Games cover-up: Kiwi star was drunk, say witnesses

By Andrew Alderson

Some in the swimming community feel Bell gets special treatment. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Some in the swimming community feel Bell gets special treatment. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Witnesses have come forward claiming medallist Daniel Bell was far more affected by alcohol than the "couple of beers" assessment Swimming New Zealand gave when they sent the backstroker home early from the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The Herald on Sunday has spoken to several athletes who saw the 100m backstroke silver medallist after he finished competition. All say Bell was drunk.

It is not known how many drinks Bell had but one source said that despite his regimented training programme "no one could have been that drunk after two beers". Another said Bell had to be helped to stand.

The incident happened after a team function at a bar in the village, involving competitors from different sports.

One athlete said: "They are trying to bury it. The process [taking Bell to task and helping him with any issues] was not completed, in my view."

Bell has had trouble with alcohol at two previous high-profile events - the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the world championships in Rome last year.

Fellow Kiwi swimmers Dean Kent, Corney Swanepoel and Cameron Gibson were expelled from the team and the athletes' village at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after taking a photo of a drunk Bell on a toilet.

Last year the 20-year-old was admitted to hospital in Rome after drinking too much following the world championships.

In Delhi, Swimming New Zealand's "couple of beers" comment implied that Bell had transgressed by a piffling amount. The implication was that he had conducted himself responsibly enough - but had fallen foul of a tough, zero-tolerance rule.

There was more than a measure of public sympathy for a medallist sent home for a perceived minor infraction.

The Herald on Sunday could not contact Bell yesterday.

His mother would not comment and was asked to pass on a request to speak to him, but he did not phone back.

Jan Cameron, Swimming NZ's general manager of performance and pathways, did not return calls.

However, anger has emerged within the swimming community at what some say is a cover-up. One source claimed Bell was seen as being "above the law", his conduct subject to protection by swimming authorities.

Another source said: "He has a favoured relationship [with SNZ] that extends beyond character or talent. He understands people will bend over for him."

There is also frustration in swimming circles that the zero-tolerance alcohol policy during camps or competition was instigated only because of Bell's antics before Delhi.

Bell is reported to have been hard on himself in Delhi for relapsing into such a boozed state and had the courage to front officials without prompting to explain his actions.

He was described by one athlete as "kicking himself about it".

- Herald on Sunday

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