The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series
- Last week, we sent questions to coaches, athletes and organisations as part of our Safe Sport series. Today – as Scott Blackmun resigns as head of the United States Olympic Committee and USOC makes an announcement on impending changes related to athlete safety and welfare – we bring you the coach-relevant backdrop to questions of abuse and the answers of ASCA director John Leonard
- In the meantime, FINA leadership, though you are not replying but you are reading, note the Blackmun resignation and this aspect of USOC plans: Launching a review of the USOC and NGB governance structure as defined by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, including seeking input from safe sport advocacy groups, the NGB Council, the Athletes’ Advisory Council, current athletes and policymakers to consider clarifications and changes to this structure. As the leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, the USOC must ensure that its governance structure unequivocally provides the ability to oversee and act when necessary to protect athletes.
John Leonard, the director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, has been a great deal more vigilant than most down the years when it comes to spotting a doping cheat here, a spot of corruption and poor governance there, a rotting heap of hypocrisy somewhere else (and calling it all out in the interests of athletes and their coaches). He had his critics, too – and is not shy to tell them where to get off. No surprise, then, to find him tuned into the current debate about who knew what, when and whether USA Swimming has been a good guardian or not.
I invite him to comment on a comment left on social media by one coach. Leonard is clear in his flat-out denial and cuts to the chase without further prompting: “ASCA has no ‘long history of promoting and endorsing prominent, abusive coaches’.”
“We promote great coaches when we know they are great coaches. Rick Curl, Mitch Ivey, Joe Bernal [all of them now on the USA Swimming list of those permanently banned from membership of the federation as a result of Code of Conduct breaches related to offences of a sexual nature]. No question they had fantastic coaching results. We do not violate people’s rights when they are accused or rumoured. We have plenty of examples in this country, where people are falsely accused and ‘Convicted in the media’.”
In words that many will cause some heads to nod, others to shake, he adds: “You can’t judge actions from 1970’s and 80’s by 2018 mores. But that’s what’s happened. We respect due process and the rule of law – and ask all our members to do likewise.”
The list of the permanently banned by USA Swimming gives no precise details of why a coach must go. By a name, appears the relevant section of the Code, Curl, dealt with by these two articles:
- 401.1 GENERAL (1995-1998) — As hereinafter set forth, the USS may censure, suspend for a definite or indefinite period of time with or without terms of probation, fine or expel any members of USS, including any athlete, coach, manager, official, member of any committee, or any person participating in any capacity whatsoever in the affairs of USS, who has violated any of its rules or regulations, or who aids, abets, and encourages another to violate any of its rules or regulations, or who has acted in a manner which brings disrepute upon USS or upon the sport of swimming. USS may also conduct hearings on any matter affecting USS as the national governing body for swimming.
- 450.1 GENERAL (1985) — As herein set forth, the Corporation may censure, suspend for a definite or indefinite period of time with or without terms of probation, or expel any member of the Corporation, including any athlete, coach, manager, official, member of any committee, or any person participating in any capacity whatsoever in the affairs of the Corporation, who has violated any of its rules or regulations, or who has acted in a manner which brings disrepute upon the Corporation or upon the sport of swimming. The Corporation may also conduct hearings on any matter affecting the Corporation as the national governing body for swimming.
Leonard goes back a long way – and therefore remembers the journey better than some of this apt to criticise. He notes:
“In 1989, ASCA passed the first code of ethics in Olympic Sport. We banned sex with underage athletes and also banned sex with adult age athletes whom you are coaching, due to the issues of “imbalance of power”. No one else had anything to say about this until about 1999, when USA-Swimming put in place a Code of Conduct.”
USA Swimming now faces questions on just how it read its own rules and what approach it took when sexual abuse allegations arrived on its desk. Among possibilities is that the federation has paid teenager abuse victims for their silence.
Abuse takes many forms, including some that flow from poor governance. On that point, Leonard reserves criticism for his fellow coaches. Asked what was the view of coaches on USA Swimming’s backing for an international federation that overlooks and/or skews its own rules to suit its politics, Leonard replies:
“There is no “view of American Coaches” as you well know. 95% have no idea what you are talking about. The 5% who do know, probably 95% of them feel that USA-Swimming has fulfilled the needs of the Olympic Circus and not the sport of swimming. I don’t know that it can be changed. I have been trying since 1985 with no result.”
Asked if he felt that the current process of dealing with abuse allegations and protection for whistleblowers was fair, Leonard replied: “Since the USOC [United States Olympic Committee] has the ball in its court, I don’t know the process, so can’t comment.
“In general, I am opposed to non-judicial judgements on issues that change people’s lives. If a crime has been committed, follow the law of the land and punish accordingly or declare innocence. Non-judicial judgements sound a lot to me like a totalitarian state, and I utterly oppose them.
“That said, some people in the USA (USOC and USA Swimming) decided in a democratic way (at least in the case of USA Swimming) that they accepted non-judicial judgement and so as a good citizen, I object but respect the majority opinion to do so.”
