Tom Daley’s mum Debbie Daley has gone into full-on protective lioness mode after her son has been publicly dissed by British Swimming chief executive, David Sparks.
The swimming boss wasn’t impressed by Tom’s decision to take part on the new ITV1 diving show Splash! while he’s still a competitive diver. Last February, Dave also made some negative remarks about Tom’s commitments outside of diving, suggesting that these distractions could stop the 18-year-old from fulfilling his potential. Harsh!
So, it’s no wonder that Debbie has decided to speak out in defense of her boy… Here we’ve republished the best bits from her letter in The Mail.
Dear Mr Sparkes,
We last spoke at Loughborough in June 2011 after you asked for Tom to do a favour for you and open a sports park at Loughborough. I don't believe that you spoke much to Tom directly in 2012, other than to briefly congratulate him on his medal. Since the media is your preferred method of communication, I thought that I should do the same.
As Tom's mum, I take a lot of pride in the way he handles himself. I am sure that he will make mistakes along the way, but to date he is doing a lot right. I find it incredible that you want to criticise him so publicly, when he does so much for your organisation and for sport in the UK - and worse, you do it by giving your opinion without any thought. You did not speak to Tom - or his agent - first. Is this a good way for a CEO to operate?
As far as I'm aware, Tom was one of the few major success stories for British Swimming this summer... and possibly one of the athletes that helped you retain your job. Others say that your performance was the worst of any CEO in British sport. Surely you should be thanking Tom and showing your support and gratitude?
His target was to achieve a medal and he delivered, becoming the first British individual diver in 52 years to get an Olympic medal. Not only this, but immediately after the Games, when most athletes were enjoying themselves, Tom went back to intense training for five weeks to prepare for the Junior World Championships.
Everyone else was taking long holidays, partying, celebrating exams, while Tom had to get straight back to diving. You must remember what you did the summer you were 18 years old? We even discussed with Andy the option of him backing out of the competition. I was concerned Tom would crumble as the impact of the previous 24 months finally came on top of him.
Perhaps you need to be reminded that not only was Tom taking on the pressures of the biggest sporting event in his life, not to mention a home Games, but during this period he also lost his biggest supporter, his dad.
My bond with my son has always been strong but Rob was Tom's rock, friend and role model; he would be spitting mad if he had read your media attacks on him over the past 12 months and would have given you a franker view than mine.
However, Tom didn't want to back out. While the competition had no real incentive for him, Tom had made the commitment to his performance director Alexei Evangulov and to British Diving and - despite me trying to convince him otherwise - he got his head down and ploughed on. He said he'd take a break after, so what was five more weeks of training?
Any mum will know that for an 18-year-old to make this decision requires a lot of self-discipline. Tom was being offered opportunities left, right and centre to appear at exciting award ceremonies, red-carpet events, five-star holidays, not to mention the fact he hadn't 'hung out' with his friends for the past four months.
So off to Australia he went alone (none of his direct coaching team went, which highlights the importance of this competition) and he came away with not just one, but two gold medals - one in an event he doesn't normally compete in. I was so proud of him. A great way to end the year. Now it was about time for my son to have some fun and let his hair down. He had done his job. He had also played a key role in funding your organisation. So can you not see why I'm so angry with your lack of support?
Your comments in February 2012 were a big enough blow: Tom was five months away from the biggest competition in his life where he should have as much support as possible \
Best path for success
Tom has always worked his hardest when it comes to his training. Diving has always taken priority. We have all worked closely with Tom's coaching team (Andy and Alexei) plus Tom's agents to create a plan that ensures he has the best path for success.
Do you communicate with anyone, David? Perhaps you should try to talk to Tom? Of course the headlines make you look important and help protect you should Tom not deliver any medals. Wouldn't it be better to work with one of your most important athletes rather than against him?
Tom trained in December, also attending an intensive training camp the week before Christmas, and continues to train this month. Splash! is now one weekend day of his time. His coach and mentor is also part of the show. If you were worried, why did you not speak to Andy? If you had actually watched Splash! you would have seen him as a judge.
I am sure that he will always be the best he can be in his sport. Splash! is an appropriate show for Tom. Yes, it can improve following the first show. However, a lot of grandparents, mums, teenagers and kids loved it.
As you did not watch the show, I can tell you that it is a diving show and it promotes a key sport that is under your leadership.
A leader should motivate his team
You told Tom's agent on Monday that it would do nothing to help the sport in the UK. How ironic to see that your marketing department has today promoted watching Splash! on Twitter to British Swimming's followers. So you are worried about Tom's performances? Well, I am worried about yours.
A leader should motivate his team, not make them think: 'Why do I bother?' Did you speak out to protect your UK Sport funding and be seen to do the right thing for them? Well, if UK Sport want to demotivate the key person in a sport, carry on David. Good work.
While you may want Tom to do more training, I would like you to do leadership, media and motivation courses. Tom may benefit from some UK Sport funding but he has to fund his own life from sponsorship and media work. When the Splash! opportunity came to us, it was a completely appropriate one for him and we also believed that it would help our sport long term - there is not a lot of diving or swimming for that matter on television, David. That is meant to be your job.
Tom, though, is just giving some advice and encouragement - and having some fun. I am glad that he is doing Splash! even though I don't like to read negative reviews of the show. Those opinions, though, I can handle. Yours I would like you to manage given your role within the sport and the impact that it is having on my son.
Well said, Debbie!