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2021 Independent Panel Report Response

In June 2021, Swimming Australia commissioned an independent report to better understand the experiences of women and girls within the sport.

Swimming Australia Response to the Independent Panel Report

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:

  • The current structures and systems within Australian swimming that influence and impact the experience of participants, particularly girls and women in swimming
  • The overall experiences of swimmers in relation to the behaviours, conduct and practices of persons in positions of authority
  • The impact on the experience of women and girls of having few or no female coaches in the swimming environment
  • 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
  • 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:

  • Systems, structures and processes
  • Coach accreditation and education
  • Assessment and management of body composition
  • Cultural change and leadership
  • 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 below 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 found below.

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


Implementation Steering Group Members

Dr Michelle Gallen

Michelle has a background in sports integrity, including a decade working in anti-doping and consideration of human rights as they relate to sport. She has a PhD in international sports law and is currently chair of Swimming Australia’s Integrity and Ethics Committee. Her previous roles include work with selection panels, appeals tribunals and the Australian Anti-Doping Rule Violation Committee. Michelle is currently an Executive Director with Queensland Government and leads large transformation programs, including cultural change for agencies. She has experience managing integrity issues in the workplace including bullying, sexual harassment, conflict of interest and fraud.

Michelle is also an avid life-long swimmer, from club swimmer to elite representation and now participation in Masters. She is passionate about providing access to the benefits of swimming for everyone, l and ensuring that every swimmer’s experience in the sport is positive and productive.

Sally Howe

Sally is an experienced Non-Executive Director largely with consumer facing values based, complex and highly regulated NFP enterprises and is currently Chair of a Board risk, quality, and compliance subcommittee in a large and complex NFP health, disability and aged care business.

A Graduate of the AICD and the AICD Boardroom Mastery program, has strong experience in leadership, collaboration and strategic partnerships coupled with a deep understanding of governance, risk and integrity. Executive and senior leadership health sector experience spans 35 years with roles across private, public, community, and primary health.

Matti Clements

Matti is Acting CEO of the Australian Institute of Sport. She joined the AIS in 2018 and is AIS Director of People Development and Wellbeing, a department that supports Australia’s high performance sporting industry across four key work functions: Wellbeing and Engagement (including Mental Health, Professional Development and Engagement); Coach Development; Leadership and Culture; and Workforce Development. Matti also chairs a number of AIS committees including the Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement Advisory Committee and the Reconciliation Action Plan Committee.

Prior to the AIS, Matti was Director of Mental Edge Consulting, specialising in team and organisational culture, wellbeing, performance enhancement, professional development services and support systems for high performance sporting organisations. A qualified psychologist, Matti has over 15 years’ experience working with Australia’s top elite and professional sports at both a strategic and operational level for organisations including several AFL Clubs, Cricket Australia, Golf Australia, Netball Australia, Tennis Australia, AFL and the Australian Cricketers Association.

Matti is currently the Independent Chairperson for the Australian Rugby Union Player Development. Previously Matti was the General Manager of People & Culture at the St Kilda Football Club in 2014.

Jason Hellwig

Jason has worked in the sports arena for more than 25 years. He grew up in Darwin and started his career in 1993 as General Manager of Northern Territory Athletics before moving to Melbourne to work for Athletics Australia in 1995, firstly as their Development Officer and then Development Manager, and finally as General Manager for 5 years.

Whilst working for Athletics Australia Jason also achieved his MBA from the University of Ballarat. Jason then moved to the Australian Paralympic Committee spending time in both the Sydney and Melbourne offices as Director of Sport and later CEO from 2003 to 2015, leading the move for sports to lead and manage their Paralympic programs.

During his time with the APC Jason was appointed the Chef de Mission for the Australian Paralympic Team, London 2012, and was Head of Sport at 6 Paralympic Games both Summer and Winter. Jason also managed the realisation of commercial broadcast rights value for the Paralympic Games from the ABC to Ch 7.

Moving home to Melbourne with his young family in 2015, Jason is now the CEO of Swimming Victoria, with the focus on moving the sport forward with stronger governance and a more relevant member proposition. He is currently in a stressed relationship with the Carlton Football Club and more optimistically the Liverpool Football Club.

Greg Shaw

Greg Shaw is a Sports Dietitian with significant experience in sports nutrition. He has extensive experience in the nutrition requirements for swimming and is a Fellow of Sports Dietitians Australia. He is a level 3 Anthropometrist with the International Society of Kinanthropometry (ISAK). He has conducted research into the nutrition behaviours and requirements of swimmers and impact of RED-S.

Greg is a former swimmer who has worked with numerous elite sports including Rugby Union, AFL, Swimming, Volleyball, Winter Sports and Rowing. He has been a member of the AIS supplement program panel and been involved in steering and developing new policies associated with nutrition and body composition assessment with AIS and national sporting organisations.

Narelle Simpson

Narelle has been involved in the Australian swim industry since her teens. Since 1997 she has placed swimmers on Olympic, Paralympic, World long and short course, Commonwealth Games, Pan-Pacs and major World Cup teams and, in 2001, became the first Australian female on a major Australian swim team in an individual coaching capacity.

Narelle currently operates the NS Swim Schools, an institution in Sydney’s Northern Beaches since the 1990’s.

Ellie Cole

Ellie is Australia’s most decorated Paralympian having won 17 medals across four separate Games, including two at the most recent Tokyo Paralympics where she also served as Australia’s flag bearer in the Closing Ceremony.

Ellie is also currently a member of the Australian Swimmers’ Association Executive Committee.