In the rush of judgment of figures in leadership positions – some of that perfectly reasonable and fair – mistakes are being made. It is out there but it is not true: banned coaches are not still members of the ASCA Hall of Fame, Bernal, whose teams won seven Ivy League titles under his watch at Harvard from 1977-91, among the last to be removed after the 2015 decision to ban him.
The three high-profile cases, of Bernal, Ivey and Curl, demonstrate how one code (and even the specific section of it covering sexual abuse) – coupled with an absence of information of the kind we all get to see if an abuse case makes it to court and loads to conviction – does not fit one model of abuse. Curl was convicted and served a jail term, now spent. The other two coaches were never convicted by a court. There is a clear difference in law as to what one can and cannot say about those cases – and that ability to state things clearly on some occasions and not on others has led to clearly expressed and written criticism from quarters that neither appear to get that nor have the media training and/or professional experience required to know where, in their understandable insistence, to draw the line. If they did, they would also understand why others do so.
Take this quote from 2016 given to the Boston Globe by David Berkoff, the former 100m back world record-holder and four-time Olympic medallist who swam for Bernal in the late 1980s and early ’90s, including four years at Harvard, and competed in the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics, taking gold with teammates in the 4x100m medley relays at both Games as well as silver and bronze in the solo 100m back at back-to-back Games either side of rules changes on the distance backstroke swimmers could travel underwater off walls:
“The allegations that USA Swimming adjudicated and found credible are not characteristic of what I saw as an athlete in his program. I was surprised. It’s not something I saw when I was on the team. It was very difficult for me to hear of this ban.”
That quote alone is enough to have some hurl rocks at Berkoff, once an athlete representative at USA Swimming who was forced to defend himself against accusations of ‘cover-up‘ related to the Curl case between 2010 and a ban being imposed in 2012, even after the 1988-1992 Olympian had pressed for – and secured conduct amendments that stated criminal and civil statutes of limitation would not apply to any claim against a member of USA Swimming. That change in the Code of Conduct in 2010 opened the gateway for bans to be imposed on coaches (and others) who had behaved badly, including having sexual relationships with minors and other swimmers on their teams, in a decades gone by.
Berkoff is on the record as having spoken up against abuse and as having acted on that stance in the interests of athlete safety. His situation highlights one aspect of the drive to right wrongs of the past: there are a fair few people in the sport, athletes and coaches, who are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as the challenge of a high tide of wrongdoing in Olympic sports far and wide pours in.
What did they know, when did they know, who did they tell, who did they tell it to and what was done about it? Some of the crusading tone that such questions can and do take on is reasonable; some of it is not, unless you are thew victim coming forward with an allegation you intend to take all the by way to legal line and challenge.
Cases in the United States that are currently subject to non-disclosure agreements demonstrate how the process of whistleblowing has been far from ideal. Some whistleblowers have been threatened, others, even among coaches complaining about coaches, day they have been ostracised.
Listening to some of the detail of cases that we cannot discuss openly, one gets a sense that victims have found no reliable place to turn and there has been a woeful absence of a specific, independent body for those in need of a haven, advice, including legal advice to turn to. Programs like USA Swimming have, says athletes and coaches, come a long way in short time. The problems have been around a lot longer.
Leave the shores of the U.S. for a moment, travel across the Pond and ask ‘who suspected, who knew, etc.,’ when it came to Olympic coach Paul Hickson and his heavy list of rape and sexual assault charges? He went down for 17 years (later reduced a touch). Some coaches, some swimmers, suspected, some ‘knew’, according to one victim who described to this author an attack on her that involved two coaches at the same time. The police case focussed on the clear evidence file built against Hickson. The other coach was never pursued but left coaching.
One of Hickson’s victims was Annabelle Cripps, who changed her name to Katherine Starr and set up Safe4Athletes in the United States.
In the wake of the Hickson case came that of Mike Drew, whose preference was young boys. When he was sent down, Judge David Radford said:
“Your criminality [stretching back 30 years] was utterly depraved and was undertaken by you in complete disregard to the boys in your charge. Your only thought was to manipulate the opportunity to gain selfish and perverted sexual gratification.”
His manipulation did not end at the young and vulnerable. When the Hickson case was done, one of the then heads of the British Swimming Coaches Association said: “The Hickson case did a lot of damage to our profession. Now we have to establish the procedure that will make it easier for suspects to be dealt with. If anyone has any doubts about the conduct of one of our members they should come directly to me.” Those word were spoke by … Mike Drew.
Before his own conviction, one of his last jobs in the sport was to help to supervise the defence of coaches accused of sexual misconduct. He was trusted – and believed.
Did his conviction make those around him guilty of a crime? No. Only ‘knowing’ or ‘taking part’ gets you to a place where inquiry and consequence should follow, ‘knowing’ not only difficult top prove but, even if you can, fraught with the complications of changing mores and changing times and cultures, athletes and coaches living at a time and in a sport where to speak up, to make the fuss, to raise the flag, could have meant the end of all they worked for, could have meant being ostracised and even removed from teams selected by the very people who were a part of the abuse.
New Codes and rules came into force in Britain and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children launched its child protection helpline specifically to deal with abuse within sport. At the time, almost 20 years ago, the NSPCC cited research from other countries showing that as many as one in five of elite competitors have suffered some form of abuse from a coach or authority figure.
Where, then, one might well ask, are the codes and protections and specific Safe Sport measures of the likes of FINA, the IOC and others who govern the environment in which Olympic sport plays out? Where are the voices and decisions of certain global brands coupling themselves to ‘the youth of the world’ and its achievement? Now’s the time for them to be saying to the IOC, USOC and all down the chain: ‘We’ll come back when you’ve cleaned it all up, submitted to genuine independent review of governance structures, proved your ethics codes are worth the paper they’re written on and shown your charter is not only word but deed’.
The NSPCC confirmed almost 20 years ago that at least 20 British sporting governing bodies were dealing with cases of child abuse at the time it launched its helpline. Over to Ireland – and we find three national coaches in swimming involved in sex scandals. One of them, George Gibney, ran away to the U.S. and was never dealt with.
Similarly, the abuse of Deena Deardurff, who made her accusations against coach Paul Bergen a long time ago, did not lead to any action against a coach who was based in the United States for many years after the 1972 Olympians’ allegations were made to a USA Swimming leadership long since gone.
Some things, then and now, as Leonard notes in our interview below, are not and were never open to doubt and excuse. As he puts it: “No-one supports [sex with minors]. It’s a crime. We all get it.”
Leonard is also very clear when it comes to proven guilt: “If an organisation KNEW a wrong was taking place, they should be held accountable for not stopping it.”
At the swim club where he works in Florida, the rules are “simple”, he says:
“No coach is ever, ever, ever, alone with a child. Simple rule, eliminates all chance of bad behaviour.”
In a frank interview, a question about whether a national sex offenders register or equivalent across all states and an insistence on common law when it comes to definitions of abuse could help improve matters in the USA, prompts Leonard to raise a contentious issue. He says:
“Craig, I think this question is unfair, because you make assumptions that it is the job of someone other than the parents to keep their children safe.”
Well, yes, I do … when I hand my children over to the school each day, I cannot sit in the classroom with them; there is, of course, trust at play – and clear professional codes in place, backed by clear laws about the consequences of straying from those codes.
Even so, Leonard’s point holds a strong kernel of truth, one described in an Observer article on British abuses cases many years ago by a journalist colleague of mine, Steven Downes. He wrote:
“I trained in Drew’s group in south London for four years in the Seventies and was oblivious to any impropriety. Other figures in swimming also expressed astonishment that someone in such a position of trust could behave so badly for so long. Then, in one weekend last month, I saw two examples that highlighted how this could happen, or be prevented. I took my eight-year-old son to the local rugby club, which was well organised, with two or three coaches working with each of six age groups, and newcomers, such as myself, immediately having a code of conduct thrust into their hands outlining the responsibilities of players, coaches and parents. It was the model of best practice. The same weekend, my son attended a football session organised by the local league club at his school. I arrived 30 minutes before the end of the session to discover a coach, alone with a dozen children, with no other parents there to observe what was going on. The following week, I took the responsibility on myself, and stayed to watch the whole training session. It was not much. But nothing less will do.”
Quite. None of which absolves others of their duty of care and the accountability that goes with it.
Leonard repeats his point and in so doing defends the good work that the head of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport unit, Susan Woessner, was doing before an undeclared conflict of interest in the Ariana Kukors Vs Sean Hutchison case came to light and forced her resignation last week:
“One great and simple lesson from USA-Swimming Safe Sport: the simplest way to protect children is to simply never leave them alone with a coach or any adult not their parent. USA-Swimming (Susan) taught this brilliant lesson repeatedly when she first came on board. No meetings alone with children. No trips alone with children. Need a private conversation? Go to the other end of the deck and be in plain sight, and have the conversation you need to have. Thousands of USA Swimming coaches learned this lesson (including me). It’s the singular best way to be correct, beyond reproach, and do the right thing. Taking care of children is simple. For Parents and Coaches. Be there. Pay attention. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.”
He adds: “You can’t protect everyone from everything ( … a satellite may well fall from the sky and land on your child – but not likely) but this one simple thing, solves the majority of problem situations. And while I “don’t like it” (the fact that trust is not enough), it’s todays world and those who do not follow it are unwise and it does not compromise your ability to work with anyone.”
Leonard objects to a reference in the introduction on the SwimVortex article reproducing an open letter penned by ASCA board president Don Heidary, in which the rosey and genuine picture of the state of very much of American swimming is laid out to counter the current wave of stories from the darker corners of the realm and matters that are headed for Congressional hearing at some point.
USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey received a letter dated January 26 from the United States Congress telling him and the swim federation that a committee has been formed to investigate USA Swimming’s handlings of 19 complaints submitted by swimmers alleging sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches. That process is part of coming Congressional scrutiny of several Olympic sports as calls from U.S. athletes grow for investigation to be extended to the United States Olympic Committee, a body that will surely struggle to justify the kind of regime described here.
Back to that reference: Heidary’s statement drew social media criticism for its potential to ‘deflect attention’ from the big issue. That made it sound, says Leonard, as if there was an “attempt to look elsewhere”. He added: “… what Don clearly did was say NO, this is not our culture. His is an argument, straightforward and direct.”
I am happy to note that I agree, as I do with these words from an observer who praised what Heidary had written:
“I believe everything he said is true and should be said because we coaches with great programs are under siege right now. We are under intense scrutiny because of bad decisions made at the top of our organisation and because of bad decisions made by individuals not to report or believe the victim.”
That said, it was “incredibly irresponsible of him and ASCA to be in denial,” the observer opined, adding:
” … it is what he didn’t say that’s disturbing … we can do better and we as coaches in the profession can recognise the signs and report instead of being afraid to report.” That observer also had this challenge to ASCA’s leadership:
“[Don] was in complete defensive mode of the sport and the culture, not realising that that a big part of the problem is the inability to recognise that there is a serious issue. What ASCA should represent also is that there should be no tolerance for abuse in the sport and that they too will help weed that out. Why? Because it makes what all the good people are doing for the sport look incredibly bad. What he didn’t say, is that individuals should be held accountable at the top levels of the sport. That victims should have never been re-victimised by a legal strategy in Colorado Springs in order to Protect the brand and the money troves. What he didn’t do is apologise for the association of coaches that ignored the signs of abusive coaches or exercised wilful blindness. Victims and victims advocates are not criticising the sport as a whole or all the great things that the sport of swimming has done or provides. Victims and victims advocates love the sport of swimming and want to see the denial disappear and a real solution.”
Leonard’s answers to the questions out by SwimVortex address some of those issues, while he defends Heidary and those noting the good news from most corners of the realm when he says:
“Harming children is not the culture of USA Swimming, or anyone who is not an outlaw in American society. Those who would paint it as such have it wrong. And surely those of us who think so, have as much right to express our real culture as those who would tell us what our culture is?”
Indeed, they do, though the ‘culture of USA Swimming’ does indeed need to come under further scrutiny, the federation having acted in a way when faced with past allegations of abuse that requires inquiry; the federation having remained silent on other issues of abuse in the international scope of the sport. If leadership figures KNOW that $150,000 of FINA money went to a PR company to discredit Leonard, this site and others for raising serious issues of doping abuse and other matters that hold FINA up in poor light and affect USA athletes and coaches directly, then why did they not object, why did they not exert their influence to stop it? Why did they not raise merry hell when FINA gave its highest honour to Putin in the name of all its membership? Why has the federation never insisted that an honour granted to the GDR monster Lothar Kipke, handed a criminal record almost 20 years ago, is stripped away?
Why did they not stop at nothing to make sure the man in charge of the event on the day Fran Crippen died in FINA World Cup waters was not promoted in the ranks of the international federation?
Why did USA Swimming not ask its man at the FINA top table to step away from backing for heir-apparent to the FINA presidency a Kuwaiti cited by the U.S. Justice Department as a co-conspirator to massive fraud?
Why did it not challenge that same first vice-0president when as head of the Asian Swimming Federation he did not prevent a major race from being held in circumstances forbidden under FINA rules and why that led to no penalty for those responsible?
Those and many, many, more questions speak to the laissez-faire malaise at the heart of swimming governance in the Olympic model. Call it Omertà, call it going along to get along, call it grace and favour, call it you scratch my back, I scratch yours. Call it what you will: it may represent bad habit and may leave the door open for rogues to walk through unchecked.
I did not put those issues to Leonard: his past statements reveal him as no fan of any of that. But when one question is phrased in words that include “enable sex abuse”, Leonard replies:
“Craig, this one comes as close as you and I may come to an argument. I am not aware of a single person associated with USA Swimming who has ever “enabled sex abuse”. I can’t speak for gymnastics, etc. In Swimming, I simply don’t believe that’s true and won’t believe it until facts show otherwise and then I will be very sad if that ever happens. The fact that it ‘happened’ does not automatically mean that anyone ‘enabled it’.”
He believes that is part of “Nanny-state thinking”. It is a point we must agree to disagree on: opting for non-disclosure agreements that prevent truth and transparency have nothing to do with “nanny state”; such things do not abuse directly like the abuser does; they are legal and not a part of the crime … nor do they contribute to better and fuller understanding of how abusers can be stopped and prevented from gaining access to young folk. By ‘enable’, I mean scenarios such as those that have afflicted FINA when it comes to doping issues; I mean this:
I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back again and said to the watchman: “I ran through here while you were looking the other way.” The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. “I suppose I really oughtn’t to have done it,” I said. The watchman still said nothing. “Does your silence indicate permission to pass?” – Franz Kafka
The rest of the interview with John Leonard
SwV: You, on behalf of coaches worldwide, have been raising issues of governance that have affected the welfare and safety of athletes on a regular basis for many a long year. Your messages have been targeted at those who run the Olympics Games, including national Olympic Committees, and FINA.
