Oz Olympics: Swimmers Suffered Toxic Culture

Jonathan Samuels, Australia Correspondent

Australia's 2012 Olympic swimming team was consumed by a "toxic" culture involving bullying, the misuse of prescription drugs and a lack of discipline, a damning report has found.

The independent review of the team's poor performance in London found a failure of leadership and culture with Australian swimming's worst Olympics in two decades undermined by a lack of moral authority and discipline which manifested in a "schoolyard clamour for attention and influence".

The independent review, commission by Swimming Australia in the wake of the London flop, cited incidents of "getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breaching curfews, deceit, bullying".

"Situations were left to bleed", the report said, adding that swimmers were left to feel alone and without support.

"Swimmers described these Games as the lonely Olympics and the individual Olympics."

The Australian team managed to win just one gold medal, despite being tipped for huge success. 

"As the first week unravelled, the swimmers felt undefended, alone, alienated ... they felt confused and unsupported by their own team in some cases and not supported well enough by SAL (Swimming Australia Limited), even from the stands."

The report found the "glorification of a few was seen somewhere between embarrassing and irritating to other team members".

"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 said.

"Some athletes let their emotion play out as bravado, withdrawal, disinterest and sulking.

"This tension was not nipped in the bud ... indeed it was heightened with scuttlebutt and assumptions and diagnoses of doom from the media and the pool deck.

"Things were managed quietly rather than brought to a head and several examples of coaches passing over the responsibility for hard conversations were given."

The swimming team entered London amid claims of schoolboy pranks at a lead-in camp, with allegations that senior members of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay team devised an initiation ritual involving taking a prescription sleeping pill on a bonding night.

The review recommended creating an ethical framework for Australian swimming - a position of what the sport, governing body and athletes won't stand for, and also stated goals and values.

There also should be clear processes designed for managing issues around standards and expectations, it said.

"There is a dire need to develop and enable leadership throughout swimming," the report explained, recommending multi-faceted leadership development programmes for athletes.

Responding to the report, head coach Leigh Nugent said: "I don’t want to use the word "toxic". I know that's been reported, it's not as emotive as that sounds. I believe that we are addressing the cultural issues now and that's where we are going to go."

The review comes at a difficult time for Australian sport with a recent government report describing doping as "widespread". The year-long investigation found multiple allegations of drug misuse across a number of sports but mainly AFL - Australian Rules Football, and NRL - rugby league.

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