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Elite swimming rocked by new sexual abuse allegations

Elite swimming rocked by new sexual abuse allegations
October 6, 2021

Australian swimming has been shocked by accusations of sexual abuse involving former elite swimming coach John Wright broadcast on the ABC on last night

The report by Lorna Knowles of ABC Investigations and Nikki Tugwell of 7.30 uncovered accusations of sexual and physical abuse by Wright in the 1980s.

The allegations are of sexual abuse by Wright on three boys in the 1980s: Olympian Shane Lewis, who was 11-13 at the time of the alleged abuses; junior backstroke champion Colin Marshall, who was 12 at the time; and Tony Blundell, who was 13.

In the second part of the series being broadcast on 7:30 tonight, further allegations against Wright, including abuse of former elite swimmer and triathlete Paul Shearer, are understood to be ready to be aired.

The abuses against Lewis and Marshall allegedly occurred at Brisbane’s Chandler Pool (now known as the Brisbane Aquatic Centre) while the abuse of Blundell allegedly occurred during car trips to the facility.

The three boys did not discuss with each other what was allegedly happening to them, and it has taken decades for it to be revealed.

As Lewis recovered in hospital following a suicide attempt in 2010, he disclosed the alleged abuse to his mother.

In 2016, Marshall heard Lewis was struggling with his mental health and the pair shared their stories with each other.

In February this year, Lewis died after a fatal prescription drug overdose. The Coroner is yet to determine the cause of the 47-year-old’s death, but his family believes it was suicide.

In 2016 Lewis decided to go public with the allegations and turned to child protection advocate Hetty Johnston for help.

In February 2016, one of his friends emailed swimming authorities about the allegations.

Swimming Australia requested more detail, emailing a short questionnaire about the nature of the alleged abuse and when and where it happened.

Lewis wrote back that he didn’t believe filling out a few boxes with high level information would yield significant interest nor kick start anything.

In his letter he stated “I’d like to acknowledge too that it’s not just swimming, not just sport in general. Abuse doesn’t discriminate between demographics. There are too many people out there who have and are still suffering.”

He received a letter from Swimming Australia’s then-Chief Executive, Mark Anderson to say he would welcome the opportunity to hear more from him about “past and present circumstances”.

Anderson wrote “swimming Australia would like to deal with the concerns raised against John Wright and any other allegations immediately, fairly, effectively and sensitively as possible.

“As such, we would welcome the opportunity to hear from you further - either in writing, verbally by phone, or in person - as soon as you are able.”

Hetty Johnston said Lewis felt discouraged by the letter, explaining “Swimming Australia wrote a lovely letter. But the word sorry didn’t appear in it anywhere.

“And what a survivor always looks for is that everyone wants to know, deep in your soul, that what happened is not your fault. And he was, you know, he was discouraged by it, most definitely discouraged by it.”

Swimming Australia’s response
Swimming Australia’s current acting Chief Executive, Eugenie Buckley told the ABC that the issue had not been “swept under the carpet” by the NSO noting that while Swimming Australia would handle the complaint differently today, it acted appropriately at the time.

Buckley advised that in 2016, then-Chief Executive Anderson asked Lewis for more information, spoke to Johnston, the Police and referred the allegations to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse.

She says Swimming Australia did not investigate Lewis’s claims at the time because it did not have enough detailed information and it did not have the resources.

Buckley told the ABC “one, there wasn’t enough detail upon which to investigate, and two it was a resourcing issue. Swimming Australia didn’t have the resources.

“Now we’ve got an in-house resource that looks after member protection. The other resource we have now is in relation to athlete wellbeing and engagement that can really support the athlete through this process a whole lot better.

“In terms of an investigation, that’s not our expertise, we’re not investigators.”

Buckley says if the complaint was received now, it would be immediately referred to police and the independent government oversight body, Sports Integrity Australia.

