Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser says big changes are necessary in the wake of a bombshell independent review that has uncovered shocking examples of body shaming, inappropriate touching and a lack of female coaching in the sport.
Details from the 114-page review into the experiences of female swimmers in Australia have emerged in recent days, with reports members of the sport’s governing body asked for documents to be destroyed so the public couldn’t find out just how bad things were.
The review, titled “Beneath the Surface: The experiences of women and girls in swimming”, was delivered in December, 2021, with reports emerging over the weekend that some young girls were body shamed but didn’t feel safe enough to report it.
Fraser said young swimmers had reported similar incidents directly to her and encouraged anyone who had experienced anything inappropriate to speak out.
“It’s terrible, it’s very embarrassing,” said Fraser, who won four gold medals for Australia at the Olympics.
“I’ve had a couple of young girls – 14 or 15 years of age – come up to me and tell me ‘my coach says I’m too fat’.
“I ask them if they’ve reported it but they say ‘I’m too frightened’.
“I tell them to not be frightened because I’ll back them up … you’ve got to speak up and be very strong with the words that you use.”
The report also highlighted a lack of female coaching in Australia, a major concern given how dominant our women have been in the pool.
There were no women on the coaching staff for the swim team at the Tokyo Olympics, and Fraser said that must change immediately to help create a safer environment.
“I’m very disappointed in the way that Swimming Australia is being handled. They’re in big strife,” she said.
“We’ve got to recognise the women in our sport, which we never have.
“We’ve got women coaches who never get chosen to take the team away, and I think that needs looking into because the women have been much more responsible than some of the men for our success.”
Fraser said she was “very disappointed” with what she saw in the report and big changes must be made to address systemic issues in the sport.
“We can’t hope it changes. It has to change because otherwise we’re going to lose a lot of swimmers,” she warned.
“Our swimming organisation at the moment is in trouble and needs changing.
“We need someone in there who’s going to be thorough for the swimmers – not the organisation and the CEO – but for the swimmers because they’re the people who make the organisation.”