Swimming: Australia's Games included 'drinking, drugs, bullying and deceit,' report finds
After worst Olympics in 20 years in London, findings reveal 'culturally toxic' environment
Tuesday 19 February 2013
Australia's already battered sporting reputation has taken another hiding with the publication of a damning report into the country's worst Olympic swimming performance in 20 years. It identified a "culturally toxic" environment that went unchecked by coaching staff and included athletes "getting drunk, misusing prescription drugs, breaching curfews, deceit and bullying".
Swimming has long been the country's flagship Olympic sport but flopped badly in London – failing to win an individual gold medal for the first time since 1976. The return of one gold, six silver and three bronze was the lowest since the Barcelona Games in 1992. The report, authored by consultant Dr Pippa Grange, highlighted a hugely embarrassing culture of schoolboy pranks, low morale, lack of team spirit and leadership so inadequate that one of the recommendations is for the head coach, Leigh Nugent, to be sent on "an intensive coach-the-coach leadership program" for up to six months.
The report said: "Poor behaviour and disrespect within the team were not regulated or resisted strongly by other team members, and it was left unchecked or without consequence by staff and coaches on a number of occasions. 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."
There were allegations in the wake of London of initiation rituals for some team members in which they took Stilnox, a sedative banned by the Australian Olympic Committee before the Games. Other swimmers described the Games as the "Lonely Olympics" and suggested the team was split. The only gold came in the women's 100m freestyle relay, while the likes of James Magnussen, aka the much-hyped Missile, failed to live up to billing.
The report added: "In addition, the glorification of a few was seen somewhere between embarrassing and irritating to other team members and added to a growing notion that the rest of the athletes were not really valued. One person said he felt that it was not really about whether you swam your heart out, it was about whether you could sell your heart out."
It is one of two reports into the swimming team's failings and between them they have made 41 recommendations. Australia had a poor Games overall, finishing 10th in the medal table, their lowest since 1992.
It follows the findings of a report by Australia's crime commission earlier this month that claimed widespread use of performance-enhancing substances across Australian Rules football and rugby league.
The swimming report contrasts with a similar exercise mounted by British Swimming after its team failed to win a single gold in home water and also fell short of its medal target. That found no fundamental flaws in the system. British Swimming has since had its central funding for the next Olympic cycle cut by UK Sport.
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