MELBOURNE, June 11 (Reuters) - Swimming Australia (SA) have urged Madeline Groves to engage with them about her complaint of “misogynistic perverts” in the sport following her sensational withdrawal from the country’s Olympic trials.
Twice Olympic silver medallist Groves rocked the sport on Thursday, saying her pull-out should be a lesson to “perverts ... and their boot lickers” who exploit, body-shame and “medically gaslight” young women and girls.
The complaint has overshadowed the Olympic trials starting Saturday and shone a fresh spotlight on the culture of elite Australian swimming.
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.
“These types of issues are, to be honest, the highest on my list as president that we need to be aware and manage,” Perkins, a twice Olympic swimming champion, told state broadcaster ABC on Friday.
“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.
“We encourage her to do that because this is one of the most significant issues and challenges that we have an all sports to ensure that our athletes are supported and protected in their environment.”
Groves has previously complained of inappropriate behaviour by men involved 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 and made her feel uncomfortable.
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 several years, stressed her wellbeing was paramount.
“That sort of broke my heart a little bit,” he told reporters in Adelaide ahead of the trials. “Hearing her tweet and messages I’m not exactly sure about her story but it was more about being a female.
“As a male I have not experienced some of those things she was talking about. 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.
“I was very sorry to hear that. There’s no place for what she alleges in Australian sport,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Australia’s world class swimming programme has produced a slew of iconic Olympic champions including Ian Thorpe and Dawn Fraser, but it has also been battered by scandal in the past decade.
In 2015, an Australian government inquiry found SA had failed to screen a senior coach with historical allegations of child sexual abuse when appointing him to a 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 in the pool at the 2012 London Olympics found slack management had enabled a “culturally toxic” environment, allowing bullying, alcohol and prescription drug abuse among swimmers 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.)