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Australia Olympic swim team: 'Toxic' culture of drugs, drinking, bullying

Team tries to explain their poor performance in London

Matt Targett
Matt Targett
Mark Dadswell

The 2012 Australian Olympic swimming team had a lousy Olympics, with only 10 overall medals and one gold, after going into London with high hopes and a lot of hype. A new report examining the team's performance said it was "toxic" culture that included abuse of prescription drugs, heavy drinking, missed curfews and bullying.

"The consequence was an undertone of divisions, now and then, us and them, men and women, the best and the rest. Poor behavior and disrespect within the team were not regulated or resisted strongly by other team members, and it was left unchecked or without consequence by staff and coaches on a number of occasions. Some individual incidents of unkindness, peer intimidation, hazing and just ‘bad form’ as a team member that were escalated to personal coaches were not addressed and had no further consequence. One athlete reported that ‘I felt awkward, felt weird; I just kept my head down. I didn’t know how to handle it; I just avoided it.' "

The above is from the report by the Bluestone group, done for Swimming Australia, which reported that nothing was done as incident after incident piled up. In the saddest sentence of the report, "swimmers described these Games as the ‘Lonely Olympics’ and the ‘Individual Olympics.' " Feeling lonely at an Olympics must feel like crap.

Ironically, it was the push for gold at the expense of everything else that caused most of the problems, as some swimmers got all the attention at the expense of others and a pecking order developed. Strangely, the team did not have its own sports psychologist, which is pretty much standard practice these days.

It was the reports of bullying that got my attention to this. Bullying is not just about sexual orientation but is a destructive and demeaning practice that affect any team. This postmortem, with numerous remedies suggested, might be the wake-up call Australian swimming needs. But anyone involved in a team sport could relate to the issues it raises.