Editorial – Weekend Essay
The following weekend essay is the latest entry in a SwimVortex series on sports governance and the consequences for athletes when some guardians set a course to suit themselves and others fall asleep at the wheel. Think sexual abuse, think official obfuscation and defence, think other Olympic sports … and think swimming.
Sports governance and the structures that underpin it, from domestic to international competition, are coming under scrutiny like never before. For good reason, too. We started a new series of features with a look at developments in GB Masters and then turned to 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.
Then we looked at the significance of 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.
In light of the allegations this week by Ariana Kukors, the denial of the coach, Sean Hutchison, she accuses and a USA Swimming statement that suggests both swimmer and coach – among others – lied to an inquiry back in 2011, we consider the system and realm in which such things are possible.
Time To Step On Fingers Clinging To A Wall Of Woe As Winter Comes To The Games
Is the Olympic Movement weighed down by the corrupt, dishonest, dishonourable, unscrupulous, unprincipled, amoral, untrustworthy, underhand, deceitful, double-dealing, disreputable, discreditable, shameful and scandalous?
Take any of those words and you will find them deep in the drifts of coverage and comments, blogs and barroom banter leading into the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. We’re not talking sport; we’re talking the one ring that rules them all at the Games of Thrones: politics.
Here’s an example, complete with a headline atop reporter Ewan MacKenna‘s words that reads “Did you allow yourself to be conned by a dazzling opening ceremony? The Olympics are morally bankrupt” and the following line from the author: “The creed says, ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.’ But it’s b*llocks. All of it.” Read his explanation in full at the Irish Independent.
As he notes well, it is not only about doping and Russia, the hammer that needed a sickle taking to it but was saved by a system that favours nail scissors as its sharpest tool for the hugely abusive. It is about an entire system of autonomous sport that often acts like a law unto itself but in 2018 is fit for nothing more than the compost of the tried, tested and failed of history.
The reputation of the International Olympic Committee is on a cliff edge. Some have fallen, many more will before the close of this latest chapter in the book of the young and excellent who have paid a heavy price for the Games to go on as they do with heavy subsidisation of broadcasters and partners/sponsors that have not yet woken up to the realities of the backstage scandal their dollars are sustaining.
Athletes, coaches, officials, true and clean achievers of the Olympic realm: don’t take this personally. It is not about you and what you do. It is about what you don’t speak up on nearly enough – and about the blazers doing very well for themselves and to whom this applies:
“God has given you one face, and you make yourself another” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene I.
The New York Times ran a line in a piece this past week about Winter arriving to the Games playing out at the United States Olympic Committee:
“He [Larry Probst, the chairman of the Olympic committee] did not say specifically that the U.S.O.C. had failed the athletes, seeming to choose his words carefully, perhaps attempting to shield the Olympic committee’s liability in several lawsuits that have been filed. Asked to clarify, Mr. Probst noted that the U.S.O.C. was part of the Olympic system.”
So, there we have it: the system must go, if the system owns the blame and is one fit to point a finger at after 30 years of sexual abuse, physical and mental wreckage at the heart of USA Gymnastics; after 40 years of building a book of records and results soaked in the duplicity of doping and the consequence of such things for young athletes abused one way or another and left by the road-side like victims of a hit-and-run; after decades down which clear cases of corruption have been proven but all too often have not been coupled to consequence.
Take a look at the VIP stands at the opening of the Winter Games, complete with the head of the United Nations pleading for peace as the sister of a dictator is shown to her seat, a semblance of friendship served up as part of the show. Never mind the under-nourished and downtrodden the other side of the border to the north. So much for keeping politics out of the Games, though there hasn’t been any real intent to do that for a very long time.
Take Samsung boss Lee Kun-hee. Ten years ago last month, in January 2008, South Korean police entered his home as part of their probe into allegations that his Samsung company was behind a slush fund used to bribe key legal and political figures in South Korea.
