Swimming Australia's Response to the Independent Panel Report

20 January 2022
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In June 2021, Swimming Australia commissioned an independent report to better understand the experiences of women and girls within the sport. With female involvement at 60% of the 6 million participant base, this was a critical step in enabling a positive experience for all. 

The Independent Panel’s report and recommendations have now been received and Swimming Australia is very grateful to the Panel and the participants who came forward to share their experiences.

The feedback was open and frank and there were experiences recounted that were difficult to read.  We want to reassure those who came forward that the sport is committed to change to ensure these negative experiences are not repeated and apologises unreservedly to those impacted.

The Independent Panel was tasked with a solution-focussed inquiry to understand    issues facing participants in swimming within a performance environment.

The key areas of inquiry included:

    1. The current structures and systems within Australian swimming that influence and impact the experience of participants, particularly girls and women in swimming

 

    1. The overall experiences of swimmers in relation to the behaviours, conduct and practices of persons in positions of       authority
    2. The impact on the experience of women and girls of having few or no female coaches in the swimming environment

 

    1. The communication to female swimmers by coaches and others about physiological benchmarks of elite sport such as weight, skin folds and body shape and the psychological impact that has on the wellbeing of swimmers

 

    1. The effectiveness of the current complaints process, including any perceived or real barriers to making complaints or the handling of any complaints.

 

The six month review was comprehensive, with more than 150 participants spanning former and current athletes, parents, coaches, technical officials, volunteers and administrators.

 

In accordance with the Terms of Reference, the Independent Panel of Chris Ronalds AO SC, Ms Katherine Bates OLY and Professor Alexandra (Alex) Parker submitted their confidential written report to the Chairs of Swimming Australia and the Australian Sports Commission on 17th December 2021. The Panel recently presented findings to the full Swimming Australia Board.

 

Broadly, the review found that Swimming Australia must address the coaching gender imbalance, coaching culture, education and accreditation, governance structures, and the complaints process.

The key findings and recommendations from the report cover a range of themes including:

 

  1. Systems, structures and processes
  2. Coach accreditation and education
  3. Assessment and management of body composition
  4. Cultural change and leadership
  5. The complaints process


The report also identified issues that affect athlete experiences and wellbeing at all levels of the sport, including a fear and pressure to perform, speaking out, and more broadly control and the coaching culture. It is acknowledged that, particularly for young female athletes, some of their experiences have had longer term impacts. We again unreservedly apologise to those members of the swimming community who have had a negative experience.

A total of 46 recommendations were identified by the Independent Panel. Swimming Australia commits to addressing each and every recommendation from the Independent Panel report. In the interests of transparency and accountability, the full list of recommendations are available here and will remain on the Swimming Australia website and updated as progress is made in each of these areas.  We believe the report and recommendations will provide a strong roadmap for our organisation to improve across  all five key themes identified in the report.

While a number of recommendations have highlighted areas in which Swimming Australia requires significant work, there are a number of recommendations where progress has already been made. These include Women in Performance Coaching programs, the agreement to adopt the Sport Integrity Australia National Integrity Framework with a full suite of policies and procedures, including the independent complaint handling process, and the Female Performing Physique program, that takes into consideration positive psychology, risk of disordered eating/eating disorders, positive language and culture, LEA and RED-s consequences, measurement and monitoring as part of the workshop based education program for coaches. We also have gender equality across our Board and senior management staff.

An Implementation Steering Group has been tasked with the important role of addressing these recommendations. It will be Chaired by Doctor Michelle Gallen (Director, Swimming Australia) and include Sally Howe (Director, Swimming Australia), Matti Clements (Acting CEO, AIS), Jason Hellwig (CEO, Swimming Victoria), Narelle Simpson (Former Australian Swimming Coach and Owner, NS Swim Schools), Greg Shaw (General Manager, Performance Support Swimming Australia) and Ellie Cole (four time Paralympian and Australian Swimmers’ Association Executive) with secretariat provided by Ana Croger (General Counsel, Swimming Australia). Some information on the members and their respective qualifications and experience is provided here.

Swimming Australia President Kieren Perkins has reaffirmed our steadfast commitment to enact genuine change.

“The Swimming Australia Board acknowledges the ultimate collective responsibility and commitment in addressing these recommendations rests with the Board and the Executive Team in delivering and committing to meaningful and enduring change, being transparent and regaining and earning the trust of our athletes and our entire community,” Perkins said.

“The Board is committed to leading the organisation through this process of positive cultural change. They look forward to driving long term change alongside the community including the athlete cohort, participants, parents, Member Organisations, stakeholders, coaches and staff.” 

Independent Panel member, Chris Ronalds AO SC, expressed the Panel’s gratitude to all those who participated in the review and supported Swimming Australia’s path forward to meaningful change.

“We’d like to thank everyone who came forward with their submissions and gave us their time to talk through their experiences. We acknowledge their courage for agreeing to talk with us,” Ronalds AO SC said.  

“We’re very encouraged after our conversation with Swimming Australia that they are committed to taking these steps towards creating positive change. We acknowledge the Swimming Australia Board and their openness in listening to our findings and creating accountability around the implementation of the recommendations to ensure the sport and all participants are in the best place moving forward.”

The Implementation Steering Group will meet regularly to ensure each recommendation is thoroughly reviewed with a plan of action and timeline documented, with the initial meeting being scheduled for late January. They will hold the Swimming Australia Board and Executive to account for the implementation.

With a number of the recommendations including the grassroots and junior levels of the sport, we also look forward to working with state & territory associations, clubs, the athlete and coach community and key stakeholders at the Australian Sports Commission and Sports Integrity Australia as part of this process.

While we cannot release the full report due to the confidentiality guaranteed to participants, the themes of the report are clear in the recommendations and provide public accountability for our steps forward.

Swimming Australia appreciates that this has been a challenging time for athletes, coaches, staff and the broader community.  We thank everyone that has contributed and remain resolute in our commitment to continually improving our sport to ensure it is a safe and thriving environment for all participants from grassroots through to the elite level.

 

Support for participants continues to be made available. If participants or any member of the swimming community would like support or to report any matters, please contact the free and confidential AIS Be Heard hotline (1800 565 965), email (aisbeheard@coreintegrity.com.au) or ais.gov.au/AISBe-Heard

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