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British Swimming: Para-Athletes’ Families Put Through ‘Years Of Turmoil’

October 13, 2017

The father of a two-time Paralympic gold medallist says families have been put through “years of turmoil” by the “climate of fear” at British Swimming.

An independent inquiry into complaints of bullying made by 13 Para-swimmers found they and their families faced “unacceptable behaviours”.

In an exclusive interview, Carson Russell, whose daughter Hannah, 21, was among the athletes who complained, said it had been a “very challenging” time.

He said solutions must now be found.

“It is disappointing when you have to listen to your daughter on the end of the phone who is upset and fearful at the way she’s being managed, and that is a big concern,” he told BBC Sport’s Patrick Nathanson.

“I am aware that other families have been through a lot of turmoil, a lot of distress over the last two or three years. It’s very challenging for parents and athletes who might be in a new environment for them so they’re unsure what best practice looks like.

“As a parent, you want you child to be in a rewarding environment, that’s how you get the best out of athletes – but if they’re pushed too far, that can slide away, and I believe that’s what’s happened, and that then did become a climate of fear that people couldn’t operate in properly.”

British swimming’s governing body said an unnamed member of staff – understood to be former head coach Rob Greenwood – was found to have been “communicating with athletes in an abusive manner, as well as using derogatory terms to describe athletes”.

Greenwood left his job before the investigation began, and it is not known whether he disputes the allegations.

When contacted by the BBC, he declined to comment.

A second unnamed member of staff – understood to be national performance director Chris Furber – whose management and communication was criticised and was found to have showed a “lack of empathy” has faced disciplinary action, but remains in post at the Manchester-based organisation.

He is not accused of abuse or discrimination. When contacted by the BBC he declined to comment.

“In the pursuit of excellence, we recognise there have been failings in the culture and communication within British Para-swimming” said Maurice Watkins, chairman of the national governing body.

‘The most important thing is to find solutions’

Carson Russell said striving for medals must be balanced with the welfare and safety of athletes.

“The pursuit of medals is integral to athletes getting up every day, driving themselves forward – it’s what elite sport is all about,” he said.

“Getting that balance right is really important, but you can strive for world-class performances in an environment where you are looking after athletes and their welfare comes first.”

He acknowledged British Swimming had carried out a “thorough investigation” and added it was “right and good that they have made some recommendations”.

He said: “The important thing is you have to be careful of throwing sticks and highlighting problems all the time. The most important thing is to find solutions.

“There are some recommendations, but the caveat to that is that those have to be delivered.”

Russell said his daughter was willing to “draw a line in the sand” and was focused on securing a place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

“Unfortunately for my daughter she did have to cope with stresses and things that weren’t great for her,” he said. “But becoming a resilient athlete, being able to bounce back, that’s part of elite sport as well.

“What’s gone has gone, let’s make sure we learn from that.

“There’s some new people and coaches involved in British Para-swimming and she’s working with them. Her focus is purely on Tokyo 2020 and what she needs to do to try and get selected for that.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2017 10:25 am

    I’m supposed to have ‘sympathy’ for them am I?

    What have they had to say about all of the “Grave and Systematic” human rights abusers?
    And all of the disabled people getting abused, tortured and starved to death?

    Atos Olympic and Paralympic Games –
    https://atos.net/en/2016/press-release_2016_09_21/atos-olympic-paralympic-games-technology-efforts-digital-age-turn-pyeongchang-2018-tokyo-2020

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