Review details 'toxic' environment in Aussie team

AP News
Posted: Feb 19, 2013 12:15 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A review into the Australian swimming team's performance at the London Olympics has detailed a "toxic" environment including misuse of prescription drugs and bullying.

Australia's only swimming gold medal at the London 2012 Games was in the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay, with the high-profile men's relay and world champion James Magnussen failing to deliver on the expectations from a country which prides itself on his performances in the Olympic pool. Australia won 10 swimming medals overall, including six silver and three bronze.

It was Australia's worst Olympic swimming performance in two decades.

The problem-plagued squad has been the subject of two reviews, including the Bluestone Review released Tuesday which outlined the "culturally toxic incidents" and the "lack of collective leadership" in response.

The independent review noted cases of "getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breaching curfews, deceit, bullying".

"Situations were left to bleed," the report said, adding that swimmers felt alone and alienated and described their London experience as the "lonely Olympics."

The swim team entered the London Games amid reports of pranks at a lead-in camp, with allegations that senior members of the men's 4x100 freestyle relay team devised an initiation ritual involving taking the prescription sleeping pill Stillnox on a bonding night.

The review recommended multifaceted leadership development of athletes and coaches.

"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," Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold said in a statement. "It has been a time of reflection and review and a time to be honest and open about how we can make the right steps towards future success.

"The underlying message from these two reviews is that we all have to be accountable for the future success of swimming in Australia and that starts with discipline and setting the right standards of behavior from the top down."

Any athletes who used prescription sedatives during the London Games faced sanctions from the Australian Olympic Committee.

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Swimming Australia "has indicated they will investigate the possible misuse of prescription drugs including Stilnox by members of the swim team," AOC president John Coates said. "The use of those drugs being a breach of (Australian) team policy.

"If the claims are substantiated and the individuals involved are identified, the AOC will consider their conduct ... and consider sanctions."

Head coach Leigh Nugent said the behavioral issues in the team "were not overtly obvious."

"Blame attribution is not where we need to go right now," he said. "In hindsight there are things I look at now and think maybe I could have addressed those things differently.

"But they will be discussed with the appropriate bodies."

Nettleford said nobody could be blamed in isolation.

"At the moment it is not about hiring and firing," he said. "This goes back to governance. We have clearly got some issues we have to address in governance."