‘Toxic’ team environment of Australian swimmers

Slack management allowed a “culturally toxic” environment to develop in Australia’s swimming team at the London Olympics, with abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as flouting of curfews and bullying going unchecked, a review said yesterday.

Australia’s worst Olympic swimming performance for 20 years was accompanied by reports of schoolboy pranks, inflated egos, a lack of team unity and unrealistic expectations, prompting the review into team culture by business consultants Bluestone.

“Standards, discipline and
accountabilities for the swim team at the London Olympics were too loose,” it said.

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“Situations were left to bleed, with not enough follow through for fear of disrupting preparation for competition. Although few situations relating to London reported through this review were truly grave in nature, they compounded in significance as no-one reigned in control.

“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.”

Australia’s swimmers are usually expected to lead the country’s charge for medals in the first week of the Games, but they failed to win an individual title and ended up with just one relay gold, six silver and three bronze medals.

An Independent Swimming Review into the high performance programme at Swimming Australia commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission also reported yesterday, making 35 recommendations for improvements. The report highlighted “a culture of non-strategic business practices and a governance system that did not operate as well as it should”, as well as the lack of a “clearly visible national direction”.

Swimming Australia chief Barclay Nettlefold welcomed both reports and acknowledged there was much to be done to restore the credibility of the sport in the country.

“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,” he said in a news release.

One of the more serious allegations to emerge after London was that some team members had been subjected to initiation rituals involving Stilnox – a sedative banned by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) just before the Games. AOC president John Coates said he was awaiting with interest a Swimming Australia inquiry into the matter.