Danish Swimming Head Rolls With Apology For Harm Done To Swimmers By ‘Unacceptable Coach Behavior’

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  • Head of Danish Swimming Steps Down; Fed Issues Apology; the eras of Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer as National Head Coaches subject to national investigation into Danish Swimming from 2001 to today
  • Former Danish performance head issues apology after Denmark’s Attorney General releases the findings of an investigation into the state of Danish elite swimming from 2001 to today.

Pia Holmen, director Danish Swimming Union (federation), has stepped down, and the governing body has issued an apology over “negative consequences” for swimmers working in the national-team program at a time of leadership by foreign coaches. The announcement followed an investigation into Danish swimming by the Danish Sports Confederation covering 2001 until today.

In a statement to the Danish media, Lars Jørgensen, Chairman of the Danish Swimming Union’s Board of Directors, cited coaches “Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer” as the leaders hired to bring about a “very big upheaval” in  Danish  swimming.

Jørgensen said that the federation “must acknowledge that our then sporting leadership had a hard time controlling these two coaches and that unfortunately it had negative consequences for some young people at the time.” He added:

“On behalf of the entire Danish swimming [federation], I would like to give a sincere apology to the swimmers and others associated with the Danish national swimming program who have experienced the totally unacceptable coach behavior we have heard about. I would like to say sorry on behalf of the whole of Denmark.”

Citing Regan and Wildeboer, Jørgensen added:

” … he failure to rein in these two gentlemen had a negative impact on some young people who at the time cultivated their passion and at the same time struggled to realize their own sporting potential. I’m really sorry.”

Placing no direct blame on Holmen, he noted:

“It is entirely in Pia’s spirit that nothing must stand in the way of a continued positive development in Danish swimming, and therefore Pia is also fully aware of this for us drastic steps.”

Trouble In The Swim State Of Denmark

It was two weeks before the World Championships in Gwangju last year when a documentary by public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (Radio Denmark) exposed what was have been described as “unacceptable practices” during the time the above-mentioned National Team coaches were at the helm of the program.

It is not yet clear whether Regan was part of the process of inquiry and whether he has been given right of reply by the Danish authorities. Paulus Wildeboer passed away in 2014.

The consequence on the eve of Gwangju 2019 of the documentary was that the entire coaching staff of the National Training Center (NTC) left their posts, some pushed, others of their own volition.

Lars Sørensen resigned as Performance Director of Danish swimming after the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is now Club Director at Copenhagen’s biggest swim club, Hovedstadens Svømmeklub.

In a statement on Linked In, Sørensen said:

“I would like to say clearly that I am really sorry for the experiences the swimmers have had. I fully assume my share of the responsibility, and I want to apologize to the swimmers for the unpleasant experiences they have had.“

Lars Sørensen was performance manager from 2003 to 2012, during the eras of Mark Regan and Paul Wildeboer as national coaches.

Regan and Wildeboer’s training methods were criticized by a number of current and former elite swimmers in a DR documentary just before World titles in Gwangju. The complaints included humiliation of athletes through public weigh-ins.

The documentary led to an investigation by Team Denmark and the Danish Sports Confederation, in consultation with the Ministry of Culture.

Recalling his time at the helm, Sørensen said:

“In retrospect, I can see that I have not had enough focus on the follow-up part of my management. I have not been thorough enough in my supervisory duty to the swimmers who have had those experiences. I’m really sorry. “

“I also have to acknowledge that with my personal set of values, my ethical standpoints and my moral compass with myself, I know for sure that I have not tacitly and without action accepted the critical conditions described by the swimmers.”

In 2005, the Danish Swimming Union adopted guidelines that prohibited public weighing. However, swimmers claimed that the practice continued until 2012.

Sørensen recalls that Team Denmark’s goals in 2002 were “very ambitious … New heights were to be reached internationally”. He adds:

“We achieved this, we created a new golden age. But most people – including me – can see today that the price of the swimmers was too high and that the cultural and value distance to the foreign coaches was too great. While this should by no means sound like an excuse, it is a balancing act to lead in elite sports. International elite sport is inherently tough, all-consuming and uncompromising. It’s about going to the limit of performance, but in too many cases we went over the limit.

Today, Jørgensen issued a stark statement outlining what is unfolding and why after the Sports Confederation called the Danish press to the Law Chambers of the Attorney General of Denmark this morning to hear the findings of the organisation’s investigation into the state of Danish elite swimming from 2001 to today.

  • After that briefing, Jørgensen said:

“During the period 2003-2012 we had the two international figures, Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer, employed as coaches, it was a very big upheaval for Danish national swimming – both for the athletes and for our management. We must acknowledge that our then sporting leadership had a hard time keeping tabs on these two coaches and that unfortunately it had negative consequences for some young people at the time. On behalf of the entire Denmark swimming community, I would like to give a sincere apology to the swimmers and others associated with the Danish national swimming program who have experienced the totally unacceptable coach behavior we have heard about.”

“When you go into sport – and that goes for swimming, too – it’s about being part of a community, being mobile, developing one’s skills – and above all having fun. This is what sports must stand for – and so does Danish national swimming. The Danish Swimming Union’s elite and national team work is a completely different place today, but we have nevertheless agreed with our long-time director, Pia Holmen, that she quit as director of the Danish Swimming Union. It is entirely in Pia’s spirit that nothing must stand in the way of a continued positive development in Danish swimming, which is why Pia also fully agrees with this for us drastic steps.”

It is as yet unclear whether Holmen will also stand down from the LEN ruling Bureau at the European Swimming League , at which elections of officers are looming. Positions are supposed to follow recommendations and proposals from domestic member federations but that process is not always followed, neither at European and global/FINA levels.

The statement in full, from a first, basic translation:

Dear All,

I must admit that I am deeply moved today, and so I have chosen to read this speech – I hope you understand.

First of all, I would like to offer a heartfelt apology  to the swimmers and others associated with the Danish national swimming program who have experienced the totally unacceptable coach behavior we have heard about. I would like to say sorry on behalf of the whole of Denmark.

As the Attorney General has described it, during the period 2003-2012 we had two coaches – Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer – employed in succession. It was a great upheaval for the Danish national team swimming to work with these two international coaches – both for the athletes and for our management. As Denmark Radio revealed it in their documentary last year, and as the Attorney General has confirmed in the recently published report, our then-sporting leadership had a hard time honoring these two coaches.

Unfortunately, the failure to rein in these two gentlemen had a negative impact on some young people who at the time cultivated their passion and at the same time struggled to realize their own sporting potential. I’m really sorry.

When you go to sports – and that goes for swimming too – it’s about being part of a community, moving, developing one’s skills – and above all having fun. This is what sports must stand for – and so does Danish national swimming.

The Danish Swimming Union’s elite and national team work is a completely different place today, which I think the Attorney General’s report also confirms. Since 2013 we have had another sporting management and other coaches on the pool side. But we have nevertheless agreed with our long-time director, Pia Holmen, that she quits as director of the Danish Swimming Union. It is entirely in Pia’s spirit that nothing must stand in the way of a continued positive development in Danish swimming, and therefore Pia is also fully aware of this for us drastic steps.

The Danish Swimming Union is known for talented swimmers who fight for international medals for Denmark, but we are much more than that. First and foremost, we work with the goal that everyone should learn to swim and take care of themselves and others in and around the water, and for example, we also operate a coastal rescue service that many of you have probably encountered when you have been a walk by the beach. Today we have over 191,000 members, which to me is the highest number in the history of the Danish Swimming Union. It is thus a union in good shape, with a clear goal and some talented and dedicated staff and volunteers that Pia now leaves behind.

The past 3/4 years have been tough for our management and for many of our staff and volunteers – and not least our swimmers. I would like to thank them all for a dedicated effort. Together, we have launched a wide range of initiatives – from research and strategies to more practical initiatives – to ensure that the kind of events we have heard about do not happen again. There must be decent conditions for everyone in our beloved sports – including those who are fighting for medals for Denmark. We simply want to win better.

There is a great deal of work ahead of us to get a new leadership in the Danish Swimming Union in place and to continue to ensure the best possible conditions for our skilled national swimmers – both those who train at our National Training Center and for those who train in other environments. . That is why we are now focusing our attention.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Team Denmark, the Danish Sports Federation and not least the Minister of Culture for providing this report. And then I would like to thank the swimmers who have come forward with their stories. In sports, in working life – yes, in life in general – there must be room for us to constructively criticize each other. I can assure that this also applies in Danish swimming.
Thanks for listening.

Lars Jørgensen
Chairman
Danish Swimming Union