'Toxic' Aussie swim culture at 'lonely Olympics'

Drunkenness, misuse of prescription drugs and bullying were among "toxic" incidents in the under-performing Australian swimming team at the London Olympics, a report said on Tuesday.

File picture of the women's 200m individual medley final at the London Olympics on July 31, 2012. Drunkenness, misuse of prescription drugs and bullying were among "toxic" incidents in the under-performing Australian swimming team at the London Olympics, a report said on Tuesday.

So bad was morale at the 2012 Games, swimmers described them as the "lonely Olympics" and the "individual Olympics", the Bluestone Review submitted to Swimming Australia has revealed.

"There were enough culturally toxic incidents across enough team members that breached agreements (such as getting drunk, misuse of prescription drugs, breaching curfews, deceit, bullying) to warrant a strong, collective leadership response that included coaches, staff and the swimmers," it said.

"No such collective action was taken."

Australia's swimmers won just one gold medal, six silver and three bronze in London -- their lowest tally in the pool since 1992 in Barcelona.

The team also went without an individual gold medal for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Swimming Australia, the sport's governing body, asked consultancy firm Bluestone Edge to probe the "culture and leadership" at the top level of the sport after the Games.

It also ordered a broader review into the sport's high performance programme, also released on Tuesday, which found failings in strategic planning and transparency in decision making which fuelled disillusionment.

"The underlying message from these two reviews is that we all have to be accountable for the future success of swimming in Australia, and that starts with discipline and setting the right standards of behaviour from the top down," said Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold.

Nettlefold refused to lay the blame on anyone in particular.

"This comes back to governance," he said, adding that officials were working to change the culture.

The Bluestone probe found that a set of circumstances had been allowed to develop unchecked within the swim team in which leadership appeared to lose out to the science of winning.

"Standards, discipline and accountability for the swim team at the London Olympics were too loose," the report said, adding that poor behaviour and disrespect within the team were not always addressed.

"Situations were left to bleed with not enough follow-through for fear of disrupting preparation for competition."

As competition got underway and swimmers failed to meet the huge expectations of the media and public some team members began to feel alienated, it said.

"Things were quiet and weird when someone lost," it quoted one swimmer as saying. "You just sort of went to your room and got out of the way."

Head coach Leigh Nugent said some of the cultural issues in the Bluestone Review were unknown to him at the time of the Olympics.

"A lot of these things have come out in reflection," he said.

Asked whether he was worried that his position was at risk, Nugent said any high performance job was a tenuous position.

"In hindsight there are things I look at now and think maybe I could have addressed those things differently. But they will be discussed with the appropriate bodies," he said.

An integrity panel will be established to look at specific disciplinary incidents discussed in the reviews and the Australian Olympic Committee said any athlete found to have misused prescription drugs would face sanctions.

Reports circulating around the time of the Olympics alleged that some swimmers engaged in an initiation ritual involving the sleeping pill Stilnox, banned by Australian team officials ahead of the London Games.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency