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Healing Starts With Aussie Relay Confession

Feb 22, 2013  - Craig Lord

News Round-Up:

Australia: The Australia men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team will face the newly formed Integrity Panel after an "admission of guilt" following bad behaviour at a bonding session held in Manchester, England, at the staging camp before the London 2012 Olympic Games. After two reviews into the woes of the Aussie swim team in Britain last year two reviews concluded that cultural and managerial issues needed addressing. Tommaso D’Orsogna, James Magnussen, Cameron McEvoy, James Roberts, Eamon Sullivan and Matthew Targett - through the Australian Swimmers Association (ASA) - came forward to put their case and confess to some of what has been alleged: yes, they were men behaving badly. "

As a result of this proactive approach by the athletes,  Swimming Australia and ASA officials met with the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team yesterday,  where the six athletes involved admitted to immature behaviour while in Manchester at the staging camp for the Olympic Games," a statement from Swimming Australia reads. "The behaviour includes using a prescribed sleeping tablet (stilnox) as part of an initiation process and disturbing other members of the swim team via door knocking, prank calls and poor judgement." 

Swimming Australia President Barclay Nettlefold said: "Coming forward with their side of events is the first sign of the culture of accountability and responsibility that we are trying to achieve. The boys are extremely remorseful for their poor judgement in this matter and that is clear. None the less they have shown poor judgement and we now need to follow the right processes to deal with these admissions." 

The Integrity Panel has already started its work. The outcome will determine whether sanctions will be imposed for a breach of the Team Agreement. The Australian Olympic Committee, which banned the use of Stilnox before London 2012, can claim back financial rewards from swimmers. In a statement, the AOC noted: "Under our Medal Incentive Funding (MIF) James Magnussen has received $10,000 for his silver medal in the men’s 100 metres freestyle. Matt Targett and Tommaso D’Orsogna also earned $7,500 for their part in the bronze medal relay. The sanctions could extend to withdrawing funding won in the lead up to the Rio Olympics in 2016 in World Championship, World Cup, Pan Pacs or events of similar standing.

James Roberts has said that did not take Stilnox, while Eamon Sullivan said the remaining members of the relay team took one tablet each. "In hindsight it was a ridiculous choice and ridiculous method ... but I don't feel it affected my performance," said James Magnussen.

The world knew about the AOC ban in early July, the issue making headlines in mainstream media as well as specialist publications and websites. Sullivan said the Stilnox was obtained with a doctor's prescription in Australia before the AOC ban. Stillnox is not a banned substance and similar products are often used by sports teams to help them to bridge jet lag after long journeys to major competitions. In Australia, issues over the risk of dependency were part of the reason why Stilnox was banned.

Emily Seebohm, Olympic 100m backstroke medallist, gave a different version of events to Magnussen after he said that the pranks were "just a bit of fun" and ended at 10.30pm. "I don't know how they were asleep at 10.30 if I got a call at 11 or 11.30 at night," Seebohm told Channel Nine. "I had a time trial that morning and it was unfair to do that to other people."

Magnussen explained his thinking at the time by saying: "One of the reasons I agreed to go along with this night was I was feeling under so much pressure and it had been building for the best part of a year - the chance to bond with these guys and be normal for one night were my intentions."

Sullivan was contrite, saying: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I regret my decision,. As a senior member of the team I should have stood up and shown more leadership at the time. For that I'm truly sorry. If I thought for one moment that these actions and communal decision to take Stilnox would affect our performance, there's no way I would have done it."

AOC secretary general Craig Phillips said possible sanctions against the swimmers could include a withdrawal of their funding in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Healing may well be easier in the absence of "banning the future" policies such as that which kept Dawn Fraser away from a 1968 Olympic Games at which she may well have extended her three-gold-medal streak to four had it not been for a 10-year ban by the Aussie federation after Tokyo 1964. The penalty was later reduced but by then Fraser had moved on.

Read the full AOC's response to the admission that Stillnox was used.

USA: As part of the diversification of its commercial partnership contracts, USA Swimming has signed up TYR as official kit supplier at home, covering a number of activities and competitions. "This is an exciting new day to be involved with TYR and we welcome them to our partner family,” said Matt Farrell, the Chief Marketing Officer of USA Swimming. “In getting to know the team at TYR we both share the same excitement for promoting and growing the sport of swimming in the coming years.” Matt DiLorenzo, the Chief Executive Officer of TYR expressed, "We are very excited to be partnering with USA Swimming.  As a United States based company, it is fitting that we work together to elevate swimming's profile in our home country. USA Swimming has some very innovative ideas and we are enthusiastic to contribute in a meaningful way." The new arrangements for commercial partnerships at the American federation includes a national team contract with Arena for the next two Olympic cycles, while Speedo, long-term supporter of USA Swimming, will remain a key player in the sport in the US, with widespread backing for competitions, junior programmes and in a range of other areas.