Australia’s top sports authority has chosen double Olympic gold medalist Kieren Perkins to be part of a review panel charged with probing the national swim team’s flop at the London Games amid reports of bullying and disharmony away from the pool.
Australian swimmers delivered their worst Olympic performance in 20 years in London, failing to win an individual title and ending up with one relay gold, six silver and three bronze medals.
Swimming Australia quickly announced it would conduct a root-and-branch review, but that was taken out of their hands in the wake of accusations of favoritism and “schoolboy pranks” that rocked the well-funded sport’s establishment.
In addition to Perkins, who won the 1,50m freestyle gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games and at Atlanta in 1996, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) said it had also named eight-time Olympic swimming medalist Petria Thomas to the panel.
The ASC holds the purse strings for government funding of sports Down Under.
The high-powered panel, chaired by former ASC chairman Wawrick Smith and which includes Australian Institute of Sport Director Matt Favier, would also include business consultant and former Commonwealth Games swimmer Tim Ford, the ASC said in a statement on its Web site (www.ausport.gov.au).
Apart from analyzing the sport’s resource management and talent development programs, the panel would also interview coaches and swimmers about “current team culture, relevant competitor country analysis and the impact of social media on athlete preparations,” the ASC said.
Australia’s swim team was dogged by criticism well before the athletes hit the London pool, with Swimming Australia panned by local media for financing the Olympic comeback bids of Ian Thorpe and a number of other ageing former champions.
The team was further slammed for selecting butterfly specialist Nick D’Arcy, who was ordered by a court last year to pay damages for causing severe facial injuries to an Australian Commonwealth Games swimmer when he punched him at a bar in 2008.
D’Arcy, who avoided payment by declaring bankruptcy, was later embroiled in another scandal when pictures of he and Olympic teammate Kenrick Monk toting firearms at a US gun shop were posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
However, the most angst was reserved for the team’s performance in the pool, with particular focus on 100m freestyle world champion James Magnussen and his 4x100m freestyle relay teammates.
Favorites to win both titles, Magnussen was pipped for gold, while the relay team finished outside of the medals. All were later swept up in allegations of disruptive behavior during pre-Olympic training in Manchester.
A number of swimmers have since spoken out about a lack of team cohesion and morale in London, with one of the relay members admitting to late-night hijinks in Manchester, including prank telephone calls and banging on hotel room doors.
Reports also emerged of an incident of bullying within the team, with one rookie swimmer allegedly slapped and taunted over his physique by more senior teammates.
The ASC said procedures would be put in place by the panel to ensure views could be “submitted confidentially,” and that it expected the review to be completed before the first quarter of next year ahead of annual funding allocations.