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Nugent Reflects In The Heat Of Review

Feb 20, 2013  - Craig Lord

Australian swimming head coach Leigh Nugent regrets not having followed up "childish behaviour" he stumbled on at London 2012 last year, he tells the Australian media.

The head coach, who is working with Dr Pippa Grange on developing his leadership skills, dismissed some aspects of both the Bluestone report that spoke of "culturally toxic" behaviour and an Australian Sports Commission review, but he did accept the need to change and improve if he is to remain as head coach.

"When we were in Manchester on the Saturday before we moved down to London, on the Sunday it was brought to my attention by a coach and an athlete that there had been some prank calls and some doorknocking," Nugent told ABC Radio.

"They didn't know who they were," he added. "At the time I sort of put it down to childish behaviour ... it didn't raise alarm bells to me, but in hindsight it probably should have raised alarm bells. My regret now is I didn't follow it up."

Pressed about his leadership, Nugent said: "If I'd have followed up this doorknocking incident it may have been different, I don't know. I think there's been criticism for everyone and I will wear my share of that as well. I think I've copped a bit. We're trying to make some adjustments now to bring our team into the order that it needs to be in to progress in the next few years."

Nugent was backed by several London 2012 team members, including a man who is no stranger to controversy himself, Nick D'Arcy, who paid a sporting price after his prosecution for bodily harm against former teammate Simon Cowley back in 2008.

D'Arcy believed that some aspects of Bluestone, including references to bullying, either went too far or were not place in the context of behaviour that had long been part of team, culture in competitive sport. "When you get that number of boys together, you are going to have that little bit of friction especially in that sport - they're all kind of alpha males and those kinds of strong personalities," D'Arcy told reporters. "So you're going to get a little bit of friction and it's the same on every team I've been on since I was 19. There's always been a difference of opinion and you have people trying to come on top of other people but to say that that's new and to say that's the reason why we didn't perform, I think is very misguiding."

Ill-feeling spread on the team in part because some big names got all the limelight, the Bluestone report suggested in these words: "The glorification of a few was seen somewhere between embarrassing and irritating to the other team members and added to a growing notion that the rest of the athletes were not really valued."

Nugent said that the way in which big-gun prospects such as James Magnussen were treated would change. The culture would be one of "one team … everyone in our team and in fact our national program needs to be treated in a similar way".

On the Bluestone findings, Nugent said: "It's not what we wanted to hear, but it is what has occurred and it's going to be dealt with. I think we all are taking responsibility here; reading the reports I can really reflect on specific situations and how I responded or didn't respond. Things are now in the past, it's important for us in taking responsibility in making sure we have a much more effective environment in the future and that is what is happening now. There is a genuine willingness from everyone involved never to be in this position again."

Olympic 4x100m free gold medallist Melanie Schlanger told one local paper that the pain of Australian swimming's "ugly truths" being washed in public will be well worth it if positive change results.

"None of the findings are really surprising. All those ugly truths were really revealed quite a few months ago," said Schlanger. "The good thing from our point of view is that a lot of them have already started to be addressed and a lot of those issues are already on their way to becoming positive things for us."

"We will be accountable for that and we will make sure that the findings are taken on board and anything that we haven't addressed so far will be certainly fixed up," she added. "It took something dramatic like all of this coming out and being public knowledge to spark the change. All the truths are out there for everyone to know. It's not the nicest way for it to happen but it is the most effective and I think it will be a positive thing down the track."

Some, however, felt left out of the process of inquiry Down Under. Southport coach Glenn Baker told his local paper that six of the 10 Olympic team coaches in London for Australia last year were not asked to contribute to either of the reviews in Australia even though they were at the heart of the team and will be again in the near future if their swimmers make the grade. "Sixty per cent of the coaches there were not interviewed for the review," Baker said. "We were disappointed."