Safe Sport: Questions For USA Swimming, USAS & Their Busy Safe Sport Unit

How the Orange County Register announced its investigation into abuse on USA Swimming's watch; plus, right, the only thing that can rival sexual abuse on the list of athlete-safety issues screaming out for priority to be given to them - Fran Crippen and the death of an athlete as a direct result of the sports governance he was subject to

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. Yesterday, we sent questions to the World Swimming Coaches Association and the American Swimming Coaches Association.  Their replies were as swift as they were fascinating.

Today: USAS, USA Swimming and their Safe Sport unit:

On the day one coach in the U.S., Chris DeSantis, called for transparency with five pertinent points that USA Swimming’s board would be unwise to ignore, we posed the following questions, from SwimVortex and from coaches and athletes who responded to our request to send in questions they would like answered.

Here are journalists and advocates for Safe Sport talking about the same thing:

Should USA Swimming Go Down?

To USA Swimming and USAS leaderships:


Given the following investigation by The Orange County Register into abuse in USA Swimming, could you answer the following questions?

  • a. Have USA Swimming and/or USAS called emergency or specific meetings or talks to discuss how to deal with the allegations and the history of proven cases that went unchecked for many years?
  • b. Do you deny any of the allegations made in that OC Register report – and if so, which ones?

The late Fran Crippen

The death of Fran Crippen

The coach of Fran Crippen has alleged … (backed up by the statements of others and documentation)…  that Fran requested certain provisions be made for USA swimmers travelling to Open Water events and training camps. Among the requests was for official staff to be sent to events such as the FINA World Cup. His requests were denied.

  • a. Does USA Swimming acknowledge that – and the mistake inherent in what is alleged?
  • b. Why did USA Swimming not take Fran Crippen’s death and the subsequent promotion by FINA of the man in charge of the race on the day your athlete died on FINA’s watch as a moment to call for review and reform of the entire structure of governance, given that the lack of transparency and lack of checks and balances in the FINA system are widely viewed as having contributed to those tragic events in waters off the UAE coast back in 2010?

Safe Sport Questions

  • 1. Given that the banned members list is long and stretches back over decades, why has no employee within USA swimming been held accountable for doing a poor job and protecting athletes?
  • 2. In her public testimony, Ariana Kukors (who was not a minor when an ‘investigation’ into rumours of a relationship with her coach was conducted) says that the extent of her ‘interview’, during which she was asked if she had had a sexual relationship with her coach, was a ‘short’ phone call with a  private detective she had never met. If that is correct, it begs the following questions:
    3. Did that private detective and USA Swimming check to make sure that the swimmer was not in the company of anyone who might have held control over here at the time of the phone call?
  • 4. Is it still felt appropriate today, under Safe Sport, to interview young athletes (of legal age or not) about possible abuse in a telephone call conducted by a stranger?
  • 5. How many others, beyond the coach and the swimmer involved, were interview  as a part of the investigative process into rumours of an inappropriate relationship?
  • 6. Is the fact that states have different laws and even definitions when it comes to sexual harassment, molestation, abuse, a barrier to having a national register of sex offenders available to employers running checks on the people they wish too employ?
  • 7. In the annual registration or application for membership in USA swimming , does a member as an athlete or non athlete agree by signature to follow safe sport and the USA Swimming code of conduct understanding it anytime third they can be placed on suspension until a board of review process is complete?
  • 8. Is the purpose of Coaches , officials and chaperones notifying safe sport first a way of gathering information to protect the brand or USA swimming first?
  • 9. Why must USA swimming conducted investigation before contacting law enforcement in the jurisdictions of where a lodged complaint abuse occurred?
  • 10. How does USA swimming determine which class of membership is defended through insurance ?  In other words what class of membership ( national governing, club, coach, official or coach Is provided with the benefit of legal counsel, insurance and information gathered from an internal investigation?
  • 11 When you call law-enforcement, Do you present the information without bias? Do you downplay accusations for the benefit of protecting your brand?
  • 12. What makes you uniquely qualified to investigate? What are the qualifications for investigators?
  • 13. Could investigating before law enforcement is notified be considered obstruction of justice?
  • 14. In safe sport training why is it a priority to notify USOC or the national governing body first? Why is it not understand that Law enforcement should be notified first?
  • 15. Is the notification of safe sport  a blocking tactic?
  • 16. Are there whistleblower protections in place for members who report? If so, can you point me to them.
  • 17. Has USA Swimming taken the posture of protecting the membership club over a victim or whistleblower? (It is a criticism levelled at you)
  • 18. Is a live scan department of justice fingerprinting required of at least coach members?
  • 19. Can every club run employment verification through USA swimming to see which clubs a coach member was registered under in the past?
  • 20. Can an employing club run a verification or check Through USA swimming to see if a potential employee has been flagged, is currently being investigated or has been banned?
  • 21. Does a safe sport investigator or employee recuse themselves from the process  if there is a conflict of interest?
  • 22. Does USA swimming always take a defensive posture against the victim, as alleged?
  • 23. Why are victims claiming that they were victimized twice: once by the perpetrator, the second time why USA swimming’s defensive posture?
  • 24. Why are there no resources for victims/members, specifically legal advice or legal counsel? Are not athletes insured?
  • 25. USAS is on record as saying that it banned Brock Turner, the convicted Stanford rapist. Yet, it looks as though he was NOT banned. Which is correct? And – has he ever ever been brought before the Board of Review?
  • 26. Victims of abuse include teenage girls labelled as cheats who stole rewards from USA athletes as highlighted in documentaries celebrated and promoted bye USA Swimming. At the same time, FINA  and the IOC has left in place every result and record from the GDR. What measures have you taken to get the leadership of world swimming to acknowledge the past and set the record straight through such measures as reconciliation?
  • 27. Do you think it acceptable for a unanimous request from the FINA commission in January 2014 for the FINA Bureau to consider reconciliation measures as mentioned in the previous question (backed by a proposed plan of action) has to this day never resulted in a reply from the FINA leadership. Not even a polite reply… is that something you condone?
  • 28. Athlete safety also includes the conditions in which athletes train and compete. The World Record Application form clearly asks the referee  to sign that “All FINA Rules” have been compiled with. And yet, when a world s/c record was set in a pool in which children have smashed teeth and skulls (resulting in legal complaint and action) in conditions that fell shy of FINA minimum pool rules designed with athlete safety in mind, FINA’s leadership and a technical swimming committee headed by Carol Zaleski of USA Swimming, stated (I have the two official responses to confirm) that facility rules did not apply when world records were set. Does that astonish you? Do you agree that that could be so? And if so, can we then assume that the length and depth and width of pools is irrelevant when a world record is set? Do you support that official FINA view?
  • 29. FINA can ban an athlete or coach or A. Another – but neither that coach nor that athlete ever actually joined FINA.  There is not even voluntary membership of FINA, membership assumed the moment a swimmer decides to join and compete for a local club, membership by default not permission.  Do you think that appropriate, particularly in light of an EU competitions body ruling that forbids organisations such as FINA to assume global monopoly of their realm?
  • 30. Do you think the following criticism written and spoken of by many commentators in the media of late, reflecting the views of athletes and coaches – some of them among the stars of your show – is fair: “The Olympic brand more important than the safety of an individual athlete”. If not, on what grounds to you base your support of an IOC that has let generations of USA swimmers down for decades?
  • 31. Does USA Swimming feel it time to find what some in your community describe as a “more moral legal counsel” to defend its interests and members?
  • 32. Why did USA swimming sentd and pay lobbyists  (in a $77,000 exercise is what has been published) to state capitals and Washington DC to lobby against sex abuse legislation ?


  • 1. Coaches, via WSCA, ASCA and several other peer bodies around the world, have called on FINA to submit to independent review with a view to reform of a system that lacks transparency, has failed clean athletes and has promoted people with direct links to bad outcomes and people with no expertise or experience whatsoever relevant to the committee and/or commission they have been placed on

Calls for review between 2014 and 2018 have been completely ignored, to the point where the likes of Bill Sweetenham, leading figures at WSCA and ASCA, including some of your Olympic and national-team coaches have not even received a polite reply to their requests from FINA.

  • i. It is not possible to side with both these positions. Who does USA Swimming back: its coaches or the FINA leadership ignoring them?
  • ii. The following view of the FINA Coaches Commission comes from WSCA:

Backing of FINA’s system

  • 2. There are three things that keep the coaches commission from being effective or at least as effective as it could be:

COMPOSITION: As long as the composition of the Coaches Commission is multi-sport, its impact will be both shallow and diluted;
BUREAU LIAISON: The effectiveness of the Commission is completely dependent on the commitment and effectiveness of the Liaison.  As we all know, there have been some years when the Bureau Liaison did not even attend the meetings.  The Commission has no, direct link to decision makers, it is all indirect and through the Bureau Liaison;
FINA STRUCTURE: FINA is structured to move VERY slowly and to resist change.  In today’s “speed of the internet” world, working inside an organization that is built to resist change is very dangerous.  Change-resistant organizations can become obsolete very quickly.

  • Do you accept the widely held view that the way such structures are built in FINA are at the very least unhelpful to reform and progress? And if so, what are you doing to change those structures?
  • 3. Are you comfortable with the fact that the FINA Bureau liaison is Vladimir Salnikov, who in 2009 failed to report to WADA two positive EPO tests returned by teenage swimmers? If you do not know enough about those positive tests, what measures have you taken to find out – and those ensure that your coaches (and their athletes/your swimmers) are being governed and represented by people who are compliant with the WADA Code and governance best-practices?
  • 5. Committee and commission structures are simply not built to serve as a “check and balance” provision: that’s a criticism held far and wide – and comes from people who include some of your most senior coaches and athletes. What is USA Swimming doing about it, given that you backed a FINA leadership that, in the wake of European challenge for the presidency, eliminated a large swathe of representation from Europeans from its committee and commission structures? Did those moves to reduce European influence come with the blessing of USA Swimming  and/or USAS?
  • 4. USAS is split into disciplines, with governance structures for each aquatic discipline. FINA is not built like that and there are clear issues at stake as a result, including having athlete and coach commissions composed of people asked to make decisions on issues they are remote from and/or know nothing about.

