Former SA champion swimmer alleges he was sexually abused by Australian coach – report

Competitors in the Men's 50m Freestyle Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 12 August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Competitors in the Men's 50m Freestyle Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 12 August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
PHOTO: Adam Pretty/Getty Images
  • Australian swimming coach John Wright is alleged to have sexually abused Anthony Rocchi for a period of six months in 1998.
  • Rocchi opened up about his experience after reading ABC News' exposé about Wright's history of alleged sex abuse.
  • Australian swimmer Shane Lewis, who died in February, is among those who alleged that he was sexually abused by Wright.

A former South African junior swimming champion has blown the whistle on Australian coach John Wright, alleging the trainer sexually abused him once or twice a week for six months in 1998.

Australia's ABC News reported last week that Anthony Rocchi was allegedly sexually abused by Wright, when Rocchi trained for an event in Durban at the time.

Wright trained children on the Gold Coast before moving to South Africa to coach children in Johannesburg.

Rocchi met Wright in Pretoria in 1991, when he was 11 years old.

In 1998, after taking a year off swimming to complete school, 18-year-old Rocchi decided to make a comeback to the sport.

ABC reported that Wright offered to train Rocchi, one-on-one, in Durban to prepare for the World Championships due to be held in Hong Kong.

'I was terrified'

Rocchi moved from his Johannesburg home to Durban.

"And so, John sat me down and said: 'Well, let's go for this, go for Hong Kong'," Rocchi told ABC News.

The former swimmer, now aged 41, detailed how Wright one Saturday invited him to his house in Durban, where they watched tapes of former Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

When the evening ended, it was dark and Rocchi could not return home. He figured he would just sleep on the couch, but Wright allegedly insisted that they share a bed.

"I told him that I don't share a bed with another man. But he persisted. And so I spent that whole night on the edge of the bed, almost falling off with him pressing himself against me.

"I was terrified. I was afraid. I was lonely. And I was a few months away from the most important race of my life," Rocchi said.

READ | Woman who laid rape charge against top swim coach wants Swimming SA to release investigation report

He alleged that, after that incident, Wright would drive him to his apartment after practices and would allegedly invite himself up to his room, where he would allegedly be sexually abused.

"If he stayed over, he would stay in the master bedroom. I would just get up, get dressed, and go to my room where I was living... and often just cry myself to sleep.

"He would abuse me before and after my swimming races, the trials for the World Championships. When I got to the trials, my psychological state was just so weakened that I couldn't post the same times that I had swum for four or five weeks prior."

Rocchi has spoken for the first time following an ABC exposé on Wright two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, ABC News revealed that, before his death in February, Australian swimmer Shane Lewis told his friends and family that he was sexually abused by Wright.

ABC reported that, in 2016, Lewis complained to Swimming Australia about Wright, alleging that he was sexually abused at Brisbane's Chandler pool in the 1980s.

Following Lewis' death, two other former swimmers have told ABC that they were molested by Wright at the Brisbane pool around the same time, the publication reported.

Rocchi detailed in the report how he had had to lie to people and tell them he was not good enough for the Olympic Games.

"And today, I can tell people that I was good enough, but that my dreams were destroyed by this horrible man."

In 2015, when Rocchi saw a Facebook post of Wright coaching children in South Africa, he wrote a complaint to Swimming South Africa (SSA).

He reportedly followed up on his complaint with SSA this year, after watching the Tokyo Olympic Games, and reported the matter to the police.

The swimmer said he wondered why SSA and Australia had not reached out to each other regarding Wright.

ABC reported that SSA chief executive Shaun Adriaanse wrote to Rocchi recently about the 2015 complaint.

"Although the alleged perpetrator was not a SSA member at the time, SSA took immediate action to make sure that the alleged perpetrator was removed from the pool deck and training camp.

"As to a subsequent complaint and enquiry regarding disciplinary action, we wish to inform you that SSA only has jurisdiction over its members for misconduct. The alleged perpetrator is and was not a SSA member and, as such, SSA is not in a position to act against the alleged perpetrator."

Swimming SA

This is one of many complaints SSA is dealing with regarding allegations of wrongdoing involving coaches.

Two weeks ago, News24 sent a list of questions to the swimming governing body concerning a complaint by a Durban woman, who alleged that a coach registered with SSA raped her in 1979, when she was 10 years old.

She opened a criminal case, which has not yet been finalised.

The complainant, and activist groups Women and Men Against Child Abuse, and Athletes Against Child Abuse, were outraged to learn that the same coach was travelling to Ghana – with children – for a championship.

In response to News24, Adriaanse did not answer to questions directly related to the trip, but acknowledged the pending criminal case.

"In summary, the complainant in the matter has decided not to participate in the SSA disciplinary procedure, subject to the finalisation of a criminal investigation. Noting the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Act, you will appreciate that SSA is unable to comment as the rights of all parties related to this matter need to be protected so as not to compromise the judicial process," the CEO said.

News24 has sent follow-up questions to the body.

My Only Story

In recent weeks, News24 has shone the spotlight on the safety of children competing in water polo in the second season of the My Only Story podcast.

The live investigation has revealed a litany of allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former St Andrew's College water polo coach David Mackenzie. Episode four of the series revealed claims that Mackenzie's former coach – Dean Carelse – admitted to his then-boyfriend that he had a sexual encounter with a minor child.

Carelse is currently being held in an Australian prison as he awaits trial on child pornography charges and for allegedly grooming a boy via Instagram.

We want to hear your views on the news. Subscribe to News24 to be part of the conversation in the comments section of this article.

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