How would you rate the following on a rate of 1 to 10, with 10/10 perfect – and why do you think that’s a fair rating?
a. your success in getting your message across:
- JL: They hear us loudly, they do not respond. Is that a zero or a ten?
b. Your ability to engage with FINA and be heard?
- JL: They do not engage at all. Zero.
c. The effectiveness of the FINA Coaches Commission?
- JL: Need to be by single sport, not lumped together; need to have the Bureau truly care about what they say. It needs a Bureau Liason who cares. The Bureau got rid of the only liaison who actually tried to do his job.
d. Your success at getting your messages about FINA, including the safety of and welfare of athletes (doping included), thRough to decision-makers and the leadership of USA Swimming?
- JL: They hear us and ignore us.
e. The effectiveness of committees and commissions at FINA in delivering the checks and balances required to ensure good governance, complete with making the athletes and their safety and welfare, including clean sport but much more, the No1 priority?
- JL: Zero – committees and commissions are all fake democracy that are ignored whenever they try to cover anything the Bureau (Cornel Marculescu, director) doesn’t already want done.
f. Do you think the rules of FINA provide adequate athlete safety provision and independent whistleblowing and complaints procedures?
- JL: NO. zero.
g. Do you think FINA takes enough responsibility for athlete safety issues?
- JL: No, more fake window dressing. They only care about money, money and money.
h. Do you think the FINA ethics commission is independent and adequate in current form to make sure swimming is a clean, healthy, safe sport for all who work in it?
- JL: You’re kidding me.
SwV: Is the very governance structure that runs from national federations through to FINA and on to the IOC a part of the problem when it comes to ensuring good governance and the welfare and interests of athletes are at the top of the list of important aims? If so, what needs changing – and who should organise the change?
- JL: Of course, its all one piece led by the IOC. I call it the Olympic Circus and the leader of the IOC is the ringmaster and sets the tone all the way to the Federations, including USA Swimming. [What needs to change?] Start over. It can’t be fixed, the corruption once this deep into the system is impossible to root out. And in most nations other than those derived from the English, corruption is how business is done. Can’t reinvent the world. [who to organise that change…] Hence [net question is irrelevant: who to organise it is a Gordian knot of substance. We can’t even trust WADA to do anti-doping! There are no “independent” organisations: money rules the roost in sport.
SwV: Should there be an international list of banned coaches- and if so, should there be an international standard when it comes to what merits such a ban?
- JL: The first part is the wrong question. The next part is the question – and no, I don’t believe it can be done. The safety considerations that the Anglo countries hold dear, is definitely not the case in more than 70% of the rest of the world. You can’t even get concensus on banning [those who have sex with minors] when 10% of the countries take that ‘for granted’: 75% of the world is fine with post-adolescent children having sex with anyone – I’m not saying it should be this way, but it’s the way it is. Most of the people on a proposed “international banned list” would be banned in their country – and then the world – for sport politics, not athlete safety or drug issues. I don’t believe it can be done. So I don’t think “Should” there be one is a valid question.
[NB from CL: ‘Should’ is a valid question in this sense: human and social progress has long begun with the question ‘something bad is happening here, ‘should’ we not do something about it and ‘should we not start with X, Y and Z’ … can is a different question – and if we start with can, then to achieve progress the answer is ‘yes, we can – because we must’, followed by a drive to make that happen, USA Swimming, in conjunction with the support it would surely receive from other key swimming nations, powerful enough to press such things to fruition when it comes to at least incorporating them in international rules].
SwV: Is there a professional code or rule that applies to coaches worldwide and addresses conflicts of interest, including sexual relationships between teacher/coach and pupil?
JL: Not that I know of. In 1989, ASCA passed the first code of ethics in Olympic Sport. We banned sex with underage athletes and also banned sex with adult age athletes whom you are coaching, due to the issues of “imbalance of power”. No one else had anything to say about this until about 1999, when USA-Swimming put in place a Code of Conduct. I am not aware of any nation or organisation having anything similar when I researched it pretty thoroughly at the time, for precedents.
