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Independent review finds "culture of fear" in English swimming

Independent review finds
© Reuters
An independent review finds a "culture of fear" and "toxic environment" within English swimming clubs following accusations of mistreatment of athletes last year.

An independent review has found a "culture of fear" and "toxic environment" within English swimming clubs following accusations of mistreatment of athletes last year.

In early 2023, numerous swimmers came forward alleging abuse and bullying against coaches, leading to mental health problems and eating disorders.

Cassie Patten - a former Olympic bronze medallist and world silver medallist in the 10km water event - told the BBC that she would physically make herself sick before weigh-ins due to coaches' "fixation" on her weight.

Patten was just one of a plethora of athletes to report a culture of fear, fat-shaming and emotional abuse, including coaches forcing swimmers to train with serious injuries, leading Swim England to commission an independent review.

The report - published by The Behavioural Architects - concluded that Swim England oversaw values of "extreme competitiveness" leading to a toxic environment, where "bullying and aggressive coaching styles" would often go unreported.

Swimmers also feared the repercussions of speaking out against bullying, including not being selected for competitions by their coaches, or being "victimised" by fellow members or parents.

A "narrow focus" on performance would also lead to "excessive pressure" on juvenile swimmers, while athletes not possessing pre-existing connections within the sport would be 'disadvantaged' when it came to finding opportunities.

Swim England chairperson Richard Hookway apologised for the "negative experiences" athletes suffered from as a result of the governing body "falling short", and they would "fully accept" the findings.

"We are sorry that the culture within aquatics has fallen short of what we strive for and that this has resulted in negative experiences within our community," Hookway said in a statement.

"As part of this, we take the views expressed about Swim England within the report extremely seriously. We are committed to change. We have been working on our Heart of Aquatics plan for 12 months, which aims to improve safeguarding, welfare and the underpinning culture across our sports.

"As part of that plan, we made a firm commitment to commission an independent report to capture an honest and thorough reflection of the prevailing culture. I want to reassure everyone that we welcome the recommendations and we will act on the findings, which we fully accept.

"We will now take the appropriate time to develop our next steps, building on the Heart of Aquatics commitments and consulting with stakeholders as we do so. We will also continue to listen and to provide feedback on progress. Our overarching aim is simple – to ensure everyone feels safe, included and welcome in our sports."

The independent report into swimming clubs in England comes after the Whyte Review into British Gymnastics, in which a "systemic" culture of abuse was found to exist in the sport after past and present gymnasts opened up about their experiences of emotional abuse and bullying.

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