Archery GB: Coach suspended following sexual assault complaint

Archery
Archery GB's chairman has informed staff and athletes of a "wide-ranging investigation into the culture of its high performance unit"

A senior British archery coach has been suspended following a complaint to police over an incident involving a young female Para-athlete.

The alleged sexual assault is understood to have taken place in the last four years, while overseas at an international competition.

The former athlete - who has now given her account to the police - has told the BBC that she did not pursue her original complaint at the time because she felt threatened after staff at the sport's governing body implied she could lose her funding, and cost the coach his job.

Archery GB (AGB) said the case was "investigated and dealt with at the time, to the satisfaction of the alleged victim and [a relative] of the alleged victim".

However, following a BBC report, the AGB said it received a call from the alleged victim who confirmed contact was made with the police.

"As such, we last night suspended a coach until further notice, pending police enquiries," an AGB statement added.

Background

In a statement the athlete wrote after the incident, and which was subsequently forwarded on to staff at the governing body, she said the coach had acted "inappropriately", and offered her alcoholic drinks.

In further documents obtained by the BBC, the coach also wrote separately to both the athlete and a then team manager to apologise for his "totally unacceptable" and "not appropriate" behaviour.

However, the former team manager was then told the matter was closed after the athlete requested no further action be taken.

The team manager subsequently resigned, explaining at the time in private correspondence that "pressure was being put on me to be quiet about this incident and if I were to remain in my post the people above me would not allow me to follow up on my concerns".

The athlete has now told BBC Sport: "I didn't go through with a complaint at the time because I was put in a position where it was implied by staff that I didn't want to be the one to lose the coach his job and that I was new to the programme, and I didn't want to risk that either.

"I was worried I would lose my funding and position on the programme, but that should never have been the case. I should have felt like I could trust the staff to help me work through that time, not threaten me.

"They told me that if I dropped my complaint they would discipline the coach appropriately themselves. That was something they said to try to ease me I think.

"I'm doing what I should have done a few years ago and I am not afraid of them now."

'Mishandled'

The former team manager told the BBC he believed there had been a "cover-up", adding: "I feel that the incident was mishandled by AGB from the very moment that it was reported back to them, and that procedures that they had in place, which would normally be applied in these circumstances, were circumvented.

"I think that the incident was covered up firstly out of some sort of misguided loyalty towards [the coach concerned], but mostly to protect the reputation of AGB's staff and a fear of losing funding from their sponsors. I also believe that once they had made the decision...they were locked into a spiral of deceit they had to maintain in order to protect their own positions."

Separately, in May, Mark Davies, who became AGB's chairman after the alleged incident, wrote to staff and athletes to inform them of a "wide-ranging investigation into the culture of its high performance unit".

Davies said the independent review was "in light of a number of question marks...raised into high performance sport in the UK" and invited all to comment confidentially on the culture, "without fear or favour". Staff were told not to speak to the media because "journalists will be only too willing to look for angles and stories, and if they were to do so, it would make it extremely difficult to get a fair picture".

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Athlete welfare a huge concern - UK Sport chair Grainger

One current Para-archer, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC the atmosphere in the high performance unit was "highly toxic" and "a living nightmare".

"Some of us have nothing but archery in our lives. If we lose this, we lose everything," said the Para-archer. "They know that and they take huge advantage of that by bullying, intimidating and discriminating against us.

"Our welfare is low on their list. It's medals first. That's what it's always been, medals first.

"The situation is now at a crisis level. Athletes have complained for years about the situation but have been too afraid of what would happen to them if they came forward. Some are still too afraid and cannot cope with what is happening right now. Morale is at rock bottom."

Meanwhile, Para-archer Frank Maguire - who says he left the Great Britain set-up after becoming disillusioned with the environment, told the BBC that AGB "need to clean their decks and that does not mean the athletes".

He added: "They need to do a purge on this kind of behaviour by coaches and senior staff, and to realise that to get the best from an athlete is not by intimidation or by oppression but by interacting with the athletes understanding each individual and through this getting the best results.

"They must also treat Para-athletes as disabled athletes, not handicapped. They must not let the athletes down again, which in turn lets our nation down."

AGB's response

In a statement to the BBC, AGB chairman Davies said: "I wrote at the beginning of May this year to invite anyone who has been involved with AGB's world-class programme, at any time in the last two years, to contribute to a wide-ranging investigation into the culture of Archery GB's high performance unit.

"The objective of this investigation is to allow anyone connected with the high performance unit on any side, and at whatever level, to comment on the culture within it without fear or favour. I have hired two external specialist investigators, along with the law firm Sports Resolutions to manage the process.

"At the time that I wrote, I was unaware of any allegations surrounding [the alleged incident of sexual assault].

"I have, though, been made aware of the allegations since I wrote to people about the review.

"My understanding is that they were investigated and dealt with at the time to the satisfaction of the alleged victim and [a relative] of the alleged victim.

"I am not aware that AGB has had any contact from the alleged victim since, nor has anyone who was actually on that trip come forward to tell me anything different.

"The current review, which was, as I say, instituted without my having any knowledge of allegations, is independent, so I am not in a position to update you on where it has got to. What I can say is that I hope to have a report for the board to consider in the second half of this year.

"I have made clear to all those to whom I wrote that at the conclusion of the investigation, an anonymised report will be submitted to the board, and Archery GB will consider the full report at the first board meeting available to it after the report's conclusion.

"I have also committed to publishing to all those who contribute the key recommendations from the report (at the same time as we both publish our response to the same people and initiate whatever actions we may take as a result of the recommendations).

"To be clear, in order to allow confidentiality where it is required, Archery GB has not committed to publishing the full report."

'Huge concern'

The revelations come with police investigating accusations of child grooming and sexual assault against a suspended senior British Canoeing coach following allegations from three women.

British Cycling, British Swimming, British Bobsleigh and a host of other sports governing bodies have also become embroiled in allegations concerning athlete welfare. UK Sport's incoming chair, former Olympic rower Dame Katherine Grainger, has told the BBC that athlete welfare is "a huge concern".

Britain's Para-archers topped the medal table at the Rio Paralympics, with three gold medals. However, after a disappointing Olympics, the governing body had £3m of funding axed by UK Sport earlier this year.

AGB is one of 11 governing bodies who have demanded an urgent review of UK Sport's investment model.

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