Explaining that Swimming Australia has also signed up to the national redress scheme to compensate victims of sexual abuse and had implemented a coaching accreditation system to better protect children, Buckley went on to say “we can absolutely commit to doing better. I think this is a process that just never stops. It’s never ‘job done’ in relation to child safety.

“So we’ll always listen, we’ll always learn and we’ll always improve.”

Part Two of the documentary will be broadcast tonight (Wednesday 6th October). 6, 2021 on 7.30.

Former Matilda Lisa De Vanna alleges abuse
Football Australia has responded to historical abuse claims made by former Matilda Lisa de Vanna, saying it is in the process of developing an independent investigation of historical allegations.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, De Vanna, aged 36, alleged she was bullied, sexually harassed and ostracised on a number of occasions during her international career.

The recently retired star, who most recently played in the W-League with Melbourne Victory, alleged the abuse started when she was in the Young Matildas set up, aged 17.

The 150-cap Matildas legend spoke out after the US National Women's Soccer League postponed matches last weekend as a result of allegations against North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, claims he denied.

De Vanna responded to a tweet from US superstar Megan Rapinoe, which said: "Men protecting men, who are abusing Women" with her own allegations.

In The Daily Telegraph article, De Vanna's allegations were backed up by former teammate Elissia Carnavas and her manager, Rose Garofano.

Football Australia responded with a statement in which they said any claims would be investigated.

For those who may need help with issues relating to abuse the following contacts may be of:

Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890
ReachOut at

Images: John Wright (top) and Swimming Australia acting Chief Executive Eugenie Buckley (below).

Related Articles

4th October 2021 - New Zealand created bot aims to eradicate social media abuse of athletes

19th September 2021 - Senior Rugby Australia executive arrested over possession of child sexual abuse material

15th September 2021 - Swimming Australia advise all-female Independent Panel moves to next phase

3rd September 2021 - Swimming Australia Board pledges to work towards National Integrity Framework

1st September 2021 - Sexual abuse victims urge Canberra’s Forrest Tennis Club to sign up to National Redress Scheme

31st August 2021 - Experienced administrator Eugenie Buckley takes on interim Chief Executive role at Swimming Australia

23rd July 2021 - Annabelle Williams appointed to Swimming Australia Board

2nd July 2021 - Barrister to head Swimming Australia inquiry into discrimination and harassment claims

16th June 2021 - Swimming Australia acknowledges complaints process could have been better communicated

14th June 2021 - Swimming Australia to create independent all-female panel to investigate misogyny

4th May 2021 - Review reveals ‘toxic’ environment within Australian gymnastics with culture of physical, emotional and sexual abuse

16th April 2021 - Swimming Australia unveils new nationwide inclusive swimwear policy

15th April 2021 - Swimming Australia names Alex Baumann as new Chief Executive

10th March 2021 - Swimming Australia extends swimwear and apparel partnership with arena

19th January 2021 - Federal Government names members of Sport Integrity Australia Advisory Council

22nd December 2020 - Retrial scheduled after deadlocked jury dismissed in Sydney swim teacher’s sexual abuse trial

9th November 2020 - Kieren Perkins appointed as Swimming Australia President

19th August 2020 - Swimming Australia highlights role swimming can play in nation’s Coronavirus recovery

10th March 2020 - Child sex charges against swim coach Scott Volkers will not proceed

27th November 2019 - Swimming Australia honours Gina Rinehart with Lifetime Contribution Award

2nd October 2019 - Swimming Australia launches grant program to encourage physical activity

29th July 2019 - Swimming Australia scrutinised over handling of Shayna Jack doping result

23rd July 2019 - Mack Horton and Swimming Australia face official rebuke over ‘drug cheat’ protest

15th March 2019 - Sydney swim teacher charged over sexual abuse of young girls

16th September 2016 - YMCA Australia issues public apology to past victims of sexual abuse

8th July 2014 - Child sexual abuse Royal Commission shifts inquiry to swimming coaches

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

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