Swimming Australia ‘very concerned’ by Maddie Groves withdrawal over ‘perverts’

Swimming Australia has urged Maddie Groves to provide more information on allegations the athlete made after she withdrew from the upcoming Olympic trials and said her decision should be a lesson to “misogynistic perverts” in the sport.

Kieren Perkins, the president of Swimming Australia, said the sport’s national governing body had contacted the 26-year-old Olympian when she first raised concerns on social media a year ago, and again this week, but was yet to have a direct conversation with her about the allegations.

“This is a very concerning thing for us,” Perkins told the ABC on Friday. “These types of issues are, to be honest, the highest on my list as president that we need to be aware [of] and manage. We need to manage the safety of our athletes. That is paramount to us.”

In late November last year, Groves alleged a person she worked with had made her feel “uncomfortable” by the way they looked at her in her swimming suit. She has also alleged she was body-shamed and told that she did not “deserve more help” following two surgeries.

“We have reached out to her in December 2020 to engage with her on these concerns,” Perkins said. “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 in all sports to ensure that our athletes are supported and protected in their environment.”

Groves on Wednesday announced on social media she had pulled out of the Olympic swimming trials, putting an end to her hopes of representing Australia at a second Games. In a separate message posted on Thursday, she made allegations about her treatment by an unnamed individual involved in the sport.

Perkins admitted there has been issues in the sport over the years but said he was confident in the processes and frameworks in place for complaints to be deal with.

“Swimming was one of the sports mentioned in the royal commission into institutional abuse,” Perkins said. “And we absolutely have done a mountain of work over recent years to tighten up sports policy frameworks, make sure we have the right processes for whistleblower investigations, and ensure that any police matters are dealt with as they need to be.”

He said he shared a “visceral” response with others to the allegations that a misogynistic culture exists in the sport.

“There is always going to be historical things that we need to acknowledge and work towards resolving, but I think everyone in our sport would certainly be quite challenged with the assertion that is that misogynistic culture,” he said.

“We have been a proud and blended sport, we have had innumerable legends and our sport from both genders, and swimming wants to hold this dear.”

Groves, a butterfly specialist, featured at the Rio Games in 2016, when she won two silver medals. She is also a two-time Commonwealth champion. Her last medal at a major event came at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in 2018.

Mitch Larkin, one of Groves’s teammates who will take to the pool at the trials starting on Saturday in Adelaide, said it was imperative Swimming Australia get to the bottom of the issue.

“If there is a culture issue, we would absolutely love to change it,” Larkin said. “Her wellbeing, not only for herself but all athletes, is absolutely important to us as a leader of the Dolphins team. I might send her a little text and check how she is going.

“But I know at Swimming Australia we have worked on the importance of having some really good structure and there’s plenty of people on the Dolphins team that are there to support her … if she ever wanted to reach out and express some concerns and take them a little bit further than fighting the fight herself.”

The Australian Olympic Committee acknowledged Groves’s allegations on Friday and president John Coates said there was “no place” in sport for the alleged behaviour.

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