Swim­ming scan­dal Bri­tish coach cre­ated a ‘cli­mate of fear’

Fresh rev­e­la­tions in row over com­peti­tor wel­fare ‘Deroga­tory terms’ used for dis­abled ath­letes

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Ben Rumsby SPORTS NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The ath­lete wel­fare scan­dal that has en­gulfed Bri­tish sport in­ten­si­fied last night after a Bri­tish Swim­ming coach was found to have cre­ated “a cli­mate of fear” among dis­abled ath­letes and used “deroga­tory terms” to de­scribe them.

The gov­ern­ing body also an­nounced dis­ci­plinary ac­tion had been taken against a sec­ond “mem­ber of staff” fol­low­ing an in­quiry trig­gered by mul­ti­ple com­plaints – in­clud­ing by medal­lists – lodged in the wake of last year’s Par­a­lympics.

Nei­ther in­di­vid­ual was named in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the out­come of a months-long in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion which in­ter­viewed 13 ath­letes and 10 mem­bers of staff and the find­ings of which forced Mau­rice Watkins, the chair­man of Bri­tish Swim­ming and a for­mer Manchester United direc­tor, to apol­o­gise to the vic­tims.

Last night’s rev­e­la­tions were the lat­est ham­mer blow to the cred­i­bil­ity of Bri­tain’s pub­licly-funded Olympic and Par­a­lympic medal­win­ning for­mula, com­pound­ing fears that the coun­try’s un­prece­dented suc­cess had come at the ex­pense of ath­lete wel­fare.

The scale of the prob­lem was laid bare by The Daily Tele­graph this sum­mer when it re­vealed that at least 11 of the 28 national gov­ern­ing bod­ies in re­ceipt of £361.5mil­lion of pub­lic money in the build-up to the Rio and Pyeongchang Games had re­ceived com­plaints from ath­letes or been forced to re­view their poli­cies – or both – since be­ing awarded their share of that cash.

Bri­tish Swim­ming did not dis­close the pre­cise na­ture of the of­fences that the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion it com­mis­sioned found had been com­mit­ted. How­ever, a re­port by the BBC in March, in which al­le­ga­tions against a coach were first aired pub­licly, quoted a par­ent of one of the com­plainants claim­ing dis­abled swim­mers had been “be­lit­tled and crit­i­cised”.

“We were told elite sport was not about the wel­fare of ath­letes but the pur­suit of medals. There was a cul­ture of fear,” the par­ent added.

Com­plaints were lodged with the Bri­tish Ath­letes Com­mis­sion a year ago, within weeks of a Par­a­lympics at which swim­ming was Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful sport, yield­ing 47 medals – in­clud­ing 16 gold – and eight world records, help­ing the coun­try fin­ish sec­ond in the medal ta­ble. Ahead of the launch of the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Fe­bru­ary con­ducted by two for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers and a lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor ex­pe­ri­enced in safe­guard­ing in sport, the coach at the cen­tre of the case left his job. Other sports to have faced ac­cu­sa­tions in­clud­ing bully- ing, dis­crim­i­na­tion and even sex­ual as­sault and child groom­ing are cy­cling, athletics, row­ing, ca­noe­ing, taek­wondo, archery and bob­sleigh.

Sail­ing, judo and short-track speed­skat­ing are also un­der­stood to have been forced to confront wel­fare-re­lated con­cerns.

The sum­mary of the re­spec­tive find­ings of the Bri­tish Swim­ming com­mis­sioned in­ves­ti­ga­tion read: “As re­gards the one mem­ber of staff who has left, it was found that he had cre­ated a cli­mate of fear for some ath­letes in the Bri­tish paraswim­ming pro­gramme and there had also been breaches of the staff code by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with ath­letes in an abu­sive man­ner, as well as us­ing deroga­tory terms to de­scribe ath­letes. As for the sec­ond mem­ber of staff, it was found that ath­letes were not man­aged to the ap­pro­pri­ate level, there was fail­ure to en­sure man­age­ment con­trol and lack of em­pa­thy was shown to­wards ath­letes. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with both ath­letes and their par­ents/guardians was also found to need im­prove­ment. The mem­ber of staff ac­knowl­edged mis­takes had been made.”

Watkins said: “I want to apol­o­gise to the Bri­tish para-swim­ming ath­letes and their fam­i­lies who have faced un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iours and com­ments. I have writ­ten to those ath­letes and their fam­i­lies who I un­der­stand have been af­fected by this.

“In the pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, we recog­nise there have been fail­ings in the cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion within Bri­tish para-swim­ming. We are cor­rect­ing that, recog­nis­ing the need to en­sure strong ath­lete wel­fare in our sport.”

Tim Hollingsworth, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bri­tish Par­a­lympic As­so­ci­a­tion, added: “The health

‘In the pur­suit of ex­cel­lence there have been fail­ings in cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion’

and well­be­ing of ath­letes and, in­deed, those in­volved in sport at any level is al­ways of para­mount im­por­tance. There is no place in Par­a­lympic sport for the kind of cul­tural fail­ings de­tailed in this in­de­pen­dent re­port for Bri­tish Swim­ming and we com­mend the gov­ern­ing body for their re­sponse to it and the ac­tion plan they have ini­ti­ated.

“Par­a­lympic­sgb ath­letes are some of the most in­spir­ing role mod­els in pub­lic life and there are no cir­cum­stances in which this kind of con­duct is ac­cept­able. We

would en­cour­age ath­letes to chal­lenge this be­hav­iour wher­ever and when­ever it arises and – as is hap­pen­ing across the sys­tem – all or­gan­i­sa­tions and gov­ern­ing bod­ies to look at their cul­ture and their pro­cesses to make sure they are as good as they can be and should be.”

Elite fund­ing body UK Sport said: “We can con­firm that we are in re­ceipt of the re­port. We will now care­fully con­sider it be­fore con­firm­ing what, if any, ac­tions we may need to take in re­sponse to the find­ings.”

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