UK Sport may hit British Para-Swimming in pocket over bullying crisis – The Guardian

UK Sport may withhold the funding of British Para-Swimming’s performance director, Chris Furber, for his role in the bullying crisis which has rocked the organisation. For the first time in its history the funding body for Olympic and Paralympic sport would be going above the head of a national sport’s governing body in seeking to punish an individual member of staff with financial sanctions.

The Guardian understands UK Sport, which will invest up to £345m in government and lottery funds in the approach to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, may push for Furber’s salary to be withdrawn at its next board meeting. It would be a watershed moment and a significant escalation in the way UK Sport has handled the duty of care scandals which have plagued the sports it funds over the past two years.

Furber, who previously worked for British Cycling, another organisation embroiled in the widening crisis, kept his job at British Swimming but was disciplined after his management and communication was criticised. An independent report which investigated allegations of bullying made by a number of swimmers also found Furber showed a “lack of empathy”.

One swimmer has been quoted as saying they believed Furber was equally culpable for the athlete-welfare failings as Rob Greenwood, the former head coach of British Para-Swimming who left the programme before the investigation began. British Swimming last week apologised for a “climate of fear” which disabled athletes, some of them teenagers, had been subjected to in the buildup to Rio 2016. The investigation, which was led by two former police officers, found Greenwood had verbally abused and used discriminatory language about disabled swimmers.

Furber, who joined British Para-Swimming as performance director in 2013, was not found to have been abusive or discriminatory but it is understood there is a 50/50 likelihood of UK Sport withholding the equivalent of his salary.

The UK Sport chair, Liz Nicholl, said it had established a “Sport Integrity” function to provide the body with “assurance that issues, when identified, are being dealt with appropriately within sports; to advise sports on policies for whistleblowing and reporting unacceptable behaviour; and to advise on procedures for identifying, investigating and resolving cultural or behavioural issues in world-class programmes”.

Under UK Sport’s eligibility criteria it has the power to withhold funding but has never done so to date. The rules state funding can be withdrawn if “the athlete or athlete-support personnel has done anything which brings or tends to bring themselves, the national lottery, UK Sport, its board members and executive team [or any of them] into disrepute”.

Greenwood has had an offer of employment at a Canadian swimming team withdrawn in light of the outcome of the independent report into his conduct at British Para-Swimming. But he has released a statement strongly rejecting the findings of the investigation. “I wish to make clear at the outset my concern and surprise at the disclosure of confidential material including a report and my name,” he said. “I also wish to place on record my severe disappointment with the findings of the report and the methodology.

“I wish to remind you of my record as a swimming coach which I take considerable pride in and ask you to take note that the timing of this investigation followed closely upon my decision to resign from British Swimming. I wholly reject the allegations of bullying, intimidation and all other criticisms made of me.

“I would wish to inform you of what the EIS [English Institute of Sport] have said: ‘The pressure technique deployed is an example of a range of services that a performance psychologist would routinely deliver as part of their work to support coaches and athletes in achieving improvements in performance.’ In this instance, the programme was designed with input from athletes … and intended, at their request, to help produce training conditions that felt more like a competition situation.”

Greenwood’s statement continued: “I would wish to add that no swimmer or member of staff ever raised any concerns with me about an alleged ‘climate of fear’. I do not consider I was ever knowingly offensive or insulting.

“I accept that I push swimmers, whether able-bodied or disabled, to their limits, which I believe is what is agreed by a whole team, including the athletes. The techniques and training have achieved great results consequently.”

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