Female athletes speak out about the culture of fat-shaming while on British Athletics set-up

Onuora (right) was allegedly fat shamed while she was part of the British Athletics set-up (PA Images)
11:36am, Thu 14 Nov 2019
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Several British female athletes have spoken out about the culture of fat shaming in athletics.

This has emerged after Mary Cain opened up about her treatment under disgraced coach Alberto Salazar's regime.

In a special report by The Telegraph, many stars have criticised British Athletics' former head coach Charles Van Commenee for the treatment of female athletes.

Van Commenee was the head coach at British Athletics for four years between 2008 and 2012.

Speaking about meeting the Dutch trainer for the first time, Olympic 4x100m medallist Anyika Onuora said: “He came up to me and asked me how long I had left [on the bike].

“I said 'only five minutes' and he said ‘You can go longer if you want’. I wasn’t sure if he was implying that I needed to lose weight.​

“When I came off the bike he alluded to the fact that I should probably do an extra 30 minutes. I was like: ‘What?’ I didn’t take too kindly to that.​

"In terms of performance directors he was probably one of the best, but how he approached certain individuals was disgraceful. He was trying to do his job, but we were young women trying to navigate our way into the sport.​

“This sport is hard enough without the head coach telling you you’re too fat. For those years that he was in charge, I definitely had an unhealthy relationship with food.”​

Commenee was the head coach at British Athletics for four years (PA Images)

Fellow 4x100m medallist Marilyn Okoro added that she became used to 'getting bullied to do things I didn’t realise weren’t healthy or helpful'.

Okoro said: “In the prep camp leading into the 2012 Olympics he [Commenee] said ‘I can see your veins, that’s good’. Then he asked me how much I weighed. I said I was 60kg because that was my common weight during the season. He said: ‘Wow, you must have heavy bones’.

“We definitely have a culture of it [body shaming] in the UK. I don’t know what pushes a lot of coaches to coach – it’s definitely not to keep the athlete at the centre. 

"There’s a lot of ego involved and they are almost trying to prove to the world that they are the best coach. They almost forget they are dealing with a human being in front of them.

“There’s a lot of cases of this. It is a big, big problem. It’s surprising to see how many women go through the same thing but nobody knows.”

Van Commenee said in response: “Over the last 40 years, I have called a number of athletes fat, because they were.

“I’ve been told a couple [of female athletes] felt bullied and others felt treated with dignity. Some praise me still and others wished they never met me. 

"Could it be any different when you work with hundreds of athletes, including those who are not selected and staff members who are replaced?”​