Swimming: Swimmer's disappointment after coach is cleared of bullying

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The Independent Online

When it was announced last year that Bill Sweetenham, the top coach in British swimming, was to be the subject of an investigation after allegations of systematic bullying, the findings were always going to cause a splash.

Sweetenham, an Australian, was cleared this week by British Swimming after an independent inquiry found allegations of bullying made in The Times newspaper last August were unproven. The governing body still intends to discuss some "issues" with him, but for at least one senior swimmer yesterday, the sense of disappointment and frustration was tangible.

Karen Pickering, who competed under Sweetenham at the 2004 Olympics but retired from competition last year, felt the inquiry's definition of bullying was too narrow. She told BBC Radio's Four's Today programme: "I'm not surprised the findings have come up in his favour, but it does not take away from the fact there have been many problems leading up to and since the Olympics.

"There have been times when he has shouted at me until my eyes have been watering. There have been times when we have been unable to argue our points because when the threat of [losing] funding is over your head we have had no choice but to follow. The majority of swimmers want to be in an environment that is happy."

Vindicated by the verdict, Sweetenham is unlikely to change his methods. A 55-year-old born in the outback and raised with a "winning-is-everything" ethos, he brooks no compromise in pursuit of excellence. He was head of Australian swimming for 15 years, managed four Olympics squads and set up a youth programme that produced such current superstars as Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.

British Swimming's chief executive, David Sparkes, insists Sweetenham has the support of the "vast majority" of swimmers. Those voicing public support include David Davies, 20, who won an Olympic bronze in Athens.