Team GB drops Olympic swimming coach after welfare investigation

A leading swimming coach has been removed from Team GB’s squad for the Tokyo Olympics after a 12-month investigation heard allegations of a toxic culture of bullying, fat-shaming, defying Covid restrictions, and failing to report safeguarding concerns at the elite swimming club he ran.

Alan Bircher, a former international swimmer and director of the Ellesmere College Titans swimming club in Shropshire, has also been suspended from all coaching along with another coach at the club after a damning report by Swim England’s independent child protection officer.

The Titans are seen as a training ground for future Olympians with three former alumni, Freya Anderson, Hector Pardoe and Cassie Wild, all competing for Team GB at Tokyo. However British Swimming and Swim England, the sport’s national governing bodies, have told the Guardian they are “extremely concerned” with the report’s findings. The club has been placed into special measures.

British Swimming has also confirmed that Bircher will not be in Japan. In a statement it said that “as a consequence of the review, coach Alan Bircher was not nominated to the Tokyo Olympic coaching team for 2021 and will not be part of the team at the Games”.

In October 2019 Bircher was chosen to lead Team GB’s open water swimmers in Tokyo. In a press release at the time, he was hailed as one of “Britain’s best swimming coaches” who would be “an integral part of team development activity”.

A joint British Swimming and Swim England statement confirmed to the Guardian that an independent review had taken place between July 2020 and June 2021 after parents raised concerns.

The statement said: “Swim England was extremely concerned to receive notification of welfare issues from parents of swimmers in Ellesmere College Titans Swimming Club and on receipt of these notifications instigated a thorough independent review, which was conducted in partnership with the relevant Statutory Agency and the Local Authority Designated Officer.

“The report identified welfare and governance issues and immediately the review was concluded, Swim England implemented all the recommendations in the report to ensure a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone in the club.”

“This involved a complete change of the governance structure of the club and Swim England Officers working alongside members to put in place a revised structure and procedures. An independent welfare officer is supporting the club and as the programme coaches are currently suspended, coaching support has been secured for the programme, overseen by an experienced Swim England talent coach.”

Bircher, a former elite swimmer who represented Britain at six World Championships from 2003-2008, winning a silver medal in 2004, did not respond to requests for comment.

Ellesmere College Titans club has long marketed itself not only on its success but on its holistic approach, 与它 promotional materials insisting: “The Titans are proud to be different and to be the vanguard for change.” However such comments appear to ring hollow now that Swim England has written to the parents of the club to tell them that “welfare and governance issues have been identified that require immediate attention”.

Swim England also asked the parents “to avoid discussing any questions or concerns publicly” and did not reveal the length of the two suspensions when asked by the Guardian.

However Swim England pledged that the coaches would not return “until such time as we are content that our robust safeguarding and welfare procedures and policies are embedded within the governance of the club” and “all conditions set out in the report have been met to the satisfaction of Swim England”.

It also said that a wider review into the weighing of young children was under way. “One of the report’s findings involved the weighing of athletes,“ 它说. “Our safeguarding and welfare processes enable us to identify specific or emerging issues, and our welfare and safeguarding guidance remains under constant review.

“The welfare and safety of all of Swim England’s members and British Swimming’s athletes is of paramount importance and we continue to prioritise our duty of care to all within our sport,” it added. “We would like to thank the parents and swimmers who came forward to advise us of their concerns which has enabled us to address these matters. We know this is not an easy thing to do, but by doing so, allows us to take remedial action.”