- “I personally fought hard to get it passed. The “sex with adults part” was not easy to convince people of. Today, I am not sure that is still a good thing, or relevant: the issues of “power” have “flipped” to a certain degree with the athlete now with money and power, having more of both, likely, than the coach. Reasonable people can stand on both sides of the issue of coaches having sex with adults in a consensual form. I know where I stand but I can listen respectfully to those who disagree and say its their human right to sleep with who they wish if they are adults. That Code of Ethics is a mandatory signature for all ASCA members. Do they read it? Don’t know. Is it effective? Not really. Why? Because rules and laws do not stop or contain human bad behaviour. When humans are going to behave badly, they will do so regardless of rules. Witness a thing called the “TEN COMMANDMENTS”, which have been treated widely throughout Christian history more like the “Ten Suggestions”. I am not a religion expert, but I am told by people from all cultures that the same holds true in most other religions. Humans are not constrained by laws and rules. Humans may, in some cases, be constrained by perceived punishments. (but surely not always).”
SwV: Even so, there is a strong body of opinion that says such relationships between adults should not be allowed in a professional teacher/pupil relationship. Do you agree or disagree – and on what grounds?
- JL: “I don’t personally believe in sex between coach and athletes, regardless of age. But as I said above, much of the world disagrees with me and they have some logic on their side.
I can’t honestly disagree with either position. I think its wrong – but that’s strictly personal. Its “taking advantage” of something that should not be taken advantage of.”
SwV: Is the Olympic brand more important than the safety of an individual athlete?
- JL: The Olympic Brand is a large dollar sign. That’s the only thing that actions say is important to the IOC and all their organisation.
SwV: Do you think there are enough checks and balances at the point of employing coaches in the United States?
- JL: Anyone can employ anyone they want. There are plenty of checks and balances IF the employer uses them. Most pedophiles do not have a parking ticket on their record when they finally caught. (according to law enforcement officers I have spoken with.) this makes background checks close to useless. Sure. Improvement can always be made. But if parents and athletes don’t report pedophiles to the police, its all useless and pointless. Why would ANYONE go to ANYONE but the Police when a crime has been committed? It’s a great mystery.
SwV: In some European countries there is a national sex offenders register or equivalent. That makes the process of dealing with this who offend – swim coaches or anyone else – far more independent. Do you think the system in the USA and the presence of different laws and policies in different states – and a lack of a nationwide register of offenders – leaves a great deal of room for improvement?
- JL: “Craig, I think this question is unfair, because you make assumptions that it is the job of someone other than the parents to keep their children safe. [my reply stands in the text above]. ‘Governance systems’ do not abuse children, pedophiles do [CL: true – but governance is and must be a part of prevention]. Only in a nanny state do parents assume that someone other than THEM will protect their children [CL: not really, it is possible to believe that both things should live alongside each other in a world where the parent is obliged by law to hand their children over to educators knowing that they cannot sit and hold their child’s hand all day, nor would it be wise to do so, one might also argue].
- “I don’t’ believe the USA Should Be a Nanny State. I realise this is distinctly different from a lot of European countries which have socialist tendencies. We are not a Nanny state. Nor, in my opinion do we want to be. For one thing, it doesn’t work. Do you think children are any less abused in the European Union?
[CL: No, but neither you nor I have the statistics to show it but the need to enforce Safe Sport policies that extend beyond parenting the role of keeping children safe does not amount to a Nanny State in my dictionary – that simply means when the state tells you ‘what’s best for you’ on every level … what I’m talking about is the responsibility of guardianship, in the same way that governance is responsible for doping – or should we blame parents for that, too? Sometimes, yes – but history shows us – as we are both aware – that parents were often among those duped – and continue to be so].
- JL continues: [Do you think children are any less abused in the European Union? ] If so, we disagree based on what I am told [CL: I suspect that we would find a similar level of abuse in many places in the world down the years, Europe, included – and I have written about coach abuse when cases have been revealed, so we don’t disagree at all on that last point].
SwV: Given that the bulk of coaches do a decent and caring job as guardians of young athletes day in and day out, and assuming it is therefore in their interest not to be associated with rogues and governance systems that have not only let rogues through the door but have leaned on non-disclosure agreements (in some cases actively encouraged such things) what protections for athletes on the one hand and coaches on the other would you like to see introduced that are not currently a part of the sport?
JL: The “Protection for Athletes” that has to be put in place, is simply that parents must do their JOB. Which is raise and protect their children until they can do so themselves. Not count on schools, churches, clubs, etc. to do so. Stop by regularly, know what is going on. Be there. Police here tell me that the first and only children whom pedophiles target are those with absentee parents, those who are never around; ‘low hanging fruit’ for pedophiles.”
In our club, its simple. No coach is ever, ever, ever, alone with a child. Simple rule, eliminates all chance of bad behaviour.
SwV: USA Swimming has kept a list of banned members for the past several years as part of a Safe Sport program that has come under serious fire in the past week. Questions that flow:
a. Do you think that system needs upgrading and improving – and if so, in what way?
- JL: Its now run by the USOC I believe. I could be wrong. The upgrade is to turn it all over to the police, which is where crimes belong.
SwV: You have no banned members list yourself. If a coach is convicted of a crime, your organisations strips them of membership and removes any awards that coach may have received from your organisation. Is that correct?
- JL: We “ban coaches” upon legal conviction, from membership, which is the only thing we can ban them from. This also removes their coaching certification as certification is a function of membership.
SwV: Do you feel that USA Swimming has contributed to making the swimming environment unsafe for athletes in light of what is on the record in the tragic case of Fran Crippen? If the federation has contributed to not providing the safest of environments, where is it making its biggest mistakes?
- JL: I think this is a question for a lawyer, not a swimming coach. I think I am incapable of more than an opinion, which I won’t provide since I can’t form one based on fact.
I do think USA-Swimming relied on FINA to do what their rules required and provide adequately safe conditions for a race they own, In the case of Fran Crippen. When FINA proved they would not provide that, I think USA-Swimming immediately improved their own efforts in response to FINA’s failure.
SwV: USA Swimming has of late backed FINA’s leadership and played an important role in keeping in places people who have broken some rules of the international federation and skewed others when it suits, structures and policies. What is the view of American coaches on that? What needs to change – and if anything – how can it be done?
- JL: There is no “view of American Coaches” as you well know. 95% have no idea what you are talking about. The 5% who do know, probably 95% of them feel that USA-Swimming has fulfilled the needs of the Olympic Circus and not the sport of swimming. I don’t know that it can be changed. I have been trying since 1985 with no result.
SwV: One of the aspects of all the coverage and reports and allegations from victims of abuse is that many coaches appear to want to say very little or nothing at all when it comes to adding their voices to the debate. Questions that flow: do you perceive that to be true – and if so, why do you think that happens?
JL: I don’t like this question. Most American coaches are smart enough not to comment on something that they have no direct knowledge of, which is specific cases of abuse. No coaches that I know of, disagree with American law that we don’t have sex with children. Adding more noise, without real information, to the arena is not productive and most American coaches know that. I won’t comment on anything that I don’t think I have real facts on. When I state an opinion, I say it is that. And I am far better informed than most, because that is my job.”
[CL: I note that you don’t like the question and applaud you for saying so and then answering it as a leader in a sport in which the fashion is to simply ignore anything that is not ‘on message’ and brought to the public domain wrapped in a bow tied by a fairy casting spells of positivity as she flies. I was referring to historic cases that involved individuals and incidents that some then swimmers and some coaches say that they either reported to USA Swimming officials or were the subject of talk on teams because they engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ with swimmers, including some who were “well known”, according to two USA Olympic podium placers, for “sleeping with their swimmers”. The question is not an invitation for coaches to spread rumours – that should not happen; it is an invitation to coaches to engage in the discussion about how USA Swimming – and therefore in federations beyond because if you get this right and if the American federation presses the point at international level then others will surely follow – can deal with their “errors of judgement”, as athletes called it this week, and in so doing get it right in future.]
SwV: Given that some very senior coaches, including leading figures on Olympic and other national teams, are on the list of the banned, what coach-specific issues were responsible for those rogues being able to get away with it as they did for as long as they did without a red-flag being raised on the highest roof?
- JL: I can’t answer this question without specific names that you are referring to. Sean Hutchison? If anyone knows the facts to this yet, I am not aware of it. Joe Bernal? His issue came about 20 years after his last major international coaching efforts, so I think 90% of American coaches don’t know who he is. He didn’t “get away with it” for a year if I understand the case. Which other ‘very senior coaches’?
[CL: Everett Uchiyama, former national team director for USA Swimming, springs to mind]
SwV: Do independent whistleblowing procedures exist for athletes, coaches and others in the USA? If so, can you point us to them?
- JL: The USOC, I believe, has such an option as does/did USA Swimming. I don’t know specifics: I’ve never called it.
SwV: How do you feel the sport of swimming could be made safer for athletes?
JL: Parents do their job.
SwV: How do you feel the sport of swimming could be made safer for coaches doing a fine job and watching their profession’s reputation torn asunder?
- JL: No idea. Big problem. Or maybe not.
“Do research on how many swimming parents go online and watch USA Swimming’s video for parents on how to spot dangerous behaviours. Last time I checked (about a year or so ago), the percentage was well below TINY. Which means parents aren’t interested. Interested in what? Either their children’s safety … or they believe that their child is at no risk, so its not important to watch it. It’s certainly been promoted from here to hell and back by USA Swimming and still no increase in viewership. That means to me that most parents trust their coaches to work in their child’s best interests.”
CL: Do you feel that the Olympic brand has become more important than the safety of an individual athlete?
- JL: Of course, always has been, not “has become”.
CL: Is it appropriate For the USOC to send lobbyists to States and to the US Capitol to lobby against sex abuse legislation or congressional inquiries?
- JL: No knowledge of this at all, sorry.
CL: Is it appropriate for a national governing body or federation to conduct a criminal investigation before the organisation decides to call law enforcement authorities?
- JL: To my knowledge an NGB by definition cannot conduct a “criminal investigation”. Only the legal process can conduct a “criminal investigation”. So I don’t know what this means. [It means that there are people on the ‘banned’ list for ‘offences of a ‘sexual’ nature’ who were never called to account by the law: I’m simply trying to find answers for those who are not clear on how and in what circumstances that happens].
