Swimming Australia fails to earn gold PR medal

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A few weeks ago, Australian swimming, Shayna Jack was withdrawn from the world championships for “personal reasons”. However, news broke over the weekend that Jack had in fact failed a drug test. Jack has since responded with a detailed 2-page statement in an attempt to restore her reputation and provide transparency. She states that she discovered her A sample results on July 12 and her B sample results on July 19. These dates indicate that Swimming Australia (SA) was aware of the failed drug test 2 days before Australia swimmer, Mack Horton took a public stand against convicted drug user Sun Yang of China.

Since Horton’s protest, he has received many threats on his Instagram and a lot of scrutiny for refusing to stand on the podium alongside Yang. Swimming Australia allowed Mack to maintain his position and supported his decision, knowing they were hiding their own drug scandal from the public. This has now intensified the vicious backlash Swimming Australia is experiencing and has resulted in people around the world labelling Horton as a hypocrite.

Swimming Australia CEO, Leigh Russell claimed the organisation didn’t release an accurate statement regarding Jack’s absence from the world championships as they needed the test results back.  Jack’s recent statement proves that SA had the test results back nine days before making a statement, contradicting Russell. Russell also claimed SA could not announce the test results because of an agreement with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). Former ASADA boss Richard Ings later declared this was untrue.

To make matters even worse, Swimming Australia did not have an official address to the media at the world championships on Saturday when Jack’s story broke. This resulted in Horton being approached by media for comment and fellow Australian swimmer Cate Campbell having to speak on behalf of the team.

Swimming Australia is now in hot water with their credibility and honesty being questioned, requiring extensive reputation management to stay afloat.  Here are our PR takeaways:

What Swimming Australia did wrong:

  • Attempted to cover up Shayna Jack’s positive doping test by reducing her absence to “personal reasons”
  • Didn’t inform the public or offering a spokesperson to media
  • Allowed media to talk to swimmers and made Cate Campbell speak on behalf of the team
  • Didn’t provide an honest statement to the media, resulting in contradicting Shayna Jack
  • Failed to notify the swimming squad of Jack’s failed test
  • Let Horton make his global stance, knowing it would hang him out to dry once Jack’s news broke
  • Wrongfully pushed the blame on the ASADA agreement
  • Made all coaches and athletes who were aware of the situation stay silent for the three weeks before news broke


What Swimming Australia did right:

  • Sent Shayna Jack home immediately
  • Took accountability for dealing with the media in the wrong way


What Swimming Australia should have done:

  • Informed the Dolphins squad of the situation and offered support
  • Made a single spokesperson available for media
  • Limited media’s access to Shayna and the team, and ensured all media requests were directed to the spokesperson to avoid speculation and misinformation
  • Released a statement as soon as they were aware and held a press conference to offer consistent and accurate messages
  • Supported Shayna Jack in making a statement that aligned with SA
  • Not allowed Mack Horton to make a public stance against China to avoid personal backlash


What Swimming Australia should do now:

  • Ensure completely transparency and accountability is maintained
  • Media train CEO Leigh Russell and ensure all messaging is consistent throughout Swimming Australia
  • Ensure no other swimmers, coaches or members of Swimming Australia talk to media to achieve seamlessness
  • Offer Shayna Jack the necessary media training and support she requires


If you would like to know how KDPR can assist with your own media training or brand management, please get in touch with us today via 3136 2555 or .


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