As other sports wrestle with accusations that performance-enhancing and illicit drugs, match-fixing and organised criminals have infiltrated their sheds, there was something absurd, even pathetic, about Australian swimming’s nationally televised visit to the headmaster’s office.
Trousers down and six of the best for six of our best freestylers. Or the modern equivalent. A humiliating public mea culpa for their childish tomfoolery before the London Olympics before a room of reporters competing to ask the most inflammatory question in the most earnest manner.
And, yes, the six swimmers had been very naughty boys indeed. Knocking on doors and walls, taking Stilnox – the freely available prescription drug banned by the AOC after the testimony of favourite son Grant Hackett, and now mentioned by current affairs show reporters in the same scandalised tones as heroin and cocaine.
Although, at the time we went to press, details of wedgies, bombs in the shallow end and towel fights had not yet to come to hand.
These were the schoolies week shenanigans of six misguided, testosterone-charged athletes who were, in turn, let down by officials and coaches who failed to keep them in check. Who were unwilling to impose reasonable discipline, or act on the concerns of teammates, for fear of upsetting the delicate sensibilities of the stars.
Swimmers who – when they were not playing knock-and-run at the team hotel – could churn through chlorine like heavily muscled seals.
Which is not to suggest the six relay teammates did not deserve their public humiliation. These were not scapegoats, just goats. Foolish young men whose hijinks, patently, had some impact on results in London, despite their denials. Lairs and larrikins whose inappropriate actions meant some athletes participating in a heavily government-funded $8 million per-year high-performance program might not have been able to achieve their best results. Or, at the very least, get a decent night’s sleep. Serious stuff.
The only character at Friday’s press conference who deserved any sympathy was Swimmers’ Association general manager Daniel Kowalski. After spending his entire career looking at Kieren Perkins’s feet, now Kowalski was forced to clean up the mess left by misbehaving freestylers. The kindly teacher asking the principal to spare them the cuts.
No doubt, the media will continue to obsess over the titillating details of a ‘‘bonding session’’ that was, in reality, a primary school pyjama party compared with its NRL namesake. Addressing the lack of leadership in Australian swimming is a far more pressing concern.
Swimming was, this week, the fortunate beneficiary of two excellent reports that – in the right hands – should significantly improve the sport’s governance. And, subsequently, maximise the potential for improved results.
There was the detailed examination of all aspects of the sport by a panel chaired by Warwick Smith that provided many commonsense recommendations. There was also a fascinating study of the sport’s culture by Pippa Grange. One that provided fascinating insight into the complex demands of contemporary athletes, the balance of personal and collective ambition within a team environment and the fundamentals of strong leadership.
Matters of substance far more pressing than what happened after a few misguided fools took a legal and commonly prescribed substance.