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GB's Paralympic swimmers faced ‘climate of fear’

by 11/10/2017 19:00:00 0 comments 1 Views
  • Paralympic swimmers enjoyed success at the Paralympic Games in Rio
  • However, complaints were made by athletes following the tournament
  • The governing body conducted an independent fact-finding investigation

By Matt Lawton for the Daily Mail

Published: 19:00 EDT, 11 October 2017 | Updated: 19:00 EDT, 11 October 2017

Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers were forced to endure a ‘climate of fear’, were described in ‘derogatory terms’ by staff and dealt with ‘an abusive manner’, British Swimming have admitted in a bombshell statement.

As the BBC revealed in March, the governing body called for an independent investigation into complaints made by athletes despite the success the Para-swimmers enjoyed at the Rio Games. 

They were Britain’s best performing sport, clinching 47 medals – 16 of them gold – with head coach Rob Greenwood subsequently being crowned ‘coach of the year’.

Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers were forced to endure a ¿climate of fear¿ in Rio
Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers were forced to endure a ¿climate of fear¿ in Rio

Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers were forced to endure a ‘climate of fear’ in Rio

Rob Greenwood (centre) was crowned ¿coach of the year¿ after the Paralympic Games
Rob Greenwood (centre) was crowned ¿coach of the year¿ after the Paralympic Games

Rob Greenwood (centre) was crowned ‘coach of the year’ after the Paralympic Games

But in October 2016 the British Athletes Commission was contacted by a number of athletes, with BAC then referring the matter to British Swimming after an investigation by a law firm ‘concluded there was prima facie evidence which warranted further inquiries’.

On Wednesday night, British Swimming said that in February this year a three-strong investigation team, including two ex-police officers experienced in public safeguarding, were engaged by British Para-Swimming to carry out an independent investigation, with 13 athletes and 10 members of staff interviewed.

‘One member of staff left BPS before the investigation commenced and another has been the subject of appropriate internal disciplinary action and continues in his position,’ the British Swimming statement said. 

Greenwood left his position but a spokesperson for British Swimming would not confirm if he is the member of staff to which the statement refers.

Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers enjoyed phenomenal success at the Rio Games
Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers enjoyed phenomenal success at the Rio Games

Great Britain's Paralympic swimmers enjoyed phenomenal success at the Rio Games

The statement nevertheless continued: ‘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 Para-Swimming 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.’

The statement said British Swimming would now be ‘reviewing the staff code of conduct, safeguarding policies and the whistleblowing policy to ensure they continue to be fit for purpose and widely communicated’.

An investigation was carried out into complaints made by athletes following the event
An investigation was carried out into complaints made by athletes following the event

An investigation was carried out into complaints made by athletes following the event

British Swimming chairman Maurice Watkins said: ‘On behalf of British Swimming 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.

‘British Swimming has in place a robust action plan, which follows a lengthy and detailed inquiry designed to make sure transparent procedures are followed and adhered to. These procedures are being widely communicated.

‘We want to ensure a closer working relationship with the British Athletes Commission. Our goal continues to be medal producing performances, consistent with medal targets, in a positive culture.’ 

BRITISH SWIMMING STATEMENT

Media statement by British Swimming on independent fact-finding investigation into allegations arising from the world class programme in British Para-Swimming: 

In October 2016 the British Athletes Commission (BAC) was contacted by a number of athletes to express concerns about their personal experience whilst a member of the British Para-Swimming Squad (BPS).

After an initial investigation by a law firm concluded there was prima facie evidence which warranted further inquiries, the matter was referred by BAC to British Swimming, the national governing body for BPS in December 2016. The issue of athlete welfare in elite performance teams is a matter of very genuine and widespread concern.

In February 2017 two investigators, both ex-police officers experienced in public safeguarding and the Lead Investigator experienced in safeguarding in sport, were engaged by BPS to carry out an independent investigation into the allegations. They interviewed 13 athletes and 10 members of staff over a period of months.

One member of staff left BPS before the investigation commenced and another has been the subject of appropriate internal disciplinary action and continues in his position.

Summary of findings relating to two staff members

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 Para-Swimming 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.

Action plan being implemented

While the BPS remains focused on continuing to deliver best performances at major British Para-Swimming competitions resulting in medals, this needs to be achieved in a changed culture which is more positive, transparent, and sustainable through athlete and staff training and development. British Swimming is reviewing the staff code of conduct, safeguarding policies and the whistleblowing policy to ensure they continue to be fit for purpose and widely communicated.

Statement from Chairman British Swimming, Maurice Watkins CBE

“On behalf of British Swimming 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.

“British Swimming has in place a robust action plan, which follows a lengthy and detailed inquiry designed to make sure transparent procedures are followed and adhered to. These procedures are being widely communicated.

“We want to ensure a closer working relationship with the British Athletes Commission.

“Our goal continues to be medal producing performances, consistent with medal targets, in a positive culture.”

Statement from Chair British Athletes Commission, Victoria Aggar

“The British Athletes Commission is pleased to have been able to support its members through the independent investigation recently undertaken by British Para-Swimming. The BAC remains focused on supporting its members and looks forward to working with British Para-Swimming, and all other National Governing Bodies now and in the future, to support a healthy and positive culture for all athletes”.

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