Report exposes culture of fear and bullying at swimming clubs in England

LONDON (AP) — An independent report looking into England’s swimming federation has revealed a toxic culture of fear at clubs across the country where bullying and aggressive coaching can go unchecked.

England’s national governing body for swimming published the findings of the research it commissioned on Tuesday, expressing its commitment to implement change.

“We are sorry that the culture within aquatics has fallen short of what we strive for and that this has resulted in negative experiences within our community,” said Richard Hookway, the chair of Swim England.

The report, which was based on more than 3,500 responses from an online survey, made 21 recommendations centering on prevention, welfare and implementing a positive culture.

According to the findings, “extreme competitiveness along with power imbalances within clubs” helped to develop a culture of fear.

“In particular, people fear getting penalized by the coach for speaking up, e.g. not selected or sidelined,” the report found. “There is also a fear of repercussions from other members, parents and Swim England, including being victimized or ostracized. Coaches also can feel very vulnerable to unfair allegations and blame for welfare issues, affecting their own welfare and pushing them away from the sport.”

Past and current experiences of bullying were widely reported by participants.

“Aggressive coaching styles including shaming and singling out individuals persist in some clubs unchallenged, either tolerated as expected behaviour in a competitive environment, or due to fear of the repercussions,” the report highlighted, adding that speaking up was sometimes sanctioned.

“Reporting bullying can result in negative consequences, from being ignored or penalized by coaches, to feeling ostracized or pushed out of the club/sport,” according to the report. “Clubs are known to sometimes ignore or not act on concerns about bullying by coaches due to the risk of a coach leaving who they will struggle to replace, or fear that they or their child will be penalized.”

The report found that coaches can also feel under pressure to get results.

“The obvious conclusion here is that ‘performance first’ is a dangerous approach when applied to young people and suggests a role for systemic changes to recalibrate values,” the report said.


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