Still in deep water: A life buoy was thrown, but without land in sight

May 10, 2019

Two weeks ago, I was very surprised that Team Denmark submitted “Statement to the Minister of Culture about the DR documentary: Swimming stars – below the surface” without prior contact or dialogue with the undersigned, who was the CEO of Team Denmark during the period 1’st of September 2006 – 17’th of December 2014. Very quickly – as a “start jump in swimming” – my surprise disappeared: The CEO of Danish Swimming Federation Mrs. Pia Holmen is indeed Vice-Chairman of Team Danmark’s Board of Directors, nominated by The Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) and appointed by the Minister of Culture.

Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer – Two international, charismatic coaches

It is a fact that my knowledge of and experiences with the Danish Swimming Federation’s political, administrative and sports management – former chairman of DS’ elite swimming committee Mr. Lars Jørgensen (today Chairman of DS), CEO Mrs. Pia Holmen and High Performance Manager Mr. Lars Sørensen – are both comprehensive and thorough , since all three were “key persons” in the collaboration between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation in the period 2006-2012. It was also during the same period that Mark Regan (2004-2008) and Paulus Wildeboer (2009-2012) were employed as coaches of the national team with reference to CEO and High Performance Manager of Danish Swimming Federation. I collaborated with Regan and Wildeboer at the 2007 World Championships (Melbourne), the 2008 Olympics (Beijing), the 2009 World Championships (Rome), the 2011 World Championships (Shanghai) and the 2012 Olympics (London). They were two very different, but both authoritarian coach profiles with great charisma. And like other international top coaches: Human beings with “strong” and “weak” skills and qualities. One of the biggest weaknesses of both Regan and Wildeboer was in my opinion that they were very reserved and skeptical about working with sports psychologists – also from Team Denmark. Regan and Wildeboer’s main focus, both in the daily training and at international championships, were on physical, biomechanical, technical and tactical topics of elite swimming. On these topics they were both international top coaches. In addition, I, together with Team Denmark’s employees, saw that both Regan and Wildeboer had great development potentials in relation to mental and social topics of elite swimming and a very limited knowledge of the Danish sports culture. But the biggest challenge, in my opinion, was that the two national coaches – not formally – but, retrospectively, really were their “own director” in the Danish Swimming Federation. It has the DR documentary and the follow-up stories from former and current elite swimmers, both in DR and written media, fixed with seven-inch seams.

An indecently bad statement with marked omissions

Team Denmark’s statement to the Minister of Culture (May 1, 2019) is long – very long, but in my opinion the quality of the statement is inversely proportional to the length. The statement has some crucial omissions in relation to the competence, responsibility and role distribution between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation. A few days after the submission, Minister of Culture Mrs. Mette Bock expressed exactly the same opinion as mine. The result was that DIF and Team Danmark in dialogue with the Ministry of Culture – and not least after a intense media coverage – chose to carry out an independent investigation on the recent weeks’ reports of dissatisfaction and eating disorders among former and current Danish national team swimmers. The study will also map the factual aspects of the case, including the actions of the Danish Swimming Federation and partly looking at the culture of Danish swimming. It is very positive that an impartial investigation is being prepared, but I had clearly preferred that the Ministry of Culture was responsible for the independent investigation. However, I look with serenity to openly and honestly answer all questions.

The Act on Elite sport states that ”… Team Denmark is a self-governing institution whose aims are to develop Danish elite sports in a socially responsible manner. In collaboration with the Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF), the federations of DIF and other relevant partners, Team Denmark initiates, coordinates and optimaze joint arrangements  for elite sports in Denmark through 12 primary tasks”. Operationalization of the Act on Elite sport takes place through Team Danmark’s support programme, which over a four-year period describes which federations can obtain financial support and services (doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians, sports psychologists etc.) from Team Denmark. Likewise, the support programme describes which criteria are crucial for the federations to obtain financial support and services, divided into different categories. Danish Swimming Federation has since 2004 been placed in Team Danmark’s top category – World class – with an annual grant around 6-8 million DKK.

How did the cooperation between Team Denmark and the individual federations take place – and with what distrubution of roles and responsibilities between the two parts?

The collaboration between Team Denmark and the federations – also the Danish Swimming Federation – is based on a 4-year contract, which describes the rights and obligations of the two parts. The contract is valid for the entire period and through regular dialogue and meetings, objectives, activities related to training and competitions, finances, scope and content of services are established each year. Finally, Team Denmark’s support programme also determines the division of competencies, responsibilities and roles at different levels of collaboration. It appears from the three contracts between Team Denmark and Danish Swimming Federation (2005-2008, 2009-2012 and 2013-2016) that the steering group, which consists of Team Denmark’s CEO and TD consultant, DS ‘political, administrative and sports management, ” … is the overall committee for the collaboration between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation. The steering committee has the overall responsibility for the collaboration. The steering committee meets once a year “. In addition,” … a working group consisting of High Performance Manager, national coach(s), Team Denmark consultant and other relevant actors, prepare recommendations for the steering committee. The working group has the responsibility and competence to handle the daily work within the framework agreed in the steering committee. The working group communicates and meets regularly and follows up on development agreements and derived decision notes “. Finally, it is emphasized … … the High Performance Manager cares for the preparation of written minutes to the steering group”. 

