SYDNEY — The Australian Olympic Committee has decided not to impose further sanctions on the men’s freestyle relay swim team for the use of the sleeping tablet Stilnox at the London Olympics, but heavily criticized the swimmers for “boorish, obnoxious behavior” that the men considered only to be pranks.
AOC chief John Coates said Friday that the penalties imposed by Swimming Australia on the six swimmers were “proportionate and sufficient,” although the AOC said if the six are in any further breaches of the “team membership agreement” they could risk not being considered for the 2016 Rio Olympics or be forced to pay for some of the costs of the AOC investigation led by Sydney lawyer Brett Walker.
“This is the yellow card,” Coates said.
The decision comes four months after the swimmers were punished by Swimming Australia for their bonding session at a pre-Olympic camp in Manchester last year. The relay team — newly-crowned world 100-meter champion James Magnussen, Eamon Sullivan, Matt Targett, James Roberts, Tommaso D’Orsogna and Cameron McEvoy — were fined and given suspended sentences.
The swimmers, with the exception of Roberts, admitted taking Stilnox, which was banned by the AOC. Their misbehavior also included waking teammates, most of them female, with prank calls and door-knocks.
The AOC said Walker found the six swimmers’ conduct in the bonding session was “disreputable and against the best interests of the Australian Olympic Team.”
“He found the later conduct which involved behavior towards some female swimmers in the team was boorish, selfish, obnoxious and disrespectful. He said it is too simplistic to describe it, as the relay team did, as ‘prankish’ or schoolboy behavior. It upset the female swimmers … and it certainly affected morale at the time.”
The swimmers were not further reprimanded for taking Stilnox because they were under the “misapprehension” that the ban on the sleeping tablets didn’t begin until they arrived in London, Coates said.
The AOC said in the statement that Walker found that the relay team members “knew the AOC ban would be in place when they entered the Games Village in London, but honestly believed that the ban did not take effect until then … had they known the ban was in place in Manchester, their conduct would have been very serious and deserving of even more condemnation.”
The details of the penalties handed to the six swimmers by Swimming Australia were not released to the public, only that they were fined and given “deferred suspensions for breaches of their behavioral obligations.”
The AOC separately launched its own investigation led by Walker. The AOC had a range of penalties available to it, including withdrawing future funding from the swimmers or medal incentive bonuses paid to Magnussen, but opted to uphold the punishments by Swimming Australia.
The Australian swim team had a poor London Games, led by the six involved in the controversy — favorite Magnussen failed to take gold in the 100 and the freestyle relay team was fourth despite being overwhelming gold medal threats.
Australia won just one gold in the pool — a women’s relay — their worst Olympic showing since the Barcelona Games in 1994. As part of the fallout, Leigh Nugent resigned as Australia head coach in March.
Nugent came in for some criticism on Friday in the AOC report because he failed to investigate circumstances of the relay team’s behavior when told about it by other swimmers.
“But given that he has stood down from his position and that reasonable minds could differ on the question of his culpability given the information then available and the mistaken overriding direction to him from Swimming Australia, no further sanction should be made against him,” Walker said in his report.