By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Seventeen former gymnasts in the UK have launched a group-claim lawsuit against the national governing body British Gymnastics alleging a range of abusive behaviour.
The group, which includes three Olympians, has served a 'Letter of Claim' on the body, alleging physical and psychological abuse from coaches.
"The abuse was perpetrated by coaches and others employed by British Gymnastics at various clubs across the UK, all of which were affiliated with the governing body," litigation firm Hausfeld and Co LLP, who are representing the former gymnasts, said in a statement.
British Gymnastics said that it had received the letter of claim on Thursday.
"It would not be appropriate or fair to all parties for us to make any comment until we have had the opportunity for it to be fully considered," the governing body in a statement.
The allegations in the law suit include "inappropriate use of physical force by coaches against gymnasts constituting physical assault."
At the time of the alleged abuse the gymnasts were aged between six and 23 and the current age range of claimants is between 15 and 43.
An independent review, led by Anne Whyte QC, was set up by UK Sport and Sport England in August to investigate the allegations and make recommendations to those bodies and British Gymnastics.
Earlier this month British Gymnastics said it was fully supportive of the Whyte Review would be prepared to act on its recommendations.
The gymnasts' legal claim also outlines what it calls "psychological abuse" including "inappropriate and baseless weight management techniques" which it is alleged caused "eating disorders" and "body dysmorphia".
The gymnasts allege "bullying" and "abusive punishments" which they say caused psychological injury including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Claire Heafford, who last year helped to set up the campaign group Gymnasts for Change, is one of the claimants and said she considered the action a "landmark moment".
“This is not and has never been about a few bad apples, this is about decades of systemic abuse, encouraged and covered up by those at the top.
"The hopes and dreams of countless children and young adults of competing as professional gymnasts have been destroyed and their love for the sport is now shrouded in fear and suffering," she said.
After the allegations were initially made public last year, British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen retired from her role.
In an interview with the BBC, Allen admitted that British Gymnastics had failed to protect athletes and apologised to those who had been hurt by the organisation.
There has been a series of abuse allegations made by gymnasts in the United States.
Former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert, who had ties to disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar and was charged on Thursday with human trafficking and sexual assault, has since died by suicide, authorities said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)