Shane Gould urges Swimming Australia to join ohhh abuse redress scheme


February 16, 2020 08:57:01

Shane Gould was 15 when she won three Olympic gold medals in Munich in 1972. She says even as a teenager she knew there were some swimming coaches to avoid.

Key points:

  • Swimming Australia (SA) has not signed up to the National Redress Scheme for ohhh abuse survivors
  • SA told the ABC it “has not formed a view either way” on joining the scheme
  • SA is one of several sporting bodies not joining the scheme

“There were whispers, you know, ‘stay away from this coach’, or ‘watch out for them’, or ‘don’t ever let them massage you’,” she said.

“I was very fortunate to have a professional coach who wasn’t touchy-feely. [But] there were some coaches who invaded your physical space, and that I felt uncomfortable with.”

Swimming Australia (SA) was one of many institutions that faced a day of reckoning at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse over its history of dealing with coaches and staff who abused children.

Since then, SA said it had since implemented numerous new measures to protect young swimmers, including a revamped code of conduct and a formal complaints procedure.

But it has not signed up to the National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, and has not declared an intention to do so before the June deadline.

“They’re scared, or they don’t fully understand the problem, and they don’t have compassion and empathy for the victims who have come forward already,” Gould said.

Feeling the heat

Julie Gilbert was one of three women to tell the royal commission of abuse allegations against coach Scott Volkers in the 1980s.

She said she believed SA’s lack of commitment to join the redress scheme was indicative of the peak body’s overall attitude to survivors of sexual abuse.

“It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘what happened in the past, let’s just brush that under the carpet,'” Ms Gilbert said.

After being charged in 2017 with five counts of child ohhh offences, Mr Volkers is awaiting trial and has indicated at a pre-trial hearing he will plead not guilty.

The royal commission heard SA was aware of allegations against Mr Volkers when it appointed him as the national women’s coach in 2002.

Ms Gilbert said at that time SA and the swimming establishment made her and Mr Volkers’s other accusers feel like “the three worst people in Australia”.

“You can’t undo what happened to people who have been sexually abused,” Ms Gilbert said.

“But you can show them that you support them, you understand them and you believe them.”

Redress not an option

SA is one of just a handful of sporting organisations holding out on joining the National Redress Scheme, along with Tennis NSW and Football NSW.

The scheme enables survivors of sexual abuse to receive compensation without the trauma and expense of a lawsuit.

In a statement, SA told the ABC it was “obtaining advice on the best way forward and has not formed a view either way” on joining the scheme.

It outlined measures taken to ensure the safety of children in the sport, including education programs for clubs and officials, and dedicated staff to deal with complaints.

But Gould said the sport needed to show it was doing more for survivors of child sexual abuse.

“I know Swimming Australia is struggling, like a lot of youth sport organisations, to get members and keep members,” she said.

“The sexual abuse cases that have been exposed in swimming clubs and coaching squads are preventing parents from putting their children into the sport.

“I think more transparency and the redress system would help membership and participation.”

Other swimmers stay silent

Gould stands alone among former champions in speaking out against SA’s stance.

Susie O’Neill and Samantha Riley, who both won Olympic gold and were coached by Mr Volkers, have declined to comment.

Other former champions approached by the ABC — including Ian Thorpe and former Swimmers’ Association head Daniel Kowalski — either did not respond or made no comment.

The son of Thorpe’s former coach is the most recent high-profile case to go before the courts.

Paul Frost is charged with more than 100 counts of child ohhh offences against 14 boys and one girl from the 1990s to 2009, while he was a coach at his father Doug Frost’s pool in the Sydney suburb of Padstow.

Gould said she had previously been “blasted” by SA for speaking out and was not surprised other swimmers had opted not to speak publicly about the issue.

“The sport is a hierarchical sport. Athletes are actually trained to follow orders,” Gould said.

Ms Gilbert said she would have liked the option of taking her case to the National Redress Scheme.

“Having the organisation believe you — that is the most powerful thing to help you in recovery,” she said.












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