV channel VTM News.

“I respect his apologies, but I especially hope that Gerrit’s mea culpa shakes up many other coaches,” the vault bronze medallist at the 2005 European Championships said.

Meanwhile, a review from Dutch broadcaster NOS said that Dutch gymnasts Simone Heitinga and Stasja Kohler co-authored a book in which they alleged that he abused them.

Beltman told The Straits Times yesterday he had opened up to Dutch media because he wants to be accountable and renounce the person and coach he once was.

He hopes to contribute to the process of change, and to persuade federations in the Netherlands and Belgium to look at their situations as archaic training methods are still present.

Gymnasts he groomed also include Dutch Renske Endel, the 2001 world and 2002 European silver medallist on the uneven bars.

REMORSE

I am deeply ashamed. Never have I consciously intended to hit, to curse, to hurt or to belittle. But it did happen.

GERRIT BELTMAN, former Singapore artistic gymnastics head coach, revealing his indiscretions during his time in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Beltman joined Singapore Gymnastics in August last year and led the women’s artistic gymnasts at last year’s SEA Games, where they did not win a medal.

Last month, Beltman, who was working with Tokyo Olympics-bound Tan Sze En, returned to training at Bishan Sports Centre following the coronavirus pandemic.

While he was hired with the 2022 Asian Games in mind, according to a Singapore Gymnastics (SG) announcement in April last year, he resigned to return to the Netherlands on July 17.

SG general manager Karen Norden told ST that his departure was a family-based decision and “unrelated to the stories of abuse”. She added: “We did not observe any behaviour of what has been published during Gerrit’s tenure with SG.”

She asserted that her association has zero tolerance for athlete abuse and has actively worked on the process of creating a child-safe environment, while establishing feedback channels to report unsavoury incidents, and that Beltman’s appointment followed due diligence.

She said: “Gerrit was very open about an issue in his past, and equally open on his learnings and desire to improve the culture in the sport.

“Contact was made with referees and other people in the gymnastics community to confirm that Gerrit had indeed learnt and understood what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour when coaching athletes.

“It was assessed that Gerrit was committed to the new norm when it comes to an athlete-centric culture for gymnastics and that the health and well-being of the athletes comes above any results.”

Norden added that Gerrit was aware of the “Coaches Code of Behaviour” and the “Safe Sport commitment statement” SG had in place before and during his employment. While SG said it does not condone his past behaviour, it believes in reform and second chances.

“We need to judge a man for who he is, not who he was,” she said.

Lim Heem Wei, one of Singapore women’s artistic gymnastics national coaches and member of the Safe Sport commission, also vouched for Beltman’s character during his time in the Republic.

The 31-year-old, who was Singapore’s first Olympic gymnast at London 2012, said: “Gerrit has been a great source of motivation for the coaching team. I’m glad and feel fortunate to have him as my mentor.

“I noticed the junior and senior gymnasts in our national training centre programme had become more expressive, communicative, and self motivated since the appointment of Gerrit as the head coach.”

Athlete abuse became a trending topic again this month following numerous first-person accounts.

On Thursday, former Singapore national figure skater Yu Shuran revealed she was abused while training in China. The 19-year-old said that from the age of 11, she had been hit repeatedly by her personal coach, sometimes with skating blades that drew blood from her shins.

British and Australian gymnasts also shared accounts of physical, mental and emotional abuse in the sport following the recent release of American documentary Athlete A, which charts investigations into former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The 56-year-old was jailed for life in 2018 after abusing more than 250 athletes.

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