Review proves 'toxic' swimming culture needs to change

A "TOXIC culture" of bullying, binge drinking, prescription drug use, breaking team curfews and deceit by some of Australia's Olympic swimmers went unchecked during the London Games.

This and a number of other "cultural factors" were found by the Bluestone Review to have contributed to poor results and an "unpleasant" experience for many of Australia's swimmers, coaches and staff in London.

Australia won 10 swimming medals overall, including six silver and three bronze - the country's worst performance in 20 years.

The subsequent review found any sense of team among the Australian swimmers broke down as the focus switched more to individuals in the lead-up to and during the event.

A "candy shop of distractions" inside the athletes' village also added to the lack of team cohesion.

Some swimmers described their London experience as the "Lonely" and "Individual" Olympics.

"Swimmers seemed to have missed the power of a shared experience, and critically, of friendship. In simplest terms this meant it was a lot less enjoyable than they expected," the report released on Tuesday read.

"It is plausible that emotional tension in the group built to disharmony and sometimes became exclusion and, in the rare extreme, animosity between athletes."

A focus on the "best" swimmers within the team also added to tension within the team, the review found.

Some of the review's most damning findings centred on bullying within the team, with some individual acts of "unkindness, peer intimidation, hazing and just "bad form" going unpunished.

The review also found the team suffered from a lack of authority.

"(This) occasionally peaked in a mood where the boldest took centre stage. At its least attractive, the team dynamic became like a schoolyard clamour for attention and influence," the report read.

In terms of a lack of discipline the review found "situations were left to bleed ... for fear of disrupting preparation for competition".

Australia took one of its youngest swimming squads to London - 24 of the 47-member team were firs-time Olympians. The review found not enough induction for these athletes.

Further, the review was critical of Swimming Australia's failure to dampen expectations.

"In the absence of a leadership voice from Swimming Australia ... the media reported, even bolstered expectations of the medal haul and overshot the mark," the review found.

"Medals were almost considered guaranteed by the media consumers. There were attempts to tone some of the hype down, but mostly after the fact and once losses began to become visible, and it seems still there was no edict to change public and media expectations."

The lack of a "collective voice" to front the media on behalf of the team only fuelled the swimmers' anxiety.

And the influence of social media was also handled badly, with some athletes becoming distracted and disconnected.

There was also found to be a difference between Swimming Australia and some of the athletes as to what constituted success in London.

"There were some comments among review respondents that a number of swimmers felt that being an Olympian was abundant success enough; they had no further expectation than being there and competing," the report read.

"Making the team earlier in the year was the win; the rest was a bonus, an experience to savour rather than a job to complete."

Morale within the team began to drop when the results failed to materialise in the opening days of the Games, the review found.

"There seemed like there was no 'plan B' in terms of management tactics if medal success was not forthcoming," the report read.

The absence of a sports psychologist for the swimming team was also "sorely missed", particularly as the pool events drew to a close.

The Bluestone panel, which made a number of recommendations, received 30 submissions and met 94 individuals as part of its review.



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