By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Six top Australian swimmers have been warned against their future conduct and told they risk being excluded from the 2016 Olympics after an Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) probe into their conduct in the run-up to last year's London Games.
World 100 meters freestyle champion James Magnussen and his 4x100 relay team mates were fined and given deferred suspensions by Swimming Australia in April for using a banned sedative and indulging in pranks in a bonding session before the Games.
The AOC report decided that those punishments were sufficient but warned that any "further conduct which brings them or their sport into disrepute" would be "likely to render them ineligible for selection to the 2016 Olympic team".
Furthermore, AOC president John Coates said, any more incidents would make the swimmers "jointly and severally liable" for the up to A$150,000 ($135,300) costs of the investigation.
"This is the yellow card," Coates told a news conference.
"There's just no excuse for this sort of behavior, these are financially well-supported swimmers, some of them had a number of Olympic Games, so I'm disappointed with that."
Magnussen was hot favorite to win the 100m in London, but came away with the silver, while the hotly-tipped relay team finished out of the medals as Australia slipped to their worst performance in the Olympic pool for 20 years.
Matt Targett, Eamon Sullivan, James Roberts, Cameron McEvoy and Tommaso D'Orsogna and Magnussen admitted in February they had used the sedative Stilnox and been involved in "childish" pranks at their training camp in Manchester before the Games.
Stilnox, a brand of the medication zolpidem, is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency but was prohibited by the AOC just before the London Games after former Olympic champion Grant Hackett said he had become addicted to it.
The report said the conduct of the swimmers "which involved behavior towards some female swimmers in the team that was 'boorish', selfish, obnoxious and disrespectful" did not amount to "bullying or harassment".
The swimmers were also given the benefit of the doubt in that they believed the ban on Stilnox would not come into effect until the team entered the athletes' village in London.
The probe had failed to uncover any evidence that one relay swimmer had given another a Stilnox pill on the flight back from London to Sydney but if evidence does emerge it would be regarded "very seriously".
Coates said the Swimming Australia fines amounted to between 25 and 100 percent of a quarter of the swimmers' annual athlete support grant.
The AOC report also criticized Swimming Australia for not informing the Olympic team management of the incident and instructing head swimming coach Leigh Nugent, who has since resigned, not to do so.
"I am disappointed that we didn't find out about it, that the management decided to keep it for themselves. That's just not very smart," Coates said.
"(Leigh Nugent) won't ever be on one of our teams again."
Coates announced that Australia would have its first woman Chef de Mission in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with Kitty Chiller replacing London head Nick Green.
Former Olympic champion rower Green, who has children, had decided he would not be able to dedicate sufficient time to the job, Coates said, leaving the way clear for Chiller's appointment.
Chiller was an Olympian in modern pentathlon Sydney in 2000 and a deputy Chef de Mission in London, where Australia finished a disappointing 10th in the medals table.
"I think we've learned a lot of lessons in London," she said. "An event like that is never good to happen, but we can turn it into a positive... we will not shy away from the fact that we have a rightful and realistic place in the top five."
($1 = 1.1083 Australian dollars)
(Editing by John O'Brien)