“Investegation of conditions for elite athletes in the Danish Swimming Federation” – Personal comments

February 9, 2020

A few days ago, “Investegation of the conditions for elite athletes in the Danish Swimming Federation” (February 6, 2020) prepared by the Chamber of Lawyers was published. The investegation was carried out on the basis of the documentary program of the Danish Broadcasting Company (DR) “Swimming stars – Under the surface”, which was sent in April 2019. The aim of the investegation is “… according to the terms of reference, to elucidate the circumstances revealed in the documentary program, including the historical and actual conditions , and the culture of the elite sport enviroments under the Danish Swimming Federation. In this context, the Reference describes a number of themes to be answered in the investegation. One of the themes of the investegation is to uncover and explain the training environment and its consequences for elite swimmers during the period from 2001 and forwards. In addition, the investegation must identify whether the factors included in the investegation can be attributed to concrete managerial failures or systemic weaknesses. In this connection, Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation’s supervision of the conditions must also be covered. The investegation will also examine the organizational framework of the Danish Swimming Federation, including whether the framework actually gave and allows elite swimmers to stand out. Finally, the investegation will reveal whether Team Denmark and the Conferation of Danish Sport (DIF) have fullfil to their responsibilities in the period from 2001 and forwards ”.

“Managerial failures” and “systemic weaknesses” – but no legal liability assessment

The Chamber of Lawyers’ investigation shows that “… a number of critical factors can be found in connection with the management of the training environment for the elite swimmers during the period from 2003 to 2013. This is especially true of the Danish Swimming Federation, but also Team Denmark”. It also appears that the Chambers of Lawyers “… has not made any actual legal liability assessment with regard to organizations or individuals, be it employment law, financial or otherwise. When we refer to managerial failures here, we refer to the failures of the organizations as such ”. The investegatoin emphasizes that “… Team Denmark, as a self-governing institution, is part of the Public Administration and the Public Law”. This means that “… Team Denmark is committed to ensuring that the organization’s financial resources are used in accordance with the purposes for which they are given. In this context, Team Denmark is responsible for continuously checking whether the individual federations that receive support from Team Denmark are acting in accordance with the expectations for the organization of the Act on Elite sport”. Thus, Team Denmark does not have a supervisory duty in the sense of State Law, but a duty to cooperate with partners – in the specific case of the Danish Swimming Federation – who do not comply with the “Act on Elite sport”, including the “Code of Ethics for Danish Elite Sports” and guidelines for weighing swimmers and medicine”.

Need for discussion about – and possibly revision of – Act on Elite sport

As CEO – and the top administrative officer in Team Denmark – during the period 1.9.2006 – 17.12.2014, I have a co-responsibility that a number of critical situations were not changed satisfactorily. There are many reasons for the managerial failures – both before and during my tenure – which is also evident in the investegation of the Chambers of Lawyers. Likewise, there are also many causes and explanations for the “systemic weaknesses” that the investegation uncovered. However, it does not change the following personal comment: It is deeply regrettable – not least for the young swimmers who have experienced failures and where it has had serious consequences for them in life – that the dialogue, communication and cooperation between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation were deficient and malfunctioning during the above period. Unfortunately, I can also today find that – both in the Danish Swimming Federation and in Team Denmark – there have been employees who have had knowledge that they have not presented in the right time and the right place. It is also extremely regrettable. I hope that the sad and serious case about the conditions for the elite athletes in Danish Swimming will have regulatory consequences for benefit of the development of Danish elite sport.

In addition, you can read about my previous views and opinions on the case here:

  • “In deep water – the Act on Elite sport, impartiality and relations of power” – https://ma57.dk/en/the-act-on-elite-sport-impartiality-and-relations-of-power/ 
  • “Still in deep water: A life buoy was thrown, but without land in sight” – https://ma57.dk/en/still-in-deep-water-a-life-buoy-was-thrown-but-without-land-in-sight/ 

Postscript (February 14, 2020):

Since the publication of the Chambers of Lawyers: “Investegation of the conditions for elite athletes in the Danish Swimming Federation” (February 6, 2020), my comments in the media (including Radio4 and BT) and the above blog have received many inquiries – the vast majority positive. I have also subsequently read my previous comments and opinions, both in the media and in two previous blog published (April 25, 2019 and May 10, 2019). I like to keep each sentence and comma in the two blog published. But of course, I have spent time and effort on reflections and conversations about the investegation, which goes all the way back to 2003 and to this day – ie. 3 years before and 5 years after my appointment as CEO of Team Denmark.

One of my conversations contained the following statement: “Michael – It is very often the people who shout most about good ethics and morals who at the same time act unethical and double moral”. I have given some thought to this statement based on the principles of a rule of law. One of the most basic principles of a rule of law is the division of power, which was mentioned by the French philosopher Montesquieu in “De l’esprit des lois” from 1748. The basic principle means that power is divided into an executive power (a Government that leads it public administration), a legislative power (the Parliament) and a judicial power (the Courts). The Chamber of Lawyers’ investigation is extensive and thorough, but it places no personal responsibility either in the Danish Swimming Federation, Team Denmark or between the two parties. Thus, the Chamber of Lawyers’ investigation does not detect whether there has been a violation of legislation. However, it is the right of every person, organization or institution to bring a case to the Court of Law, if one has an opinion of an offense. And then the Courts – not the public or the media – can make a legal decision if one or more persons, a federation (the Danish Swimming Federation) or an institution (Team Denmark) has violated a law.

There can be a big difference between good and bad management and leadership. And very often the different assessments of good and bad management or ledership are based on subjective criteria and limited knowledge. For these reasons, I would also like to encourage everyone to read through the entire investigation by the Chamber of Lawayers.

In the same way, there can be a big difference between elite athletes’ perceptions of coaches in international elite sports environments. Eg. stated Lotte Friis – the elite swimmer with Olympic bronze medals and many Championship medals in Olympic disciplines – following in the documentary programe: “Mark Regan has meant a lot to me. He was a kind of reserve father to me. He was the coach who really got me started in my career and got me out of a Danish bubble mentality. He pushed me to the extreme. My career had been just fine “and” After all, we are all different athletes and must all be handled differently. I’m fine with training under the two coaches (Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer). I’m fine with the way things were going. And that, in my opinion, is also the way things are done in other major swimming nations ”(DR – April 23, 2019).

There are many people – both in the Danish Swimming Federation and Team Dammark – who are responsible for dissatisfaction, including eating disorders and the delivery of medicines over a period of more than 10 years. There are also a number of people – both inside and outside the Danish Swimming Federation and Team Denmark – who have a joint responsibility for the individual cases in Danish elite swimming. For this reason, there is also now a need for a political debate about a revision or a new Law on Elite sport in Denmark.