Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Bullying, alcohol, drugs - Australian swim team was 'toxic'

By Gary Morley, CNN
February 19, 2013 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Emily Seebohm blamed her overuse of social networking website Twitter for her failure to win Olympic gold at London 2012 as the favorite in the women's 100m backstroke, where she finished second. Emily Seebohm blamed her overuse of social networking website Twitter for her failure to win Olympic gold at London 2012 as the favorite in the women's 100m backstroke, where she finished second.
HIDE CAPTION
Too much Twitter
No gold
D'Arcy controversy
Sole victory
'Thorpedo'
Sydney success
Doing a double
Seoul struggle
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Independent review criticizes "toxic" culture of Australia's Olympic swimming team
  • Report accuses swimmers of getting drunk, using prescription drugs, bullying teammates
  • Swimming Australia says it is already addressing issues after disappointing London 2012
  • Australian swimmers failed to win more than one gold medal for first time since 1992

(CNN) -- Australian swimming officials have vowed to "win back the admiration of a nation" following the release of a damning report that blamed a "toxic" team environment at London 2012 which led to the country's worst Olympic pool performance in 20 years.

It was the first time Australia had failed to win more than one swimming gold medal since 1992, and the subsequent independent review revealed problems throughout the team -- from lack of leadership at the top to unacceptable behavior by the athletes.

"Standards, discipline and accountabilities for the swim team at the London Olympics were too loose," the report said, having canvassed 94 individuals and received 30 submissions.

"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. No such collective action was taken."

Coming soon after this month's government report claiming widespread use of drugs by Australian athletes, it is another serious blow to the country's image of sporting excellence.

Why is Australia faltering at Games?
High-tech tools help Games performances
Stephanie Rice, who has made an art of her pre-race rituals, was under big pressure to perform at the Australian 2012 Olympic trials in Adelaide in March. Stephanie Rice, who has made an art of her pre-race rituals, was under big pressure to perform at the Australian 2012 Olympic trials in Adelaide in March.
Very superstitious
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
Australian swimming\'s golden girl Australian swimming's golden girl

Swimming Australia said Tuesday it had already begun to address some of the issues raised in the review, and had a 100-day plan to tackle them further.

"Swimming has a proud history in this country and everyone in the sport wants to maintain and improve on the credibility and integrity which has developed over more than a century of success," said its president Barclay Nettlefold.

"Before we look at winning gold medals, we want to win back the admiration of the nation, and we want to engage with our swimming community like never before at every level."

One of the review's key criticisms was that team officials had been so focused on winning gold medals that the morale of the athletes suffered.

Swimmers complained of being ignored if they failed to achieve expected standards, describing it as the "Lonely Olympics" and the "Individual Olympics."

"Things were quiet and weird when someone lost. You just sort of went to your room and got out of the way," said one in the report.

Some respondents felt that team officials were only interested in presenting the most well-known swimmers to the media, with 24 of the 47-strong squad being first-time Olympians, while some did not turn up to support their colleagues on race days.

"The consequence was an undertone of divisions, now and then, us and them, men and women, the best and the rest," the report said.

"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.

Human to Hero: Stephanie Rice
Olympic athletes light up social media

"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."

Read: 'The Social Media Games'

These problems were magnified by a lack of control of the team's social media activities, the report said.

Emily Seebohm claimed her overuse of Twitter cost her a gold medal in the 100 meters backstroke event in which she was favorite, while Stephanie Rice made headlines after posting a picture of herself in a skimpy bikini just before the Games.

Teammates Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk were forced to remove a picture they posted online showing them with weapons in a U.S. gun shop. They were banned from using social media at London 2012.

"The media search for controversy is nothing new, but London was the first Games where the influence of social media was so dramatic," the report said.

Read: Triumph and scandal - Olympians in social media spotlight

"Some athletes engaged deeply in public debate on what they were doing, how they were doing, and even on who they actually were as individuals. This served to fuel emotions, good and bad, at a time where calmness, intensive focus and consistency should have prevailed.

"Social media also allowed already disconnected athletes to seek support from sources external to the team, which again diminished the reliance on a unified team."

The report said the lack of team spirit was partly caused by letting the swimmers prepare under individual programs with their own coaches, which caused a disconnect at all levels of the squad.

Partying in the Olympic Village
Ye Shiwen: Doping allegations 'unfair'

Meanwhile, the Olympic village environment was described as "mayhem" and "a candy shop of distractions."

"Fragmentation was compounded in the absence of familiarity and sufficient opportunities to connect formally and socially. Greater cohesion as a team would have needed to be intentional and cultivated by design," the report said.

The Australian Sports Commission welcomed the review's findings.

"Swimming Australia has already commenced recruitment for a new high performance director and has also taken steps to improve its relationship with key stakeholders," said ASC chief executive Simon Hollingsworth.

"This report is a clear message to Swimming Australia to continue its reforms to enable it to return to the top table of international swimming."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT