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Thompson Steps Down In Aussie Restructure

Jan 29, 2010  - Craig Lord

Unprepared to accept a new contract under the terms of a division of responsibilities at the top of the elite programme, head coach Alan Thompson accepts a redundancy package; Leigh Nugent steps up as head coach before jobs of head coach and performance are advertised; Thompson departure not related to inquiry into claim of "inappropriate behaviour", says Thompson's representative in that case

The timing of Alan Thompson's departure as head coach to the No2 swim nation in the world is unfortunate. First, Swimming Australia launch an inquiry into an anonymous complaint against the head coach on a day when news of serious unrelated sexual misconduct circulates; now, with the inquiry still underway as a barrister contemplates the "evidence" before her, the head coach steps down because of a split in roles. Then there is the timing related to the London 2012 Games, not much more than two years away, via a 2010 Commonwealth Games against British home nations, Canadians and South Africans on the move.

Thompson told the media: "I do not agree with the way the national head coach and high performance unit has now been structured by Swimming Australia, and I still believe the best way forward was for the roles to remain as one something which has certainly proved successful. I have certainly enjoyed my many years on the Australian swim team in a role as head coach and I wish the team and the new head coach every success, because you will never work with a better group of people in your life."

Britain also split the roles of head coach and performance director when Bill Sweetenham quit a job that combined both roles back in 2007. Many believed that there were sound reasons why a pure head coach role might have better suited Sweetenham, in so far as it would have placed him a step further back from the kind of politics that has often proved to be detrimental to performance. One of the fundamental problems of the performance role is often the interference of bureaucrats who hire folk who know better how to do the job and then spend a great deal of time building barriers for the experts to climb over. Politics is likely to be a part of the mix Down Under in the latest developments, just as it has been elsewhere in the world when it comes to governing large programmes funded in part by the public purse.

For Australia, this moment marks a watershed beyond Thompson. In the last 12 months, the federation has lost Paul Bruce, Coach and Athlete Development, Matt Sebbens, Thompson's right-hand man and performance Operations Manager), Ian Hanson, the long-standing Media Director, who between 1991 and 2009 provided a service to the media that was of immense value to Australian swimming, while several Australians linked to the national programme have been contacted by European programmes keen to learn how to beat the enemy. 

Thompson, meanwhile, took leave from his job in December after a claim of "inappropriate behavior" against him was reported to Swimming Australia by an anonymous source who did not speak directly to the federation but through local media. That claim is under investigation.

"The acceptance of the redundancy is not related to the independent investigation being conducted by Louise Donohoe SC," a representative of Thompson said in a statement today. 

A press release from the sports media agency run by Ian Hanson Down Under appeared to preempt the barrister's report in a press release that praised Thompson and stated that "the investigation is continuing and at this stage it appears that the original claim of inappropriate behaviour involving Alan Thompson will not be proven".

Thompson is said to be "gutted" about developments and was reported in the Australian press as saying: "I want to take this opportunity to thank my family, my friends and my swimming colleagues for the support they have given me."

The federation had its own statement too, and here it is:

Alan Thompson steps down as General Manager of High Performance and Head Coach

"Swimming Australia has today announced that Alan Thompson has accepted a redundancy from his position of General Manager of High Performance and Head Coach of the Australian Swim Team.

The Swimming Australia Board, in consultation with the Australia Sports Commission has made the strategic decision to separate the positions of General Manager for High Performance and that of the Head Coach of Australian Swim Team, and Thompson’s decision to accept a redundancy was based on the fact that he was not prepared to work under this re-structure.

Thompson had acted in both roles since taking on the position of Head Coach in 2005 and then General Manager for High Performance in 2006.  He will now concentrate on business interests in Sydney.

Swimming Australia CEO Kevin Neil said the decision to re-structure the High Performance unit, which involves changes to the role and responsibilities of the Head Coach, are crucial and have been made for the good of the sport and its future success.

 “A full review of the High Performance unit was conducted by the SAL Board at which point a recommendation was made to split the roles of General Manager for High Performance and that of the Head Coach, and Alan is not prepared to work under this new structure.”

“Swimming is a sport that prides itself on professionalism, hard work and success, and to continue to maintain and develop those values at all levels, we believe this new structure is the best way forward.”

Leigh Nugent has been appointed as the acting Head Coach of the Australian swim team, while David Crocker, who has been on secondment from the Australian Sports Commission since December, is currently acting in the role of General Manager for High Performance.

Swimming Australia will advertise for the positions of both the General Manager of High Performance and Head Coach in the near future.

Separately, the independent investigation being conducted by Louise Donohoe SC is continuing with all findings to be presented to SAL upon its completion and appropriately addressed at that time."