Husain Al-Musallam, left, and his boss the Sheikh

[SwimVortex has further questions to put relating to the U.S. Justice Department and the fact that the FINA first vice-president, Husain Al-Musallam, backed by USA Swimming via the American member of the FINA Bureau was cited as a co-conspirator to corruption without that prompting any apparent change in USA Swimming’s direction.]


  • 1. In replies to SwimVortex questions, coaches and athletes are among those claiming that “USA Swimming has done little to nothing to support real change in international anti-doping efforts” and has even “failed to back USADA efforts” to press for clean sport.

Those views are based on your silence and continued support for FINA’s leadership during the Russian doping crisis and statements  from FINA president that WADA has ‘overstepped its authority’ and the view held by the FINA leadership that anti-doping should remain in its control and not handed over fully to an independent authority on the grounds that one cannot promote and police at the same time with the same vigour.

Lilly King – a teen left to do the talking on clean sport by her federation – By Patrick B. Kraemer

The above views are also based on “no comment” responses give by your former CEO, the late Chuck Wielgus, to requests for an official view on:

  • I. The boycott of FINA open water events by USA athletes
  • II. The protest of Lilly King, Michael Phelps, Bob Bowman and others in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games


  • a. What is your response to such criticism
  • b. What (mechanisms, policies, etc.,) prevents a CEO of USA Swimming from making clear, open and transparent statements on issues that affect athletes at times of crisis, including the tragic death of a USA athlete on FINA’s watch and the anti-doping stance of athletes? Why would a leader at USAS or USA Swimming return a ‘no comment’ to such serious issues?

Questions for USA Swim Safe Sport Unit

The ‘Safe Sport’ program has come in for criticism from some quarters as a result of historic and more recent cases of sex abuse and sex-abuse allegations. Some also note that the whole system is now built to protect athletes and others working in sport (swimming) better than ever – and it has even been suggested that there are aspects of your work that are a model for others elsewhere in the world.

The advice and programs and reporting processes you offer are online and transparent for all to see, but as part of SwimVortex’s Safe Sport series, we would ask if the team there could talk us through the following three hypothetical scenarios to help us to better understand what happens when a swimmer, coach, parent, etc., reports a concern or wishes to make a complaint/ raise a red flag.

  • 1. Swimmer, aged 15-16, makes a complaint of sexual harassment/abuse.

A. Who do you contact before all others – and how is that contact made (through whom, when dealing with a minor)?

B. At what stage is law enforcement called – and on what grounds?

C. Given that different states in the USA have different definitions of what constitutes molestation/sexual abuse/sexual harassment, which law enforcement  agency is informed if needs be: local, state, national?

D. Does your system include measures that allow you to inform the club/program where that adult works that a complaint has been lodged, followed by an obligation to temporarily suspend that adult until the conclusion of investigation? (If so, can you point us to the policy framework that contains those provisions and guidelines)?

Spotlight on swimming – by Patrick B. Kraemer

E. Does your system insist on the use of profession experts in such fields as child psychology when it comes to interviewing minors – and do such interviews take place on a one-to-one basis in the presence of parents?

F. To what extent – and at what stage in the process of complaint – are lawyers working on behalf of USA Swimming informed?

G. Assuming such lawyers are informed, what is their primary responsibility and does their role include offering advice to the lawyers representing the alleged victim (or is that seen as a conflict of interest)?

  • 2. I am a coach who faces an allegation of inappropriate behaviour, with an emphasis on sexual suggestion.

a. who contacts me to tell me about what is alleged and what are the immediate consequences?

b. Will I be told that I must not make contact with the athlete in question, as a c condition of compliance with USA Swimming and/or FINA rules? If so, can you point me to those specific rules.

c. What is the standard process that will follow from this point until the need for a court procedure – and where, if anywhere, is that process available for the swimming community to read?

  • 3. I am an employer in swimming and I have candidates before me to work in coaching, sports science, medical and physiotherapy roles.

What resource can I turn to at Safe Sport or USA Swimming or any other official body in the USA to make sure that I am not employing someone who has had a complaint filed against him/her in a previous post (even if that post was held outside of swimming)?


  • 1. What is the criteria for being flagged? And for being banned?
  • 2. Are complaints kept on file for cross reference for future complaints?
  • 3. How many complaints have there been and what is the criteria for a complaint to be taken seriously ?

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: USAS, USA Swimming and the Safe Sport Unit


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