Swimming: ‘Toxic’ Aussie culture at Olympics
SYDNEY (AFP) – Drunkenness, misuse of prescription drugs and bullying were among “toxic” incidents in the under-performing Australian swimming team at the London Olympics, a report said on Tuesday.
So bad was morale at the 2012 Games, swimmers described them as the “lonely Olympics” and the “individual Olympics”, the Bluestone Review submitted to Swimming Australia has revealed.
“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,” it said.
“No such collective action was taken.”
Australia’s swimmers won just one gold medal, six silver and three bronze in London – their lowest tally in the pool since 1992 in Barcelona.
The team also went without an individual gold medal for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Swimming Australia, the sport’s governing body, asked consultancy firm Bluestone Edge to probe the “culture and leadership” at the top level of the sport after the Games.
It also commissioned a broader independent review into the sport’s high performance programme in the wake of the Olympics, also released on Tuesday, which found that its governance did not operate as well as it should.
Findings include that over much of the Olympic cycle, high performance athletes and coaches “did not have a clearly visible national direction to guide them in applying a vast range of resources in a way that could best ensure success in the context of elite sport”.
The first of the broader review’s 35 recommendations is that swimming implement changes to promote a culture of success, accountability and transparency.
The Bluestone probe found that cultural factors played a significant role in the unpleasant experience many Australian swimmers, coaches and staff had in London. While there was no single “bad apple”, and things did not suddenly fall apart, a set of circumstances had been allowed to develop unchecked in which leadership appeared to lose out to the science of winning, it said.
“Standards, discipline and accountability for the swim team at the London Olympics were too loose,” the report said, adding that poor behaviour and disrespect within the team were not always addressed.
“Situations were left to bleed with not enough follow-through for fear of disrupting preparation for competition.”
It said while few incidents reported to the review were “truly grave in nature, they compounded in significance as no one reigned in control”.