26 Oct 2018

Olympic champion's fall from grace

12:20 pm on 26 October 2018

The fall from grace of Olympic champion Hamish Carter is staggering,

Hamish Carter wins the Olympic triathlon in Athens in 2004.

Hamish Carter wins the Olympic triathlon in Athens in 2004. Photo: Photosport

Lauded for his Olympic triathlon gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and named New Zealand sportsman of the year, his betrayal of trust of fellow Olympians undermines so much of what is good in sport.

As an athlete Hamish Carter wasn't afraid to speak out.

It's a shame that forthright nature now appears to have deserted him and he's reticent to front up at the very time he should.

Carter was working for High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) and has been revealed as the leaker of what was supposed to be confidential information, to former national track cycling coach Anthony Peden.

In the wake of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Cycling New Zealand carried out a review of its performance in Brazil.

No caption

Photo: Photosport

The Cycling New Zealand programme, as we subsequently learnt through the recently released independent report by former solicitor-general Michael Heron QC, was blighted with problems mostly centred around Peden.

Carter was heavily involved in the Rio Olympic review and the information team members offered up to that review was provided on the basis of anonymity.

Carter however, for some reason yet to be explained, decided to pass the comments and feedback from athletes on to Peden. At best, this is a severe case or poor judgement or lack of understanding of the process, but it seems we may never know his motives.

In a statement Carter said "I want to assure all athletes and other stakeholders with whom I have worked over the years that my overarching priority has always been to support them and their success."

How passing on their thoughts of a bullying coach to the coach himself would aid athletes is difficult to fathom.

You could understand if others who have told him things in confidence are now feeling a little nervous.

Hamish Carter

Hamish Carter Photo: Photosport

Was he mates with Peden? Did he think the complaints about Peden were from team members who he saw as simply whiners and who needed to toughen up? Or was it some misguided belief that it may help Peden somehow improve as a coach?

While Carter passed on the feedback to Peden he didn't pass on the comments to the Cycling New Zealand hierarchy about the issues within the camp.

Now there are several issues quite apart from the monumental breach of trust.

Athletes' trust in Cycling New Zealand and HPSNZ is no doubt in tatters but they were sold out by one of their own - a former athlete.

Aside from the breach of trust, Carter's actions allowed Peden's bullying to go on unabated.

Peden was further able to single out cyclists who had raised concerns about him and further exacerbated the toxic culture and dysfunctional nature of the track programme.

Michael Heron QC

Michael Heron QC Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

When the Heron report was released HPSNZ chief executive Michael Scott said at the time the distribution of the confidential testimonies to Peden was "the area of the report that concerns me the most".

"Confidentiality is fundamental to having a trustful relationship with our athletes".

But the silence from Cycling New Zealand, HPSNZ and Sport NZ in the wake of Carter's fall from grace is deafening.

Yes there was a brief statement simply announcing Carter had resigned, but a refusal from all the parties to talk publicly.

It only underlines the existence of "the old boys club" which Michael Heron spoke of in his report and which now has closed ranks seemingly to protect Carter.

The lack of leadership and accountability Heron spoke of too, is again highlighted.

In his statement Carter said he accepted "full responsibility...(and) I want to take this opportunity to sincerely apologise to those athletes and staff affected by my error."

Taking reponsibility also involves fronting.

Has he contacted the athletes involved and personally apologised or are a few trite lines in a statement all they are getting?

"I feel very sad to be moving away from sport, something I truly love and am passionate about," the statement said.

"I hope that one day I can return, but for now I need some time away."

It remains to be seen whether the "old boys club" will still be there to welcome him back.