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SBD Global/February 20, 2013/Olympics

Australian Olympic Swimming Reviews Reveal Team Had 'Toxic' Culture

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Australia's three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Stephanie Rice failed to medal at the 2012 London Games.
Australia’s London Olympics swimming team was beset by "culturally toxic incidents" including "misuse of prescription drugs and bullying that highlighted a failure of culture and leadership," according to Dan Baynes of BLOOMBERG. The so-called Bluestone Review, commissioned by Swimming Australia after the nation’s "worst performance in the Olympic pool in two decades," found that a culture existed within the team which "did not appear to assist or support high-level performance for most people." The report said, "There were enough culturally toxic incidents across enough team members that breached agreements (such as getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breaching curfews, deceit, bullying) to warrant a strong, collective leadership response that included coaches, staff and the swimmers. No such collective action was taken." A separate independent review of Australian swimming conducted on behalf of the sport’s governing body and the Australian Sports Commission also published its findings, "making 35 recommendations to improve the sport" (BLOOMBERG, 2/19).

ADDRESSING THE REPORT: The AP reported the review recommended "creating an ethical framework for Australian swimming, among other recommendations for multifaced leadership development of athletes and coaches." In a statement, Swimming Australia President Barclay Nettlefold said, "Before we look at winning gold medals, we want to win back the admiration of the nation, and we want to engage with our swimming community like never before at every level." Swimming Australia said that it would "implement a 100-day plan to address the recommendations of both reviews" (AP, 2/19). In London, Jacquelin Magnay wrote the report also noted the London Olympic facilities lacked "a common room for the swimmers to gather and create a harmonious team environment." Australia's political and sporting leaders "are now horrified that Australia's hard won sporting image is being so roundly trashed." Just "how quickly this reputation can be rescued may well depend on both the Ashes and the Lions tour" (TELEGRAPH, 2/19).

SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES: In Sydney, Wayne Smith reported Nettlefold has warned that "any swimmers found to have seriously breached the code of behaviour at the London Olympics could be banned from future Australian teams." Swimmers who transgressed could face punishments ranging from "a slap-on-the-wrist letter of censure to exclusion from future Australian teams, starting with the team for this year's world championships in Barcelona." That "might only be the start of it." The Australian Olympic Committee has "closely monitored reports that some swimmers used the controversial sleep medication Stilnox as part of a pre-Games initiation ritual, in defiance of an AOC ban." Swimmers who breached their AOC athlete agreement and ethical behaviour rules "could find their Olympic medal incentive bonus money withdrawn and/or any future funding withheld" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/20).

AWAITING THE FACTS: In Sydney, Samantha Lane reported National Olympic President John Coates said on Tuesday that he would "await the results of further investigation by Swimming Australia before determining any fines." Australian Olympic team Chef de Mission Nick Green said that he "had no inkling of the swimmers' delinquency last July." A review prepared by psychologist Dr. Pippa Grange for Swimming Australia "did not identify swimmers or detail their indiscretions." While Grange reported ''few situations (in London) … were truly grave in nature, they compounded in significance as no one reined in control.'' Granger, who has worked with numerous Australian Football League clubs and sporting organizations, "conducted 57 recorded interviews with Olympic swimmers and Australian team support staff on the basis of anonymity, meaning she cannot inform Swimming Australia about the specifics of the most serious allegations" (THE AGE, 2/20).

'DAMNING' REPORT: Also in Sydney, Phil Lutton reported Olympian Kenrick Monk said that he is "not surprised the team atmosphere at the London Games was labelled 'toxic' and has lifted the lid on a litany of blunders" leading into Australia's worst effort in the pool since '76. Monk said, "It's not surprising that 'toxic' is getting used. There was a lot of faults and basically, a lot of things went wrong. A lot of things are getting fixed and it's opened a lot of eyes to people about what happened on the team'' (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 2/20). Also in Sydney, Stathi Paxinos reported national team coach Leigh Nugent agreed that the way swimmers such as James Magnussen, who was "heavily criticised for his behaviour following his poor relay swim on the opening night, would change." He said while swimmers will still be ranked, and receive support, based on their performances, the future was ''about [being] one team.'' Nugent said, ''I think everyone in our team and in fact our national program needs to be treated in a similar way'' (THE AGE, 2/20). Also in Sydney, Richard Hinds opined it is "a startling downfall for an iconic sport now portrayed as distracted and decayed." One in which "a handful of recalcitrant and egotistical swimmers have gone unchallenged, to the detriment of their own performance and that of their teammates." The report is both "damning and highly prescriptive." From "the appointment of an all-powerful high performance manager, to the return of yellow caps -- swimming's 'baggy green.'" But the 35 recommendations might be summarized in a sentence: "swimming is crying out for the professional administration taken for granted in other major sports" (THE AGE, 2/19).
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