Ellie Simmonds opens up on Team GB bullying claims: ‘I was walking on eggshells’

Ellie Simmonds – Ellie Simmonds opens up on Team GB bullying claims: 'I was walking on eggshells'
Ellie Simmonds was one of the most recognised athletes in the Team GB para-swimming team - PA/Andrew Matthews

Ellie Simmonds has accused one of her coaches of mistreating her in what she branded a “hostile environment” within British Swimming.

Simmons spoke out over the “climate of fear” found to have existed in the organisation’s para-swimming programme by an inquiry triggered by multiple complaints – including by medallists – lodged in the wake of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The five-time Paralympic champion accused an unnamed coach of telling her she was “not good”, trying to control her life outside the pool, and subjecting her to constant checks on her weight and “skin folds”.

She also claimed others had failed to stop behaviour she was not alone in enduring.

Speaking to the Starting Line podcast with Rich Leigh, Simmonds said a hostile environment had “definitely” begun to develop after London 2012.

“A lot of people retired and moved on after London. I think lots of people had stayed on because it’s London 2012, like the home Olympics and Paralympics.

“So, it definitely changed. And we had a new performance director and whole new perception of Paralympics and disability.

“It wasn’t just one person. Well, it was one person, but I think to let that… for that one person to do what he did, other people are aware of it and they don’t help, in a sense, us athletes. So I think there was, there’s definitely a group involvement for sure.

“The environment was, you were going in and you’re walking on eggshells.”

Simmonds said she had confided in her team-mates about it, adding: “We talk about it and think, ‘How did we go through all of that?’ But it’s really hard to describe it to other people.

“It’s just like getting told that you’re not good at something all the time, told that you’re restricted on what you can do outside of the pool. You get weighed all the time, like skin folds, all that.

“I thought I was good at swimming. And when you get told that you’re not good, it definitely can affect your confidence.

“Someone who’s got that authority, who’s got that certain personality that, you feel very little.”

Simmonds spoke out almost seven years after a British Swimming coach was found to have created “a climate of fear” among disabled athletes and used “derogatory terms” to describe them.

The governing body also announced disciplinary action had been taken against a second “member of staff” following a months-long independent investigation which interviewed 13 athletes.

Ahead of the launch of that investigation conducted by two former police officers and a lead investigator experienced in safeguarding in sport, the coach at the centre of the case left his job.

Maurice Watkins, the then chairman of British Swimming, said: “I want to apologise to the British para-swimming athletes and their families who have faced unacceptable behaviours and comments. I have written to those athletes and their families who I understand have been affected by this.

“In the pursuit of excellence, we recognise there have been failings in the culture and communication within British para-swimming. We are correcting that, recognising the need to ensure strong athlete welfare in our sport.”

Simmonds retired from competitive swimming after the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021.