Swimming woes makes a big splash about nothing

AUSTRALIAN swimming revealed its underbelly over the past seven days — surprisingly fallible in comparison to its own usually strong standards but in other respects not as exposed as many in the media have tried to portray.

There are some serious issues for the sport to confront but they have been made to look way more controversial than they really are by two factors — neither of which is the fault of swimming, its administrators or current participants.

The first popped up seven months ago, when as part of his explanation of his own poor behaviour in retirement, former star Grant Hackett proffered up the freely available medication, Stillnox, as one of his excuses.

Hackett claimed that it had cursed him during the latter part of his career and this swung the Australian Olympic Committee into action.

Seemingly on the revelation of the 1500-metre freestyle star alone, its leadership quickly banned the drug from use by members of the 2012 Olympic team. Until then its use had been common and not banned in any way.

It appeared to be a kneejerk reaction with no apparent basis other than

Hackett’s reliance on the drug as an explanation for his own failings.

We can be sure, even on top of the fallout from the other coincidence — the (yet to be seen) ‘‘explosive’’ allegations from the Australian Crime Commission and ASADA — that the relay team would not have been fronting the media on Friday.

Yes, we are rightly more concerned about harassment and poor leadership and role-modelling than we used to be, but on what has so far been revealed and admitted, these six guys have done nothing more than countless predecessors — both male and female — in Australian sporting teams.

Their parading before a controversy-hungry media pack was massive overkill and yet another example of poor judgment by those at the top of Swimming Australia. There is no question that the public has been left with a way-poorer impression than is warranted.

It is also true that in the past in swimming and other Olympic sports, these issues have been dealt with swiftly and appropriately in-house.

Sometimes over-zealously — as most famously illustrated by the banning of Dawn Fraser for eight years after the Tokyo Olympics — but mostly effectively.

On some of those times, the administrators were accused by the media and public of being too politically correct or conservative in taking action. Finding a middle ground might be tough, especially with today's demands for so-called transparency and openness.

But of course there is not only the issue of the relay boys. The two review reports into swimming in Australia portray a damning picture of the country’s most successful sport.

Board members trooping off en masse to the Olympics in business class and staying in expensive hotels, personal coaches self determining training camps at exotic locations with doubtful returns and the dismantling of a once highly successful and motivational domestic competition circuit were features of a tell-all tale of a sport that had lost its way at the top.

But with changes already made in leadership and governance, and more to come, there is every chance that given the right decisions, a turnaround can be fast.

And then Friday’s meat market and the threats of retribution that followed it will look even sillier.


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