Safe Sport: Questions For Coaches On Their Jobs, Athlete Welfare & The Role Of Blazers

Lane lines - photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series reaches its second week, during which questions will be sent out to relevant parties with a view to understanding where official bodies, coach representatives, athlete representatives, advocates for victims of abuse and those governing the sport of swimming at all levels, nations through to Olympic think their roles and responsibilities rest.

Beyond the death of at least one athlete, the passing of Fran Crippen offering tragic insight to the failings of Olympic sports governance and the structures that support it,   sexual abuse and then doping top the list of the entirely unacceptable events that not only could and should have been unearthed and dealt with but were known about and yet failed to trigger in those long in leadership positions in swimming the first line of priority and purpose in their roles: athlete safety and welfare.

Our series so far:

As pledged, SwimVortex will send pertinent questions to relevant parties with week. We will publish the questions and then, from next week onwards, the answers we receive (or note those we do not hear back from). Our questions are based on what we understand and the questions readers have told us they would like answers to.

Sean Hutchison’s publicity shot from TYR, the American suit maker

Ariana Kukors – by Patrick B. Kraemer

Today: the community in the frame in the wake of allegations by Ariana Kukors against coach Sean Hutchison, (who denies wrongdoing) on the back of historic and current cases in which victims allege (many cases long proven) not only that they were abused by their coach(es) but that those in governance leadership positions did too little too late and even prevented the truth from making the public domain, a prerequisite for the kind of debate and review essential if the future is to be brighter than the past.

Essential to note: the vast majority of coaches are not rogues, no perverts,  they go about their daily jobs on the deck with the best interests of young people (at all levels, starters to Olympic podium) in mind.

Essential to note: there’s a criticism levelled at coaches – many who could have spoken up and asked for changes to governance structures, checks and balances, whistleblowing processes and other measures designed not only to protect athletes but coaches too, have simply not spoken up when they should have done … and have not supported fellow coaches when they really ought to have done.

Coaches, starting with the World Swimming Coaches Association and the American Swimming Coaches Association.

For WSCA (ASCA has been asked to consider the following in national context)

1. 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:
  • b. Your ability to engage with FINA and be heard?
  • c. The effectiveness of the FINA Coaches Commission?
  • d. Your success at getting your messages about FINA, including the safety of and welfare of athletes (doping included), though to decision-makers and the leadership of USA Swimming?
  • e. The effectiveness of committees and commissions at FINA ion 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?
  • f. Do you think the rules of FINA provide adequate athlete safety provision and independent whistleblowing and complaints procedures?
  • g. Do you think FINA takes enough responsibility for athlete safety issues?
  • 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?

2. 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?

  • a. If so, what needs changing?

3. Should there be an international list of banned coaches?

  • a. If so, should there be an international standard when it comes to what merits such a ban?
  • b. Should FINA be asked to become a signatory to such arrangements, in the same way that it is a signatory to the WADA Code?
  • c. Who/which organisation should organise and administer such a system?

4. Is there a professional code or rule that applies to coaches worldwide and addresses conflict of interest, including sexual relationships between teacher/coach and pupil?

5. 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?

6. Is the Olympic brand more important than the safety of an individual athlete?


1. Do you think there are enough checks and balances at the point of employing coaches in the United States?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. 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?
  • b. 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?
  • c. 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?

5. 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?

6. 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:

  • a. Do you perceive that to be true – and if so, why do you think that happens?

7. 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?

  • a. Do independent whistleblowing procedures exist for athletes, coaches and others in the USA? If so, can you point us to them?
  • b. Do you feel the current process is fair especially when it comes to the small occurrence false accusations directed at a coach?
  • c. How do you feel the sport of swimming could be made safer for athletes?
  • d. How do you feel the sport of swimming could be made safer for coaches do a fine job and watching their profession’s reputation torn asunder?

8. Do you feel that those who have enabled sex abuse by wilful blindness should be removed from leadership positions?

9. Do you feel that the Olympic brand has become more important than the safety of an individual athlete?

10. 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?

11. Is it appropriate for a national governing body or federation to conduct a criminal investigation before the organisation decides to call law enforcement authorities?

12. Is an independent investigation truly an independent investigation if the organisation hires lawyers are investigators and limits the scope of the investigation?

13. Do you feel that the Olympic structure, the IOC and those down the chain receiving money from the IUOC 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?

14. 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?

Our series is designed to make a serious and transparent contribution to failings that haunt swimming (and Olympic sport). If any readers – including coaches, have questions not covered by the above, please send them to and we will seek to put those to the relevant people (please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous).


The SwimVortex Safe Sport Series reaches its second week, during which questions will be sent out to relevant parties with a view to understanding where official bodies, coach representatives, athlete representatives, advocates for victims of abuse and those governing the sport of swimming at all levels, nations through to Olympic think their roles and responsibilities rest. Today: Coaches


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