'I dug up my swimming bullying trauma for nothing' – BBC

The closure of an elite swimming club amid allegations of bullying earlier this year caused turmoil in the sport that continues today. As swimmers say they feel lessons have not been learnt, governing body Swim England is facing questions about the protection of its young members.
The medal haul that returned to Shropshire after last weekend's Short Course Regionals was impressive – 14 golds, 10 silvers and eight bronze.
It was Ellesmere College Swimming Academy's first competition of the season, one which saw the young swimmers travel to Nottingham to compete.
The vast majority of swimmers that train at the rural Shropshire school are now affiliated to City of Leicester Swimming Club, which is based more than 100 miles away in the East Midlands.
The school-run academy has sprung up in place of Ellesmere College Titans, which, in April this year, was forced to disband by Swim England following a lengthy investigation into multiple claims of bullying and emotional abuse.
Swimming's national governing body ruled it would not affiliate any club that was held at Ellesmere College in the future. Instead, weeks after Titans closed, the academy was set up by college bosses and more than 30 of its 45 young members affiliated to City of Leicester, along with three of Ellesmere's coaches.
It seemed like the perfect solution – no "club", as such, would be based at the independent school, but swimmers could continue to compete, albeit for a club based in a different part of the country.
But some of those who came forward to allege bullying at Titans have told the BBC it felt like the sanction of no affiliation had been "circumvented" and no lessons had been learnt.
Danny Proffitt, one of two Titans coaches temporarily suspended as a result of the bullying investigation, is among the new City of Leicester coaches based at the school.
"It feels like a slap in the face because, when you take a step back, nothing has really happened," the woman, now in her 20s, told the BBC.
"Everyone that came forward had to dig up their trauma for something to actually be done, and it's like nothing ever happened.
"There have been no shockwaves – it is beyond deflating."
A parent of a former swimmer who also alleged bullying said it felt like their experiences had been "denied, buried and airbrushed" by Swim England and the college.
"Years on we are still waiting for adults to stand up and do the right thing – the children have still never had an apology."
The investigation at Titans, which included complaints by male and female swimmers stretching back several years, hit the headlines in 2021 when its director of swimming Alan Bircher, a 10-time British champion and world championship silver medallist, was suspended along with Mr Proffitt.
The nature of the allegations was kept confidential by Swim England. But earlier this year, three ex-Titans swimmers told the BBC they had faced humiliating public weighing regimes that left more than one with an eating disorder, were made to swim despite injuries and illnesses and had a torrent of inappropriate comments made to them during training.
Mr Proffitt and Mr Bircher, whose suspension prevented him from coaching Team GB's swimmers at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, have never commented publicly on the allegations.
It sparked a debate on social media in which polar opposite views emerged – the requirement for young gifted swimmers to "toughen up" for what is often a brutal competitive environment on one side, with others pointing out that emotional abuse of children is not acceptable in any sport, school or workplace.
Swim England, which has more than 100,000 members under 18, is now facing multiple questions over its attitude to safeguarding from parents, coaches and even some from inside the organisation itself.
The BBC understands many coaches are leaving the sport, with claims of a growing "toxicity" in which they feel unsupported as they try to navigate the challenges of training children.
Sport England is also conducting an independent review into Swim England's own processes, including how it dealt with complainants in the wake of the Titans probe and a separate investigation into a row between coaches and the committee of City of Oxford Swimming Club.
Furthermore, the organisation has come under fire from its recently-departed child safeguarding expert Keith Oddy, who left Swim England in summer shortly after filing a highly-critical report, seen by the BBC, which described a chaotic picture at the organisation.
The former Metropolitan Police officer, who is a child safeguarding expert with British Equestrian and British Rowing, said it had failed to tackle a series of issues including the widespread taking of indecent pictures of children in changing rooms.
Mr Oddy, who presided over hundreds of safeguarding cases during his tenure, said Swim England had been slow to conduct its own analysis of the Whyte Review into allegations of mistreatment in gymnastics, which would avoid a similar situation happening in swimming.
He also stated workloads in the safeguarding team had become unmanageable after they were furloughed during England's coronavirus lockdowns, when swimming pools closed, and accused senior management of interfering in cases.
The governing body had an "obvious failure to put child protection at the heart of decision making", he said.
"Swim England is heading for a situation where the protection and safeguarding of children will be placed at risk," his report concluded.
Mr Oddy told the BBC he had not heard from the board since issuing his report.
Parents of current Ellesmere swimmers told the BBC they welcomed Sport England's investigation.
This was echoed by the parent volunteer-led committee of the Oxford club, where all five coaches quit in 2021 in a furious row with management.
The committee had started investigating safeguarding complaints made by swimmers, but coaches claimed they were in fact being bullied by those in charge.
Club chairman Nicola Brown said Swim England had given the committee no support despite being asked.
"At every point we asked for help and we never got it," she said.
Swim England denied it did not take safeguarding seriously and said it had improved its team by appointing former Surrey Police detective Kevin Suckling as the new head of safeguarding.
Investigative journalist Mark Williams-Thomas, also a former detective with Surrey Police and best known for helping to expose Jimmy Savile in an ITV documentary, is understood to be among a panel of investigators the organisation will utilise.
In a statement, the organisation said: "We have made significant improvements to our staffing structure and expertise of the team – including the appointment of a full-time head of safeguarding and welfare as well as establishing two further positions within the department.
"In addition, under our new structure we have a bank of experienced and highly qualified independent child safeguarding officers, whom we utilise, providing significantly more capacity in this area.
"All changes have been made with the safeguarding and welfare of our members at the forefront."
It added an in-depth piece of work was in progress "to assess the approach against the outcomes of the Whyte Review" and added it "strongly disagreed" with suggestions bosses interfered in safeguarding cases.
In response to coaches leaving the profession, Swim England said it would "always endeavour to ensure that our coaches' voices are heard" but that "we hold our coaches accountable to the highest standards of safe and effective practice, thereby ensuring that our participants enjoy a positive and fulfilling sporting experience."
"We understand that people will move in and out of the profession and therefore we continually look for ways to ensure that aquatics coaching is a rewarding role."
Regarding Ellesmere swimmers competing for City of Leicester, the governing body said all swimming clubs were free to accept new members, regardless of where they were based. It is understood the Shropshire college denies any suggestions it evaded sanctions.
Sport England confirmed a review into Swim England was under way.
"[We have] been made aware of concerns raised in relation to how complaints were handled at a small number of swimming clubs.
"Safeguarding and welfare in sport is of paramount importance and if complaints are raised, they should be taken very seriously.
"Although we have no regulatory powers in sport, we can explore whether the right processes were followed, and are looking into this matter."
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Elite swimming club to close after damning report
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Swim England
Sport England
Ellesmere College
City of Leicester Swimming Club
City of Oxford Swimming Club
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