BEC: Is being a boy an excuse to behave badly?

The story was talked about on Channel 9 this morning…


At 7.11am today, my buttons were pushed in a big, big way. Because I watched a young woman excuse allegations of sexual harassment by a group of young men as “boys will be boys”.

More on that in a second.

I was sitting in my pyjamas throwing food to the zoo animals  feeding my children with one eye on the Today Show this morning when Karl Stefanovic introduced yet another piece on the ‘toxic culture’ in the Australian swim team who represented us at the London Olympics last year.

I’m not a huge sporting fan but I’ve been following this story with interest.

Much of the focus in recent days has been on the male freestyle relay team made up of James Magnussen, James Roberts, Cameron McEvoy, Matt Targett, Eamon Sullivan and Tommaso D’Orsogna.

There have been accusations of favouritism, poor sportsmanship, arrogance and a general toxic culture and lack of team spirit much of which has been attributed to these men. In the past 24 hours there’s also been details of a night-time rampage when a number of the men mixed the prescription drug Stillnox (banned by the AOC) with Red Bull and spent a night in the Manchester training camp harrassing female swimmer Jade Neilsen and her roommate.

They referred to this incident as “team bonding”.

Here’s how it was reported this morning on

Today’s Daily Telegraph. That’s Jade Neilson on the cover.

Neilsen and her roommate at the team staging camp in Manchester were awoken by late night phone calls, door knocking and disruptive behaviour by James Magnussen, James Roberts and Cameron McEvoy.

“I will confirm that they were being inappropriate and it was towards (name withheld) and I,” Neilsen said.

“I won’t specifically say (what happened). It has sort of already come out pretty much what they’ve done.

“All I can say is their behaviour was completely inappropriate, it was so inappropriate it was not funny. That is all I can really say about that.”

It’s not my job to play judge and jury and I will be interested to watch these young men front a media conference today to tell their side of the story.

But it was the interview Karl Stefanovic did this morning with London Olympic team member Cate Campbell which strangled my heart.

Campbell – a swimmer – was asked for her take on the situation. Had she heard about the incident (of the male swimmers harassing two female swimmers) at the time?  What did she think?

Cate Campbell

The answers she gave were clearly scripted by a PR team (She hadn’t heard anything about it. Oh wait, yes she had but she refused to give credence to rumours.  She applauded the men for being willing to come forward and take ownership blah blah blah.  Campbell seemed at pains to be seen to be on Team Men’s Relay rather than giving any support to her fellow female swimmers. As though she didn’t want the ‘cool group’ to dislike her.  That’s fine, I suppose.  The jury is still out.)


But it was the next part of the interview that left me stunned.

Were the allegations of harassment to be true, Campbell explained away the behaviour  – of the men’s team harassing two female swimmers, of barging into their rooms in their underwear, lying on their beds and (I am making an assumption here: making inappropriate comments or actions towards the female swimmers) as “boys will be boys”.


Cate Campbell is not on trial.  But to say I’m disappointed to hear a young woman excuse allegations of sexual harassment by a group of men as “boys will be boys”  makes my skin crawl. Young men who are physically imposing. Young men who had a God-like, untouchable status in that team.

Boys will be boys.

Cate, sexual harassment is sexual harassment. It’s not ‘a bit of fun’ or ‘boys will be boys’.  It’s not ‘just what guys do when they’ve had too much to drink’ (or indeed mixed Stillnox with Red Bull). It’s not up to women to ‘get a sense of humour’ or to ‘lighten up.

It’s sexual harassment.  It’s illegal.  And it’s inexcusable.

And if any or all of the male relay swim team were involved in such behaviour – they should be sacked. They should lose their taxpayer funded scholarships at the Australian Institute of Sport.

And what today’s interview taught me is this:  we have a long way to go in teaching young male sports stars how to behave appropriately around women.  But equally, we have a long way to go into teaching women about what constitutes sexual harassment.

 What do you think of the men’s actions? What do you think of Cate Campbell’s comments?