Australian swimming coach Leigh Nugent clearly has bushfires to put out, but one of the nastier outbreaks he must fast address is the allegation that when harassment of female swimmers was brought to his attention his reaction was to blame the female swimmers.

I'm just the most senior member of the team ... what could I do? reports that the head swim coach’s immediate response to allegations of misbehaviour by the men’s relay team, accused to of harassing female swimmers with prank calls at the team’s Manchester camp, was “your girls are flirting with the dream team”.

Rather than take seriously a report of the incident by another coach and a senior swimmer, Nugent chose the old chestnut tactic of brushing off the interference with the young women as just “childish behaviour”. A bit of high-spirited nonsense from the lads?

Nugent showed how alarmingly out of touch he is with appropriate handling of allegations of harassment, big or small, with his statement on ABC radio today that what the coach and senior swimmer told him “didn’t raise any alarm bells to me”.

Not only should it have sent him storming to talk to his team about such an allegation, but he should have known that it is never OK to blame the victim. Full stop.

In this case, as well as compounding the insult it must have sent the message to those young female swimmers that they were fair game for the men on the team, and their wellbeing mattered little to the man who should have been acting as the arbiter of team morals, as well as morale.

You wonder what kind of impact this kind of dangerously disempowering message had on those young women swimmers.

If such little care was taken to defend the basic rights of some members of our Olympic team, is it any wonder one swimmer described the London games – an event which should have been a life highlight - as “a lonely Olympics”.

Clearly the coaches who have raised this incident, among the many other “toxic culture” issues revealed in two reports into our sorry performance in the London pool, realize that “girls flirting” is a risible way to counter allegations of harassment.

Now it’s up to Nugent to explain, if he can, why targeting the young women on the receiving end of the unwanted attention, rather than intervening to protect them, seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

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    • Chillin says:

      12:14pm | 21/02/13

      “You wonder what kind of impact this kind of dangerously disempowering message had on those young women swimmers.”

      They were prank telephone calls.  If they were reasoning, thinking females, then they would have probably reached a rational conclusion that at best the calls were at best an inconvenience and only at worst ‘dangerously disempowering’.

    • Chillin says:

      12:15pm | 21/02/13

      Cross reference this article with my comments on Miranda Kerr.

      I rest my case.

    • Chillin says:

      12:20pm | 21/02/13

      How exactly were these young women ‘targetted’.  Two coaches have a conversation and it sounds like the women were not present and somehow we have a conclusion that they were then ‘targetted’.  How?  With what?  What actually happened to them which demonstrates they received some form of ‘targetting’?

      It appears Nugent didn’t care to act, which is not ‘targetting’ the victims.

    • AdamC says:

      12:23pm | 21/02/13

      What a lot of rubbish.

      It would appear that what we are talking about were some prank calls on a Friday night. Is that really something that the relevant team coaches needed to elevate to the head coach? I mean, we are talking about adults here. Nugent is not in loco parentis, and certainly not in respect of his own coaching staff. The relevant men’s relay team coach should have addressed the issue.

      To the extent, of course, there really was an issue.

      We expect our swim team to be professional, support each other and strive for excellence. We do not need them to become soulless automatons.

    • marley says:

      01:36pm | 21/02/13

      @AdamC - I think the point is that the prank calls were a symptom of something else:  that at least some of the team were not in fact acting in a professional manner, were not supporting their teammates and were not striving for excellence.  How exactly does making prank calls and bullying junior swimmers contribute to a team ethos?

      The Independent Swimming Review states specifically that some of the team were failing to support their teammates, were expecting (and getting) preferential treatment, were satisfied with just having got to the Olympics and were unconcerned with improving their performances, and were indulging in assorted types of poor behaviour, while the coaches did nothing about any of it.  It doesn’t sound professional to me.

      And yes, if the women’s team is being affected by the behaviour of a few louts on the men’s team, then that is something for the Head Coach to address.  He was aware of it and dismissed it, so no one dealt with the problem.  That’s a pretty bad error of judgement in my view.

    • Tchom says:

      12:28pm | 21/02/13

      Your headline is syntactically ambiguous. It should be “It’s not OK to blame the victim, Leigh Nugent”

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      01:25pm | 21/02/13

      Yeah, that confused me too.

    • Mik says:

      12:29pm | 21/02/13

      Looks as though the rot started at the top. “Dream team” indeed- is that a new Macquarie definition of ‘protected little punks’?

    • marley says:

      01:17pm | 21/02/13

      From another article, the ‘dream team” reference was to the fact that one of the female swimmers was hanging out with the real dream team, the American basketballers.

    • Rose Bush says:

      01:02pm | 21/02/13

      Yeah that was your swan song Nugent - move to the left and make way for new blood to take charge. Honestly we have a gazillion former champions out there why isn’t someone like that in this role. Seems to me to be too many policital parts to appointments like this - when all they need is someone who has done it and can lead by example with the values we value in our sportsment and woment ie - fairness, good sports win or loose, belief in team and individuals, and modesty.

    • Flirt says:

      01:14pm | 21/02/13

      Horrible men blah blah blah women are victims blah blah blah…....

      Next !

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      01:19pm | 21/02/13

      “Not only should it have sent him storming to talk to his team about such an allegation”

      Stormed over about what exactly?  There’s nothing for us to make any judgement off in the article you link to other than saying they behaved inappropriately and harassed them with prank calls.  It’s not even clear whether the inappropriate behaviour _was_ the prank call, given the sentence structure.

      Other articles say it was prank calls and door knocking.  Seriously?  Are we so far down the rabbit hole that some silly pranks are now subject to this level of scrutiny and condemnation? 

      All this sort of noise does is send the message out that women cannot be dealt with in any way except an entirely officious and sensible way, Mrs Bucket style…treated as though they cannot deal with basic human interaction.  Anything else will lead to front page articles and opinion pieces.

    • Chris L says:

      01:21pm | 21/02/13

      OMFG!!! The girls received prank calls from the boys! Those fiends!

      Better put the girls on suicide watch, just in case.

    • marley says:

      01:38pm | 21/02/13

      I would just point out, the girls performed better than the boys.  Maybe the boys would have performed better if they’d focussed on swimming instead of making prank calls.

    • Tim says:

      01:41pm | 21/02/13

      *head banging against wall*

      Kill me now.

      They received a couple of prank calls and that’s harrassment that’s worthy of instant action and sanction by the head coach?

      Mountain meet molehill.


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