CL. Is an independent investigation truly an independent investigation if the organisation hires its own lawyers as investigators and limits the scope of the investigation?
- JL: In general, clearly the answer is not. But again, more likely a question for a lawyer, not a swim coach.
CL. Do you feel that the Olympic structure, the IOC and those down the chain receiving money from the IOC via broadcasting rights and other income, owe athletes that have been chemically, emotionally, physically or sexually abused access to legal counsel, medical treatment or psychological treatment?
- JL: I am not sure what I think about this. I would think that you take out the “emotionally” part of that. My understanding in the USA is that there is no legal definition of “emotional abuse”. If I am wrong, I apologise, but no legal definition, no restitution. Chemical, physical and sexual abuse all have legal definitions I believe. Again, I am not a lawyer. I don’t know how the IOC is “responsible” in any sense of the word, for sexual abuse by a rogue doctor in Gymnastics. Or the USOC.
“Now, I don’t know the specifics well enough, but if USA Gymnastics KNEW factually of the abuse and covered it up, then surely yes, they have some guilt that should result in restitution.”
- Hard question “where it stops” and again, I am opposed to the Nanny State, so…. [CL: again, it would not constitute a Nanny State for the IOC to have in their constitutions and rules specific sections that deal with definitions of abuse and what consequences those who breach the rules may face. For example: coach X gets banned in the USA or gets called out in the USA but goes off to coach in another country and works with children there … and goes to the Olympics and works on the Olympic deck even with serious allegations of abuse levelled against said coach, without a word or question from the IOC because they take the money but not the responsibility for their realm].
CL: Do you feel that there needs to be an international standard/code (possibly law) that makes national (your) and international (FINA) federations responsible for compensating those they have wronged by litigating again or threatening litigation on the way to non-disclosure agreements that reinforce silence, a lack of transparency and the suppression of the truth that would help to prevent reoccurrence?
- JL: I have no idea how this is possible. Different cultures, different values, all over the globe. Seems way too difficult to do fairly and well.
[CL: class actions spring to mind as something the IOC and others may come to fear one day if they continue to call people into their realm but believe it someone else’s problem if a crack in the pavement leading to the doors of HQ leads to a tumble and a cracked skull]
SwimVortex thanks John Leonard, at ASCA, and George Block, at WSCA, for engaging swiftly in the process of answering our questions. So far, coaches, beyond a polite acknowledgement from athletes, are the only group of those sent answers last week to return any reply whatsoever. USA Swimming, USAS and FINA have, to date, ignored requests to answers questions put on behalf of our readers and some of their major stakeholders.
The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series – so far:
- significant developments in GB Masters
- the words of Olympic podium placer Michael Jamieson and considered their relevance to woeful culture at the heart of FINA and the poor response of national federations who show no inclination to use their potential power to change the game in the interests of athlete protection from various forms of abuse.
- the Larry Nassar abuse case, a story about much more than a doctor who traded the hippocratic oath for hypocrisy and criminality; a story that calls into question the usefulness of the Olympic Movement, the United States Olympic Committee and the role of USA Swimming when it comes to the protection of athletes.
- Climate Change: empowering coaches to ensure sport is a safe, healthy and enriching place for all, at whatever level: we recall 2014 lectures delivered by Prof. Joan Duda, of Empowering Coaching, at the World Aquatics Development Conference in Lund on a day of high relevance to current events; and by Dr. Fiona McLachlan, academic adviser to Shane Gould in the 1972 triple Olympic champion’s PHD studies, for the guardians of swimming youth to consider “How to be Good”.
- the relevance of Fran Crippen and his passing to events at the Winter Olympics.
- the death of Qing Wenyi
- World Coaches call for global swim community to press FINA on clean sport
- If Prohibition Must Sober The Olympics, Then Ban The Blazers Craving Nobel Prizes
- Time To Ban The Olympic Cold Shoulder To Truth, Whistleblowing & Red-Flag Waving
- I Ran Past The First Watchman … Does your silence indicate permission to pass?
- Why USA Swimming’s Leadership Must Face Full Inquiry Into Abuse Down The Years – The Orange Country register’s telling investigation
- Susan Woessner Resigns As USA Swimming Safe Sport Boss Admitting Hutchison Link
- Don Heidary, ASCA Board President, Writes Of ‘Real Culture of American Swimming’
- Athletes On USA Swimming Board: ‘Why Was Complacency Allowed To Take Hold?’
- ‘Knock. It. Down. & Burn The Remains’ – Time to Torch The Olympic Scam Of Us & Them
Questions sent out this week to pertinent parties:
- Questions For Coaches On Their Jobs, Athlete Welfare & The Role Of Blazers
- Questions For USA Swimming, USAS & Their Busy Safe Sport Unit
- Questions For Athletes Who Represent Athletes At The House Of FINA