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Medal winning ‘obsession’ not impacting athlete welfare, says BOA chief

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“Isolated” incidents of alleged bullying and duty of care failures within some Olympic sports are not a consequence of an “obsession” with winning medals, according to the chief executive of the British Olympic Association (BOA).

Bill Sweeney claimed allegations that had been levelled at the world-class programmes of organisations such as British Cycling and British Canoeing were “not endemic” or “widespread within high performance sport”.

He also dismissed the idea that UK Sport’s no compromise approach to winning medals was having a negative impact on the duty of care for athletes.

Responding to a question from Sports Management at the Telegraph’s Business of Sport Conference about whether an “unhealthy obsession with medals” was impacting athlete care, the former Adidas executive said it was “not a case of either or”.

“I would say that, yes, it is good to be obsessed with medals, but not at all costs. And the issues that need to be fixed will be fixed,” Sweeney said.

He added: “You really want to hang on to that obsession with medals because winning matters.

“It provides inspiration. We often talk about the Australians. We sledge each other and have a love/hate relationship. They are desperate to get into our shoes again. They had investment, a great high performance system, then they had debates about whether it was all worthwhile winning medals, and look where they are now. They’ve lost focus and edge.”

Great Britain came second in the medal table at the Rio 2016 Games with 67, while Australia came 10th with 29.

Sweeney shared the panel with gold medal-winning rower Hannah Glover, British Swimming chair Maurice Watkins and new chair of UK Sport Dame Katherine Grainger.

Answering the same question, Glover revealed that she did feel “cared for” as an athlete because she was a “potential gold medal”, while Watkins suggested that while no athlete should “accept something that’s wrong” they had to “toughen up” and “appreciate” their environment.

However, Grainger said that after talking to a number of sports in her new role, several acknowledged that athlete welfare is “something they could do better”.

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“Isolated” incidents of alleged bullying and duty of care failures within some Olympic sports are not a consequence of an “obsession” with winning medals, according to the chief executive of the British Olympic Association (BOA).
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Sweeney became chief executive of the BOA in November 2013 / Nick Ansell/PA Wire/PA Images
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