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Review slams ‘toxic’ culture in Olympic swim team

Review slams ‘toxic’ culture in Olympic swim team
February 19, 2013

A report reviewing the culture and leadership in Australia's swimming team has slammed a "toxic" culture which saw athletes abuse prescription drugs, alcohol and curfews during the London Olympics.

Conducted by consultancy firm Bluestone Edge, the report follows Australia's worst Olympic swimming performance in 20 years. It found that a culture existed within the swim team which "did not appear to assist or support high-level performance for most people."

The report says incidents of peer intimidation and hazing went unaddressed by coaches and alienated the lower profile swimmers, who felt the emphasis on gold medal success caused anxiety in the camp.

The report, commissioned by Swimming Australia following the appointment of new President Barclay Nettlefold, also described standards and accountability as "too loose", and that a number of situations "compounded in significance as no one reined in control."

It added "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."

The report outlines an Olympics campaign that deteriorated as leading swimmers failed to win expected gold medals, with no plan in place to deal with the losses.

Athletes said wins were praised, but anything less was met with silence.

The report added "it seems that morale began to drop once the team started to lose in the first few days.

"People felt the failure very keenly while they were still in the midst of performance. It was a contagious feeling that had a high impact on the mood.

"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 aren't going well."

It says athletes felt disconnected from the head coach and issues were "'managed quietly' rather than brought to a head."

The report recommends a stronger ethical framework of what Swimming Australia stands for, to update internal codes of conduct and create better processes for managing issues around standards and expectations.

It also recommended head coach Leigh Nugent be sent on an "an intensive coach-the-coach leadership program" for up to six months, adding "there is a dire need to develop and enable leadership throughout swimming, and to orient people to consider leadership as personal, not just functional."

Australian swimming legend Geoff Huegill says the review do not come as a shock and says the onus now lies with head coach Nugent to discipline any offenders.

Huegill told Fox Sports News "the findings definitely don't surprise me.

"We've definitely been discussing it once the games were over and where things went wrong and what needed to be done.

"I think the biggest thing to look at is the coaches, because the coaches have to take responsibility for this.

"If the coaches don't take responsibility for these athletes and for the leadership that needs to be shown, then they're ultimately just as much to blame as the athletes."

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