SURF Life Saving Australia has been rocked by the biggest scandal in the sport’s 105-year history with allegations of sexual assault and cocaine use.
Six members of Australia’s under-20 surf team have been suspended and could face possible criminal charges.
Some of the athletes who were suspended competed at the recent world surf lifesaving championships in Adelaide.
South Australian police have confirmed they are investigating what SLSA described yesterday as “allegations of illicit drug use and possible unlawful assault”.
SLSA chief executive Brett Williamson confirmed to The Daily Telegraph yesterday that three members of an overseas team are also part of the inquiry into the alleged assault.
The International Surf Lifesaving Federation has been informed of the allegations by the president of SLSA, Graham Ford. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency is also involved given cocaine is on its banned drug list.
The surf lifesaving community was in shock yesterday as rumours spread across the country about those who may have been involved.
Williamson said SLSA had launched a full-blown investigation into the allegations and a three-man judiciary panel had been formed to determine any code of conduct breaches. A hearing is set down for December 14-16.
“There’s an investigation under way,” Williamson said. “These are serious allegations which warrant immediate, prompt, objective assessment. We’re going through that process right now.”
Asked if the alleged assault was sexual, Williamson replied: “Yes.”
He would not elaborate on allegations of cocaine use.
“SA police can confirm they are aware of an incident that may have occurred in Adelaide at the world surf lifesaving championships early this month and are following up on the allegations,” South Australian Police said in a statement yesterday.
Williamson said the incidents occurred between November 7 to 18 – the duration of the Rescue 2012 competition, which is held every four years and contested by the world’s leading surf lifesavers.
Athletes from 40 countries were among the 3900 competitors at this year’s event.
Williamson said not all the six members suspended were competitors.”There is absolutely no tolerance for any breach of code of conduct, lack of protection issues, any doping, so any breaches of those are taken very, very seriously,” Williamson said. “We’re not a criminal court of law, so we’re going through the processes and the breach of our code of conduct.”
The Daily Telegraph has been told the incident was filmed by a member of the team. SLSA would not confirm if that was the case.
Williamson said there was no denying the allegations were a black eye for the sport.
“It’s damaging,” he said. “But it’s more damaging not to deal with it properly, thoroughly and in accordance with our rules and our codes. It would be far more damaging if we were to be seen to be not taking this matter serious.
“I’m devastated. But beyond that, I’m feeling very committed because these allegations are not in the fabric or DNA of surf lifesaving generally.
“Of the 165,000 members around Australia, the majority wouldn’t condone the alleged behaviour.”