After the DR documentary, I have reviewed all the minutes of the meetings in the period 2006-2014.  Unfortunately, I must note that the Danish Swimming Federation has in several cases offence the contracts between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation. This has been done by the Danish Swimming Federation’s management not having informed Team Denmark at steering committee meetings about specific inquiries from elite swimmers and their parents about offence of “Guidelines for weighing elite swimmers”. These offencies were – and still are – unacceptable and a clear circumvention of the contracts between Team Denmark and the Danish Swimming Federation. Ten steering committee meetings were held (November 16, 2006, September 4, 2007, February 21, 2008, November 24, 2008, November 2, 2009, October 11, 2010, November 15, 2011, July 2, 2012, October 15, 2013 and June 19, 2014) between Team Denmark and Danish Swimming Federation in the period 2006-2014. And there are written, approved minutes from all steering committee meetings from 2004 until today.

Breach of collaboration contracts and guidelines

I have – regrettably it must be said today – not as Team Denmark’s CEO received oral or written inquiries from elite swimmers or their parents, if the elite swimmers are under the age of 18, regarding offence of “Guidelines for weighing elite swimmers”. I can – and do not want to deny that there are employees in Team Denmark, who in the period 2006-2014 have received inquiries about offence of “Guidelines for weighing elite swimmers” from swimmers or parents of swimmers under the age of 18. Or who personally experienced offencies of the guidelines and who did not subsequently convey this knowledge – orally or in writing – to the undersigned. If that has happened, it is very regrettable.

It is crucial for the credibility and reputation of Danish elite sport that “all stones are turned” in this case. We owe it to the Parliament, which has passed the Act on Elite sport. And we owe it to all elite swimmers, both those who won medals at international championships and those who were “hit for life”. The culture – not even in terms of management – in any institution, organization, union or club – is not changed by a “crawl tag” or two, nor backwards. I hope that the responsible representatives from the swimming clubs in Denmark at the next ordinary or extraordinary board of representatives of the Danish Swimming Federation are fully aware of voting for a competent board of directors. Then the board of directors are responsible for hiring and/or dismissing the responsible administrative manager – the CEO of the Danish Swimming Federation – if there are significant reasons that speak for this. We might get the answer to this in the fall of 2019 or maybe … never.

Postscript (May 16, 2019):

After the publication of this blog, CEO Pia Holmen stated that “…. throughout the entire period, Team Denmark has been informed of all relevant persons. The information is typically passed to Team Denmark in the working group, where Team Denmark is represented. In the steering committee, where Michael Andersen himself take part, different topics on the National swimming team has discussed at a more general level. The discussions in the steering committee on personal issues were not led to the minutes” (B.T. – May 13, 2019).

I have the following comment on this statement: “This is stated in the Act on Elite Sports at ”… Team Denmark is a public, self-governing institution. This means that Team Danmark is part of the public administration and thus is covered by the Public Procurement Act and the Public Administration Act ”. The Public Administration Act contains rules on the legal status of the citizens over the public administration and the law describes rules for case processing in relation to, among other things, xxx, consultation, access to documents, confidentiality, appeal possibilities and much more. The Public Administration Act also describes frameworks and conditions for the preparation of minutes, also in relation to personal issues. It is stated that “… the authority shall, in cases where a managing authority is decided upon, note the content of information relating to the facts of a case that is relevant to the decision. The authority shall also includes actual information received per telephone”. Team Denmark is thus obliged – always – to work out written minutes on all cases – including personal issues. Processing of personal issues must, of course, take place in an anonymised form. I can state that in the period 1’st of September 2006 – 17’th of December 2014 Team Denmark has fully complied with the requirements of the Public Administration Act regarding preparation of minutes.

Postscript (May 20, 2019):

DR – once again – showed in the DR broadcast: “National coach overrule the medical staff: Shared his own pills to swimmers” (19’th of May 2019) – that national coach Paulus Wildeboer acted to a very large extent in the individual during the period 2009-2012. I also note that CEO Pia Holmen – still – has difficulties to inform the public in a credible way. She states to DR’s website: “Today, unfortunately, there is a picture of a national coach who was deeply unfair to the agreements that were made with his employers, the Danish Swimming Federation and Team Denmark”.

Team Denmark has never been an employer of Paulus Wildeboer – or for other national coaches and/or sports directors in Danish elite sports. This responsibility has the partners of  Team Denmark – ie. the federation and thus also the Danish Swimming Federation. An crucial question is: How many warnings – oral and/or written – have CEO of The Danish Swimming Federation assigned to the national coaches: Mark Regan and Paulus Wildeboer in the period 2004-2012 for breach of guidelines and contracts of The Danish Swimming Federation and Team Denmark?