Swimming Australia (SA) has apologised unreservedly to female swimmers negatively impacted by the culture of elite swimming, following findings from a review commissioned in June 2021.
The report was sparked by Olympic medallist Maddie Groves’ accusations of the misogynistic culture of elite swimming. Further serious accusations were made on the back of those initial claims by Groves and others.
The claims led to the establishment of an independent panel to investigate the treatment of women and girls in swimming. The panel spoke to 150 participants including former and current athletes, parents, coaches, technical officials, volunteers and administrators.
The report contains 46 recommendations aimed at improving the treatment of women and girls in the sport including calls to improve the gender balance in coaching and doing away with skinfold testing.
Female involvement in the sport sits at 60 per cent of the 6 million participant base.
SA says the feedback was open and frank and there were experiences recounted that were difficult to read. Much of that information has not been released, with SA citing privacy issues.
“We want to reassure those who came forward that the sport is committed to change to ensure these negative experiences are not repeated and apologises unreservedly to those impacted,” SA says in its statement.
The inquiry looked at the current structures and systems within Australian swimming that influence and impact the experience of participants, particularly girls and women in swimming, including the behaviours, conduct and practices of persons in positions of authority.
It also looked at the impact on the experience of women and girls of having few or no female coaches in the swimming environment, and the psychological impact of physiological benchmarks such as weight, skin folds and body shape.
Also key was looking at the effectiveness of the current complaints process, including any perceived or real barriers to making complaints or the handling of any complaints.
In accordance with the terms of reference, the independent panel of Chris Ronalds, Katherine Bates and Professor Alexandra (Alex) Parker submitted their confidential written report to the chairs of Swimming Australia and the Australian Sports Commission on December 17, 2021. The panel recently presented findings to the full Swimming Australia board.
Broadly, the review found that Swimming Australia must address the coaching gender imbalance, coaching culture, education and accreditation, governance structures, and the complaints process.
SA acknowledged that, particularly for young female athletes, some of their experiences have had longer term impacts, and they unreservedly apologised to those members of the swimming community who have had a negative experience.
They commit to addressing each and every of the 46 recommendation from the independent panel report.
SA says some progress has already been made, including Women in Performance Coaching programs, the agreement to adopt the Sport Integrity Australia National Integrity Framework with a full suite of policies and procedures, including the independent complaint handling process, and the Female Performing Physique program that takes into consideration positive psychology, risk of disordered eating, positive language and culture, low energy availability and relative energy deficiency in sport consequences, measurement and monitoring as part of the workshop-based education program for coaches.
“The Swimming Australia Board acknowledges the ultimate collective responsibility and commitment in addressing these recommendations rests with the board and the executive team in delivering and committing to meaningful and enduring change, being transparent and regaining and earning the trust of our athletes and our entire community,” says president Kieren Perkins.
An implementation steering group has been tasked with addressing these recommendations. It is chaired by Doctor Michelle Gallen (director, Swimming Australia) and includes Sally Howe (director, Swimming Australia), Matti Clements (acting CEO, Australian Institute of Sport), Jason Hellwig (CEO, Swimming Victoria), Narelle Simpson (former Australian swimming coach and owner, NS Swim Schools), Greg Shaw (general manager, Performance Support Swimming Australia) and Ellie Cole (four time Paralympian and Australian Swimmers’ association executive) with secretariat provided by Ana Croger (general counsel, Swimming Australia).
If any member of the swimming community would like support or wants to report any matters, they can contact the free and confidential AIS Be Heard hotline (1800 565 965), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or go to ais.gov.au/AISBe-Heard.