Madeline Groves exposes culture of misogyny and crime in her sport

Olympic swimming champion Madeline Groves exposes culture of misogyny and abuse in her sport


Twenty-six year old Australian Olympic swimming champion Madeline Groves has revealed that she was sexually abused as a young girl by someone who remains employed in the industry. 

On Wednesday, she opened up to the ABC in an exclusive interview, outlining what she calls a culture of “misogyny” and “perversion” in the sport.

Groves accused two of Australia’s most prominent coaches of misconduct — revealing that she was “molested by an adult male” when she was 13 years old.

She declined to identify her abuser and said she was not intent on pursuing criminal charges. 

She did however make complaints against former head coach of the Western Australian Institute of Sport, Michael Palfrey, her coach in Brisbane for three years when she was twelve.

Groves described the way Palfrey allegedly monitored her diet, and made her and other teenage swimmers weigh themselves on the pool deck, frequently while they were still wet in their swimwear. 

“I would basically go and hide in the bathrooms, or go and hide, like, in another part of the pool area so that I wouldn’t have to do it or they wouldn’t be able to find me,” Groves told the ABC’s 7:30 program.

“There was constant judgement on what we were eating,” she said. 

“I specifically remember on a training camp in New Zealand, I would have been 13 years old, and we weren’t allowed to go into the dining room and eat without our coach being there to witness that we were eating the correct meals.”

“And I remember on a few occasions, me and a few of my friends would sneak into the dining rooms early and basically steal bread and shove it into our pockets so that we would be able to not eat so much in front of him.”

Groves, who spoke to the ABC from London, elaborated on the manipulative culture during her training. 

“I didn’t realise that I really was starving myself, because I had felt like it’s inappropriate to go back and get a second plate of food, or I [didn’t] want to be seen to be eating too much bread or too much pasta.”

“There was a pretty consistent attitude that women were just emotional, high-maintenance beings that were unable to cope with the pressures of high-performance sport.”

“And that it was some sort of inherent failure of women that we weren’t built to handle these pressures and somehow weren’t capable.”

“These comments really started … when I was 12 years old. And I think it’s underestimated how damaging just hearing that type of attitude from such a young age can be and how much it does shape your own behaviour in a way that you are trying to avoid being a target of those comments.”

Groves added that Palfrey would on occasion leave bruises on her body after he demonstrated swimming movements during her training.

“As a 15-year-old, I was sent to a foreign country basically alone with no real support network, having this strange man be the one that was going to look after me,” Groves continued, referring to former Australian national youth coach Glenn Beringen — who was her coach at the Oceania Swimming Championships in Samoa in 2010. 

“There was seemingly no interest in speaking to me when I was clothed,” she continued. “ … but as soon as I was in my togs, it was the time when this person wanted to take me away from the group and have these intimate conversations with me and stand very close to me, inside my personal space and really standing over me and staring and leering at me.”

“And there would be touching of my arm, touching of my lower back, and sometimes he would adjust my tog strap as well.”

In 2017, an independent review was conducted by the Australian Swimmers Association into the FINA World Championships campaign in Hungary. At the time, Groves made a complaint against Beringen. 

Beringen responded to the allegations, saying they were untrue and that he had “fully co-operated with an independent investigation into these allegations, and they were found to be without foundation”.

According to the ABC, Groves was told by Swimming Australia that her claim was “unsubstantiated”, but earlier this year, Swimming Australia did not renew Beringen’s contract. 

“Swimming Australia remains resolute in its commitment to continually improve our sport to ensure it is a safe and thriving environment for all participants from the grassroots through to the elite level,” Swimming Australia said in a statement.

In June, the dual Olympic medallist withdrew from the trials for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and made a series of social media posts which she claims was to expose the “… misogynistic perverts and their bootlickers” in her sport. 

“You can no longer exploit young women and girls, body shame or medically gaslight them and then expect them to represent you so you can earn your annual bonus. Time’s UP,” she tweeted.

In a statement, Swimming Australia said it took Groves’s complaints seriously and have assembled a panel of investigators to investigate issues concerning women and girls in the sport.

They also announced they have referred Groves’ sexual assault allegations to Queensland police.

Watch Madeline Groves’ interview with 7:30, here.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox