(Updates with Groves’ comments)
MELBOURNE, June 11 (Reuters) - Swimming Australia (SA) urged Madeline Groves to engage with them about her complaint of “misogynistic perverts” as the double Olympic silver medallist continued her criticism of the sport’s culture on Friday.
Groves pulled out from national swimming trials for the Tokyo Games and railed against “perverts ... and their boot lickers” who exploit, body-shame and “medically gaslight” young women and girls in an explosive social media post on Thursday.
She elaborated on her decision to withdraw from the trials on Friday, saying it should not be reduced to just a “single incident”.
“My decision is partly because there’s a pandemic on, but mostly it’s the culmination of years of witnessing and ‘benefitting’ from a culture that relies on people ignoring bad behaviour to thrive,” she wrote on her Instagram account.
“I need a break. If starting this conversation will save even one young girl from something like being told to lose weight or diet, not going to the Olympics will have been worth it.”
Her withdrawal has overshadowed the trials, which start in Adelaide on Saturday, and shone a fresh spotlight on Australia’s elite swimming culture.
SA President Kieran Perkins said Groves’ grievance was “very concerning” for the governing body, which has faced complaints of sexual abuse and bullying in the past.
“Unfortunately at this point we haven’t been able to have a direct conversation with her to understand what her concerns are, who the people involved are so we can investigate and deal with it,” Perkins, a twice Olympic swimming champion, told state broadcaster ABC on Friday.
“We encourage her to do that because this is one of the most significant issues and challenges that we have ... to ensure that our athletes are supported and protected in their environment.”
‘BROKE MY HEART’
Groves, who won silver in the 200 metres butterfly and 4x100 medley at the 2016 Rio Games, has previously alleged inappropriate behaviour by men in swimming.
She wrote on social media in December that she had made a complaint about a man who had ogled her in her bathing suit. She also said a male coach had made an inappropriate comment to her before apologising.
Former backstroke world champion Mitch Larkin, who is close to Groves after training with her for years, stressed her wellbeing was paramount.
“That sort of broke my heart a little bit,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“If there is a culture issue then we’d obviously like to change it.”
Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates said he had been assured SA were looking into the matter.
“There’s no place for what she alleges in Australian sport,” he said in Sydney.
Australia’s world class swimming programme has produced a slew of iconic Olympic champions but also been battered by scandal in the past decade.
In 2015, an Australian government inquiry found SA had failed to screen a coach with historical allegations of child sexual abuse when appointing him to a senior position and also failed to conduct an internal investigation into historical allegations against another Olympic coach.
An independent review in 2013 into Australia’s performance at the 2012 London Olympic pool found slack management had enabled a “culturally toxic” environment, allowing bullying, alcohol and prescription drug abuse to go unchecked.
A number of senior officials resigned after that review. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Additional reporting by Richard Evans in Adelaide; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Peter Rutherford)