Swim England expresses regret following critical independent report on ‘harmful’ culture in clubs

Swim England issued an apology following a significant report that highlighted a “toxic” culture present in some clubs, where bullying remains unchecked and parents are hesitant to voice concerns to the governing body due to fears of retaliation. The independent report, compiled from feedback provided by 1,000 individuals including competitors, parents, and coaches, also shed light on the overwhelming demands and pressures imposed by a “performance-first” system. This system expects young athletes to continue rigorous training even when fatigued, stressed, or amidst busy exam schedules.

The report, commissioned by Swim England as part of an initiative to enhance the sport, outlined 21 recommendations for change focusing on safeguarding, welfare, and cultivating a positive culture within the sport. It discovered a prevailing “culture of fear” in some clubs, noting that “extreme competition paired with power imbalances can create a toxic environment fostering unchecked bullying and aggressive coaching styles.”

The report highlighted that instances of bullying, particularly affecting coaches and young athletes, have lasting repercussions. Certain clubs tend to overlook or dismiss concerns regarding bullying by coaches due to fears of losing a coach who may be challenging to replace, or concerns about facing penalties themselves or for their child.

On the other hand, the report highlighted the vulnerability coaches face against unfair allegations and constant pressures to elevate their athletes to peak performance levels. Significant aspects of the challenging aquatics culture are perceived to originate from Swim England itself, with particular attention being critiqued for being directed towards high-performance athletes at the cost of neglecting others.

Swim England’s approach towards welfare and safeguarding matters was criticized, with accusations of lacking empathy, mistrust in intentions, and impartiality. Some individuals expressed ongoing apprehension towards raising complaints due to perceived chances of retaliation based on past incidents.

In light of the findings, Swim England’s chair, Richard Hookway, assured of upcoming changes within the organization. He acknowledged the shortcomings in the aquatics culture and the negative experiences endured by members of the community, expressing that the feedback on Swim England from the report is taken seriously with a firm commitment to implement necessary changes.

Hookway mentioned the ongoing development of the ‘Heart of Aquatics’ plan over the last year focused on enhancing safeguarding, welfare, and nurturing a positive culture within their sports. The independent report was part of this plan to capture genuine reflections on the existing culture.

While the report commended Swim England for upholding the sport during the pandemic and ensuring continued access to pools amid escalating energy costs, it advised the establishment of an independent platform for individuals to report safeguarding concerns and complaints. Additionally, it urged the organization to work towards fostering inclusivity across all levels of the sport.

Reiterating the commitment to ensuring a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all participants in the sport, Hookway expressed the organization’s readiness to embrace the recommendations and act upon the findings in entirety.

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