Katia's story: On Thin Ice
- Julian Linden, Jessica Halloran / The Daily Telegraph
The first reports that the Russian-born Australian Olympic figure skater Katia Alexandrovskaya had fallen to her death from a sixth-floor apartment in Moscow hardly rated a mention in Australia’s football-obsessed sports pages. Even for a niche sport Down Under, the awkward silence was disturbing. Ice skating insiders did not seem surprised one of their own had taken their life and the officials who had enabled the 15-year-old to switch allegiances from Russia so Australia could enter the pairs event at the 2018 Winter Olympics, saw no need for an inquiry. That was the first clue something was amiss, so Julian Linden and Jessica Hallortan decided to ask the tough, uncomfortable questions no-one wanted to answer. The initial goal was to draw attention to the mental health challenges vulnerable athletes face when their sporting careers end abruptly, as Alexandrovskaya had, but underneath there was something else that led them in a different direction. The two Journalists spent over a month tracking down and interviewing eyewitnesses and experts from as far afield as Australia, Russia, the United States, Canada, Netherlands, Monaco and Singapore and it soon became apparent why authorities wanted to keep quiet. The investigations exposed serious weaknesses of accountability in the regulations and protocols that are supposed to protect the wellbeing of underage athletes in Australia’s high-performance programs. They exclusively revealed that Alexandrovskaya had suffered concussions and seizures that were not reported, was struggling emotionally and physically, and had become alcohol dependent after the sudden passing of her own father. These red flag issues are meant to be covered under the regulations and protocols for athlete protection - but were never reported or investigated - partly because of the secret code of silence that operates in many sports. We frequently encountered pushback ourselves during our investigation, but managed to break through the wall of silence and publish a series of groundbreaking articles that have already led to proposals for historic reforms that will better safeguard child athletes. As a result of our investigation, the Australian Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Games Australia and Paralympics Australia (representing 53 sports combined), announced they would develop an independent framework on member protection issues, effectively taking the reporting and investigations of abuse away from individual sports to avoid conflicts of interest. The Australian Human Rights Commission also announced it will recommend its findings from the current inquiry into gymnastics be adopted across all sports and the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia said it will review its own policies and procedures. Significantly, the International Skating Union also announced it will consider raising the age of Olympic figure skaters from 15 to 17.