LONDON, August 24. ONE day after Bill Sweetenham was cited for bully tactics in the way he runs British Swimming, the National Performance Director received support from several outlets, including Graeme Smith, an Olympic and World Championship medalist. In an article by Craig Lord in the London Times, Smith showed his allegiance to Sweetenham and denied that last year’s retirement of 13 Olympic athletes had anything to do with a bully atmosphere.
“It is simply untrue,” Smith told the Times. “Most of us knew we were going to retire before Athens. It was our time – nothing to do with the regime. Our average age was 27, too old to expect to be in line for winning medals four years later in Beijing.”
Among the individuals speaking out against Sweetenham has been Mark Foster, who has had a rough relationship with Sweetenham, particularly concerning the lofty qualifying standards set forth to advance to the Olympic Games and World Championships. To qualify for last month’s World Champs in Montreal, Sweetenham required athletes to post a time equivalent to a top-10 world performance. Foster indicated that if he was in his youth, he would look to change nationalities.
Sweetenham also received support from David Davies, who earned bronze in Athens in the 1,500 freestyle and repeated that showing at the World Championships. The fact that Davies backed Sweetenham was a demonstration that current members of the British National Team are in the corner of the National Performance Director.
“I feel fortunate to have Bill as our national performance director,” Davies told the newspaper. “He has brought us on miles and made us a very professional unit. For me, he has also been a massive influence in winning Olympic and world medals. He has opened my eyes to how tough and dedicated you need to be to succeed.”
Sweetenham called the comments directed toward him a “travesty of the truth” and also received a vote of confidence from David Sparkes, the chief Executive of British Swimming, and Ian Turner, Great Britain’s coach.
“After every major Games the athletes are invited at the debrief to air their grievances and concerns and we have an athlete on the board,” Sparkes said to the Times. “James Hickman was on the board. Not one of those athletes now criticizing has ever raised any concern about Bill.”