Swim bosses fought for Scott Volkers despite abuse claims: commission

Executive backing: Scott Volkers. Photo: Col TownsendSenior swimming administrators fought to retain swimming coach Scott Volkers in the face of serious abuse allegations and a formal determination that he should not work with children, the royal commission into child sexual abuse has heard.

The executives defended their decisions to back the coach, saying they were trying to do the best for swimming.

The commission heard on Tuesday that, in 2008, five years after Queensland authorities dropped nine child sex charges against Mr Volkers, he tried and failed to obtain a working-with-children accreditation following a change in the state’s laws.

A second attempt to get the so-called “blue card” the following year – and two subsequent appeals – also failed after the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Mr Volkers posed an “unacceptable risk to children”.

Despite this, in 2009, the head of the Queensland Academy of Sport Bennett King decided to renew the coach’s contract.

Also in 2009, he began discussing transferring Mr Volkers to Swimming Queensland. As that body was not a government entity, he would not need a blue card.

“You were taking all steps to ensure that his employment continued, literally, up until the day that it became untenable,” counsel assisting the commission Caroline Spruce said to Mr King.

“He was good at what he was doing,” Mr King replied.

Mr King later conceded that, had he had “more information”, he might have made a different decision.

But there was no such admission from Mr King’s predecessor at the academy Alexander Baumann who backed Mr Volkers during his tenure from 2002 to 2006 and continues to do so.

“I still believe, in terms of, even upon reflection, that he was a suitable person,” Mr Baumann said.

This was despite the fact that, in 2005, Mr Baumann became aware of a sexual abuse complaint against Mr Volkers from a young swimmer he coached in the late 1990s.

The woman, whose complaint was made through the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, said Mr Volkers had groped her breasts and tried to stimulate her vagina when she was 15, under the pretence of giving her a massage.

The allegations were strikingly similar to those made four years before by three more of Mr Volkers’ swimmers, Julie Gilbert, Kylie Rogers and Simone Boyce. The claims were ultimately abandoned by Queensland authorities and did not proceed to trial.

But Mr Baumann told the hearing he was not aware of the facts of the allegation because the Queensland Department of Legal Services was investigating, and had decided not to investigate further.

“I did not see that,” the former school teacher said of the woman’s police statement.

Mr Baumann continued to support Mr Volkers’ position as a “coach’s mentor”, despite the fact this brought him into direct contact with swimmers under the age of 18 on occasions, and did not raise the allegations with him at his regular performance reviews.

“His conduct at the Queensland Academy of Sport was in line with the top leading coaches,” said Mr Baumann, who is now the chief executive of High Performance Sport New Zealand.

“We got very positive feedback in terms of the role he was performing.”

The hearing continues.

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