Shane Gould Urges Swimming Australia To Join National Redress Scheme For Abuse Survivors

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Shane Gould, winner at Munich 1972 of what remains a record five solo medals in the Olympic pool, has urged Swimming Australia to join a sex-abuse redress scheme aimed at delivering justice for victims of historic crimes.

Swimming Australia (SA) has not yet signed up to the National Redress Scheme for sex abuse survivors. The federation told the ABC network in Australia that it “has not formed a view either way” on joining the scheme. It is one of several sporting bodies that has yet to make a decision.

Gould recalls “whispers” about coaches she should “watch out for” back in her racing days as a 14-15-year shooting star of world swimming. She tells ABC:

“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.”

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse criticised a swathe of organisations, in sport and other realms, over their history of dealing with coaches and staff who abused children.

Swimming Australia was among organisations that had to respond to the inquiry, the federation notes that it has since “implemented numerous new measures to protect young swimmers, including a revamped code of conduct and a formal complaints procedure”, according to ABC.

Now, Gould – a survivor of a different kind as the oldest winner, at 61, of the eponymous TV show – is among leading voices urging the federation to sign up for the National Redress Scheme before a June deadline to do so. She tells ABC:

“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.”

Scott Volkers The Australian

Scott Volkers – Photo Courtesy: The Australian

The issue arises against a backdrop in which three women swimmers told the royal commission of abuse allegations that they had been abused by coach Scott Volkers in the 1980s.

One of those alleging abuse, Julie Gilbert, said she believes SA’s lack of commitment to sign up for the redress scheme is indicative of the organisation’s 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,'” Gilbert told ABC.

Volkers contests the allegations and last month launched a legal case to have the five counts of child sex offences he was charged with in 2017 dropped. Volkers is awaiting trial yet and indicated at a pre-trial hearing that he will plead not guilty.

Meanwhile, Gilbert has urged Swimming Australia to join the scheme aimed at ensuring that victims of abuse can tell their stories, receive compensation through arbitration without facing the trauma and expense of private prosecution processes that make the pursuit of justice so onerous. She told ABC:

“You can’t undo what happened to people who have been sexually abused. But you can show them that you support them, you understand them and you believe them.”

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

Gould believes that joining the scheme is a no-brainer for any organisation with ambitions to survive and grow. She tells ABC:

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

ABC mentions the big names of Australian swimming who declined to comment but Gould emphasizes with them on the grounds that swimmers had long been “blasted” by authorities for speaking out. In a comment that echoes the tone of Matt Biondi in a recent interview with Swimming World, Gould says:

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

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