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Toxic Club Culture in Competitive Swimming

A systematic review of swimming in England has found an environment that has enabled and encouraged aggressive training practices, body shaming, and bullying. Although Swim England has been praised for their determination and dedication to keeping aquatic sports going throughout the pandemic, there has been a timeline of events since 2022 that raises some questions about the toxic culture within swimming.

This is not the first time that the swimming culture has been under the spotlight in the media. Back in February 2022, one of England’s elite clubs, ‘Ellesmere Titans’ was criticized for bullying and they faced a series of allegations to which Swim England responded and shut down the club. Swimming’s governing body, Swim England’s ignorance and lack of action to multiple reported incidents have left their future at risk and has also put the future of club competitive swimming in England at stake. This not only considers the athletes but both volunteers and parents were afraid to speak out about issues for fear of being victimized or threatened. 

Swim England has since apologized for their systematic under-response to issues raised to their welfare team, with multiple safeguarding reports going unanswered. A review, conducted by the ‘Behavioural Architects’  consisted of a survey of 3500 as well as more than 1000 people consisting of swimmers, parents, volunteers, and coaches giving their personal views. It found plenty of problems with how Swim England operates, criticising the governing body for being overzealous and particularly biased towards coaches.

There is an overwhelming expectation of children to train even when they are exhausted or injured and a cause of guilt for non-attendance becomes a form of self-punishment. Young swimmers were consistently overworking themselves, and there are even reports of sexual bullying towards female swimming, with girls being humiliated for putting weight on or being on their period. Additionally, this report highlighted an urgent requirement to also tackle the issue of racism in swimming. With a statement claiming that: “many from ethnically diverse communities felt like they did not belong in what was viewed as a ‘white, middle-class sport’”. 

Sport England was vocal in the fact that this was a key moment for Swim England, as their funding was wholly dependent on its ability to right the wrongs and make up for the lack of action. In the past, those who were in positions of authority were too eager to ‘protect their own’, the reports claim, and those who wished to speak out about the environment in which they train were deterred in fear of worsening the situation. There was a point in time when aggressive coaching styles were deemed normal for swimming clubs in England, where shouting and singling out children was tolerated in hopes their child may improve. However, now it is clear that the scale and depth of this problem have grown far out of control, and people are speaking out. Only recently in June of 2023, did Swim England ban the weighing of children in swimming.


In early March, previous chief executive, Jane Nickerson retired, leaving it to former CEO of British Triathlon to take over the role. This is in the hope that it will inspire a change in how safeguarding is dealt with in swimming.



Edited by: Adrita Barua

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