He was found guilty of financial wrongdoing and tax evasion; he said “I will assume full moral and legal responsibility”; he was fined about €80 million and sentenced to three years in prison. That’s when friends in high places stepped in and he was swiftly pardoned by the then-president Lee Myung-bak.
As such, he got to stay in the club as a member of the IOC – and that group of people and the system propping them up did not feel that an offence worthy of an €80 million fine and three years in jail – pardon or no pardon – was cause for enough concern to ask Lee Kun-hee to step down from the realm of guardianship over Olympic sport and “the youth of the world”.
Lee Kun-hee put his back into securing the 2018 Winter Games for Korea but could not be there for the show this week, ill-health having intervened. His son, Lee Jae-yong, took up the head of the family firm but that, too, has taken a similar turn for the worse before reprise: he was recently sentenced to five years in prison for securing government favours with kickbacks but a timely appeal led to punishment suspended. Samsung is one of those big businesses propping up the Olympic Games.
The stories of Lee Kun-hee and his heir go on, this week’s line including:
- From Reuters: Samsung chairman named as suspect in $7.5 million tax evasion case
- From the New York Times: Samsung Heir Freed, to Dismay of South Korea’s Anti-Corruption Campaigners
And all that against a backdrop of Greenpeace calling out Samsung over its ‘lack of commitment’ to renewable energy. An article at Sportcal on the subject concludes with these telling and pertinent lines:
“The IOC’s former Marketing Director Michael Paine believes that people scrutinise the IOC’s actions because they care about the values the IOC seeks to uphold. I can’t disagree with his gloss, but there’s another, simpler explanation: people don’t like hypocrisy. They feel cheated, and manipulated. The IOC can’t afford to stand back and allow the OCOG to own these mistakes. It needs to play a more proactive role in shaping and guiding OCOG communications.”
“The IOC can’t afford to stand back and allow the OCOG to own these mistakes”. Precisely. That is happening on a regular basis throughout the tiers of Olympic sport on many levels: blazers and organisations are simply not in touch with the issues they need to be in touch with, regularly ignore sound expert advice they are given – resulting in such resignations from FINA commissions by the likes of Aussie head coach Jacco Verhaeren and three of the most senior anti-doping officials in the sport – and refuse to own almost anything that either goes wrong or is ‘someone else’s problem’.
Yes, there are general rules covering general bad behaviour in the FINA rule book. Where, though, are the specifics of who is responsible for what when athletes are abused? Where are the set, standard best-practice procedures in a sport that in 2015-2017 could be found arguing over whether the executive of the ethics panel should have the only power to refer complaints for judgement by the ethics panel?
Important to have clear frameworks in place, surely, for a global body that may well be able to rely on the USA eventually getting it right through advocacy, courage and a legal need to get it right, but would be in far more precarious waters when it comes to a great many of its other 200 member nations. Tick off the top 30, 40, 50… then what? At the very helm of governance in FINA – supported and accepted by USA Swimming and others – are officials from nations that do not meet the basic gender equality criteria laid down in the international federation’s constitution.
Discrimination – gender and religion – plays out in swimming without consequence (we cannot call ‘they really shouldn’t do that, don’t do it again’ a consequence), swimmers from Israel having had their names and country codes and flags left off scoreboards at events in the Middle East, without the perpetrators being put before the Ethics Panel under threat of expulsion, as the rules allow for. Where are the voices of USA Swimming and many others with the power and might to make a difference, especially if they stand together and say – ‘enough’? Well, if they said anything that demanded due process and punishment, they said it very quietly … and the interests that prevent such moments becoming tipping points to change are still very much in place.
It may well be said, for example, that USA Swimming, among others, likes to conduct its FINA business quietly. Not for them the rough and tumble of open debate and discussion and disagreement on the floor at Congress, if it does not suit. Rather, you will find delegates on single-federation missions to FINA HQ, asking for more money to be spent on swimmers to avoid a wave of challenge from those planning a professional circuit alternative backed by rules from the European Commission’s competition unit (fair trade etc) that now bar sports bodies from enforcing long-held rules designed to punish athletes who compete at events that are not held under the jurisdiction of federations claiming sole right to govern and thus denying competition in the market place in which athletes work. Yes – ‘work’. They are not volunteers, nor do they get per diems of upwards of $350 and even $500 a day after all travel, hotel, meals and limos have been paid for.
