Gymnastics-Italy investigates pressures put on young women gymnasts

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's sports authorities are studying reports of undue psychological pressure being placed on its young women gymnasts over their eating habits, after a complaint was lodged with a prosecutor.

"Medals are a matter of national pride but no medal can make up for inappropriate behaviour," Sports Minister Andrea Abodi said on Wednesday, Italian news agency Ansa reported. Abodi was addressing growing concerns about the way that athletes, many of them teenagers, are treated by coaches.

The issue has been brought into focus by a complaint filed to a prosecutor in the northern city of Brescia by the mother of two rhythmic gymnasts over their treatment, especially with regards to maintaining a set weight. The mother and daughters have not been named.

Abodi earlier met Giovanni Malago, the president of the country's Olympic committee, and Gherardo Tecchi, head of its national gymnastic federation, to address the matter.

"Ours is a young sport, most of our members are aged under 18 and we have to be particularly careful about looking after them," Tecchi told a news conference.

"The athlete comes first and we have total respect for them," he added, according to Italian news agencies.

The complaint echoes those made by former rhythmic gymnast Nina Corradini who told daily la Repubblica at the weekend that she had quit the national team last year after suffering abuse over her eating.

Italy has a strong record in the sport and won a bronze medal in the rhythmic gymnastics group all-round event at the Olympics in Tokyo last year.

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

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina, Emilio Parodi, writing by Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Keith Weir and Hugh Lawson)

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