USA Swimming under fire for covering up cases of sexual abuse
21.02.2018By Stine Alvad
For more than 20 years, USA Swimming has failed to address a culture of abuse of young athletes by their coaches, says a new report into USA Swimming carried out by the Southern California News Group who has been looking at court documents, reports, notes and other internal correspondence from USA Swimming. The findings of the report were published in the Orange County Register (OCR) on 16 February 2018.
The extensive report claims that the leadership of the US swimming body, led by executive director Chuck Wielgus from 1997 until his death in April 2017, knew about coaches that misused their position and engaged in abusive behavior towards the athletes they were training.
“USA Swimming repeatedly missed opportunities to overhaul a culture within American swimming where the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches, according to the documents and interviews with sexual abuse survivors, former Olympians, USA Swimming officials, safe sport advocates and some of USA Swimming’s leading financial benefactors,” the report says.
The report has found that since 1997 a minimum of 252 coaches have been either “arrested, charged by prosecutors, or disciplined by USA for sexual abuse or misconduct against individuals under 18” affecting more than 590 alleged victims.
Ignoring warnings and reports
Another point highlighted in the report is how the governing body not only ignored warnings and reports about abuse but also failed to act on cases of abuse. Since 2010, USA Swimming is said to have kept a list of at least 32 coaches and officials that had been “flagged” but not disciplined by the federation even though certain names on the list had either been arrested or accused by law enforcement of sex crimes including rape and child pornography.
According to the report, the top priority of USA Swimming has not been protecting young swimmers against sexual abuse, something confirmed by Wielgus in a 2010 deposition.
“Instead,” writes OCR, “USA Swimming officials have been driven by Olympic success and attracting corporate sponsors” and to ‘protect the brand’ of swimming.
In between 2006 and 2016 USA Swimming spent 7,450,000 USD on legal fees according to financial records something that could hint to the efforts USA Swimming has put into keeping cases away from the public eye. Although it is not disclosed how much of the money went towards abuse cases, it is known that in at least three states, settlement agreements have been arranged with victims of alleged abuse by swim coaches before the case went to court, the OCR writes.
The swimming federation is also said to have paid a lobbying form to work against a legislation that would give victims of sexual abuse more time to file a suit.
Calls for action and for putting the athlete first
In the article outlining the results of the report, several sources urge the need for a change of leadership to eradicate the abuse culture described in the report.
B. Robert Allard, an attorney who has represented swimmers who were sexually abused by their coaches, calls for a complete change of leadership.
“We are hereby demanding the immediate removal of USA Swimming’s entire Executive Leadership Team,” he says to the OCR. “Only then we can ensure that USA Swimming will have leaders in place who take child protection seriously and won’t turn a blind eye to childhood sexual abuse because of a desire to preserve image and reputation and consequently monetary interests.”
The fact that USA Swimming has failed to address the issue with reforms that could help secure a change of culture, is a sign that the federation is designed to protect the institution rather than the athlete, says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming champion and founder of Champion Women, an advocacy group for girls and women in sports.
“The victim is not their client. The actions that are designed to protect the institution from legal liability instead of protecting the organization from being infested with molesting coaches,” she says about USA Swimming’s failure to implement effective policies addressing a known issue.
“It isn’t new”
According to Laura Robinson, a Canadian journalist who has been investigating several abuse cases, these recent cases do not stand alone. In a series of two articles entitled “It isn’t new”, published on Truthdig.com, Robinson takes the readers back to 1972 and through a line of examples of how athletes have been subject to abuse that have gone unaddressed by the officials in charge in spite of reports.
According to Robinson, the last person to benefit from the Olympic system is the athlete.
“Athletes shoulder the physical and emotional risks as disposable commodities,“ Robinson writes.
The swimming expose comes only weeks after USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was convicted for having abused hundreds of young athletes while working with US Gymnastics. The case has led to the resignation of the entire board of US Gymnastics and a senate investigation into how the federation could have let the assaults take place.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce in the US Congress is currently investigating abuse cases in other organised sports, including swimming as well as the US Olympic Committee.
At the time of publication of the OCR report, USA Swimming had not responded to requests for comments to the allegations. And so far, there has been no official comment from the swimming body.
Update 23 February 2018:
On 22 February 2018, US Swimming sent out an official letter commenting on the allegations put forward in the OCR report.
"While we disagree on several of the reported statements and many of the conclusions in recent media reports, members were failed, and we are doing everything we can to make sure it never happens again," says the letter, signed by Tim Hinchey III, USA Swimming President and CEO,
Read the full report about abuse in US swimming in the Orange County Register:
- 100s of USA swimmers were sexually abused for decades and the people in charge knew and ignored it, investigation finds
Read Laura Robinson's comment pieces on TruthDig:
Karen Leach, former swimmer and abuse victim shared her personal story at Play the Game 2017. Read more: