An Australian Plea For Honesty

 Swimwatch has only posted one story about paralympic sport. The reason is because I know very little about this part of the swimming world. Of course I have watched, in amazement, the feats of Sophie Pascoe and her mates. Pascoe’s times, over numerous events, are stunning by any standard – 59.77 for 100 freestyle, 31.62 for 50 backstroke, 28.38 for 50 fly, 27.78 for 50 free and 35.87 for 50 breast. However the various Paralympic grades and many of the competitors are a mystery to me.

To make matters worse, I am no expert on Australian swimming either. Unlike the USA, where I lived and coached for seven years, my contact with Australian swimming has only been through training and competing there as a teenage swimmer and visiting, as a coach, various State Championships and the Australian National Championships. That contact however has been sufficient to confirm the quality of Australian swimming. More than that though, Australia has a respect for swimming that is different from anywhere else – including the United States. The closest I’ve seen elsewhere is the reverence given to rugby All Blacks in New Zealand. Australians just love swimming. The respect given to the sport goes to make winning a race there so very satisfying. Toni Jeffs regularly won New South Wales Championships. The warmth she received in Australia was greater than her recognition at home.

It’s off the subject but, talking about the All Blacks, I do have one All Blacks’ story. When Athens’ Olympic swimming Gold Medallist, Rhi Jeffrey, came to New Zealand to train for a couple of years I picked her up at Auckland Airport. As we drove home a car, with some Pacific Islanders inside, passed us on the motorway.

Rhi said to me, “Wow you’d never see that in the United States.”

“Never see what?” I asked.

“That sign on the car,” she said.

I took a closer look. On the car, a sign, in large letters, said “ALL BLACKS”. Rhi did not know that was the name of the nation’s rugby team and assumed it was a description of the passengers. I put her mind at rest. It was not what she feared.

But back to Australian swimming, or more specifically Australian Paralympic Swimming. Something in the Paralympic world seems in need of attention. The accusations of cheating are becoming too loud to be ignored. In an Australian sporting scene that has recently been given a sharp reminder of the dangers of cheating it would be wise for those in authority to investigate the Paralympic complaints. Australia needs to overcompensate to avoid the accusation of being a nation of cheats. The country is not a nation of cheats, but just now it must make sure it is seen to be cleaner than clean.

For this reason set out in the table below is a copy of a letter sent to Swimwatch by Melinda Downie. Her opinions deserve respect. Melinda Downie is the mother of a Paralympic swimmer who is a dual gold medallist, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist and has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to the sport.

Downie’s letter has been sent to the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. I do not know whether the events described in the letter are valid or not. But certainly they merit investigation. If cheating is going on in the sport then it should be exposed and stopped. Here then is Melinda Downie’s letter.

For the attention of the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull

Dear Mr Turnbull,

The CA ball tampering issue has once again highlighted double standards in Australian Sport. I write to you as a last resort to highlight cheating in Paralympic Sport, Swimming in particular.

In my opinion, John Bertram AO is acutely aware of this practice by SAL athletes and staff. He will inform you and others that he has investigated and that the IPC cleared the athletes. He most certainly has not investigated, if he had, the evidence was such that the IPC would have struggled to clear the athletes involved. One thing that CA reminded us all of is just because a system / sport can be cheated, most decent human beings don’t cheat. The reason people do cheat is because the rewards far outweigh the consequences unless they are caught.

We most certainly should not be turning a blind eye to cheating once we are aware and that is exactly what SAL, ASC and the APC are doing. What can you, the Minister for Sport, the NISU and the Commonwealth Games Association do to address cheating in Para Swimming prior to the Commonwealth Games? Cheating in Australian Sport is ongoing.


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