EXCLUSIVE: Tom's Olympic medal probably kept you in your job. He turned down his friends and holidays to keep diving after the Games. Isn't it time you left my son alone
22:00 GMT, 9 January 2013
11:12 GMT, 10 January 2013
British Swimming chief executive David Sparkes this week criticised Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley's decision to appear on ITV's Saturday night diving show Splash!, saying the 18-year-old should have waited until the end of his competitive career.
Last February, Sparkes hit out at Daley's non-diving commitments, agreeing with British Diving's performance director that Daley was in danger of failing to fulfil his talent.
Here, Daley's mother Debbie responds…
Belly-flop: Tom Daley has been criticised by the chief of British Swimming for his part in TV show Splash!
Slated: British Swimming chief David Sparkes (left) said he was concerned Daley was not paying enough attention to his diving career by appearing on television
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
Statement: Debbie Daley has written an open letter to the man who has accused her son of putting fame ahead of diving
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. Since you didn't speak with Tom during this period, let
me shed some light on how he coped.
Mentor: Daley sat beside the pool applauding his students as they dived in
Making a Splash! Vernon Kay and Gabby Logan co-host the television programme
All smiles: Daley (right) was accused of 'putting the cart before the horse' in his media appearances
For an individual who is normally so
motivated, going back to intense training after the climax of the Games
was a real struggle: I'm sure he won't mind me saying he lacked drive
and motivation. Andy Banks, his coach, expressed concern that this was
being reflected in his training.
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.
Success: Daley claimed bronze at the London Games
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
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 and you
spoke out to him via the media after Alexei had let emotion take over at
a press conference and after Tom's team had met your team to discuss
the real issues.
Pressure: Daley was under intense scrutiny during and in the build up to last summer's Games
As it turned out, one of the issues
then was that there was a lack of funding for a masseur for Tom, which
Alexei wanted… so Tom – not British Swimming – funded this. From memory it cost Tom 3,000. We said nothing at the time.
The other issue was a trip to Sydney
Zoo organised by British Swimming where he was swamped by fans. Alexei
hated this. However, British Swimming – not Tom – organised the visit.
So to now see your remarks three-and-a-half years before the next
Olympics makes me so angry.
A leader should motivate his team,
not make them think: 'Why do I bother'
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
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
Had you been kept up to date you
would know that we all agreed to keep Tom's commercial days to a minimum
and ensured no training was missed in the two years prior to the Games
unless approved by everybody.
The irony is that while all Tom's
sponsors respected this and used no days in the months leading up to the
Games, the only request that was not originally approved came from
British Swimming. Funny how things change when it suits British
It's also baffling that you openly
criticise Tom when you yourself have called in special favours for Tom
to make appearances (such as that eight-hour trip to Loughborough in
2011 when I last saw you).
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.
The Chinese comparisons really annoy
me – and I know that they annoy Tom. He was not born in Beijing. He was
born in Plymouth. I saw a documentary a few years ago which showed the
Chinese boot-camp style of training in sport. This is not Tom. He would
not function if his life was just diving.
He is very bright, works incredibly
hard and over the last 10 years has given up so much to focus on his
2012 Olympic goal. I know that he will do the same for 2016. However,
Tom is never going to lead a lifestyle similar to a Chinese diver.
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.
Cringe-making: Sugababe Jade Ewen (left) and Omid Djalili take the plunge on the show
Oh dear: The likes of Helen Lederer are taught to dive by Daley in the ITV show
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.