Couple all of that to the criminal charges against IOC members outlined in this documentary about the fall from grace of Carlos Guzman, Brazil’s IOC boss, and the “Olympic Mafia” from ZDF in Germany – and we see that the tale of The Lords of the Rings and New Lords of the Rings, as told by Andrew Jennings is far from over.
About seven minutes in to the ZDF documentary you will find two of FINA’s executive bosses – the president and a vice-president, defending Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the sheikh named with fellow Kuwaiti and FINA ‘first vice-president’ Husain Al-Musallam as “co-conspirators” in the guilty-plea corruption case brought by the U.S. Justice Department against Guam soccer official Richard Lai. Says FINA president Julio Maglio, of Uruguay, in his almost unfathomable English: “… there’s no … result … he has the full trust of the executive committee …” – no need for the Sheikh and Co to be called to account. “We continue…,” concludes Maglione, unable to look reporter Markus Harm in the eye (Harm worked with Olympic investigative journalist Jens Weinreich on the documentary – and those who can read German can catch up with Jens’ daily dispatches from the politics of the Winter Games at his dedicated website).
So, U.S. court documents that show almost a million dollars went from a bank account in the control of Al-Sabah and Al-Musallam to Lai; the naming of the two as co-conspirators; and the fact that the sheikh stepped down from his FIFA roles pending inquiries – none of that prompts IOC blazers to ask the Kuwaitis – at a time when their nation is actually suspended from the IOC, FINA and other sports federations – to step aside until a court of law clears them of any wrongdoing.
Then we hear Sam Ramsamy, IOC member for South Africa and a FINA vice-president down the line from Al-Musallam, say of the Sheikh: “He’s doing an excellent job … “. He wobbles on: the IOC can’t be talking non-sports issues; anyway, there’s “a political agenda”.
You bet there is – but Ramsamy would need to look much closer to home to find the source, one suspects.
You’ll then hear the general secretary of world basketball say that such matters are “for discussion within the family”.
Little wonder that we find a Games insider telling The Guardian that the IOC is at the heart of “one of the most corrupted networks in the history of sport”.
It is a network supported and propped up by the USOC, USA Swimming (their vote went to Al-Musallam for FINA heir-apparent to the throne) and many others in parallel worlds far and wide. The USA, of course, is more powerful than most. Indeed, there is a strong case for saying that it is – regardless of the line-up of top tables – the No1 player and power. After all, it has NBC and all those many, many millions on its side – and it is those millions that bind so many to the gravy train and the Omertà that rules the Rings.
February 2018 – and the voices grow by the day in the USA: Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee, should fall on his sword. Yes, he should – and he’s not the only one.
The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act gives USOC the authority and responsibility to ensure that National Governing Bodies such as USA Swimming, all members of members of the Olympic “Family”, comply with the Sports Act’s statutory membership requirements and USOC’s bylaws and policies, state mandatory reporting laws the backup available to them when alleged abuse, sexual but many other forms too, is reported.
The latter raises the question: how many times has a USA sports federation top table reached for its lawyer and a non-disclosure agreement rather than initiate legal processes and proceedings, starting with immediate reporting to police authorities? I don’t have the figures – but one would be enough, while something tells me that someone will have enough of them to remind us why its time to call time on such habits and instincts.
Among USOC obligations is a requirement to ensure that single sports federations under its umbrella protect athletes from sexual abuse and other harms.
Has it done so? The woe that’s wept from USA Gymnastics of late suggests not. Swimming, too, has been rocked by the allegations of Ariana Kukors this week. And all that on top of a fair few other disturbing trends at the heart of USA sport, Speedskating, Taekwondo and others all in the sights of those advocating for victims of abuse, the timeline of events, appointments, opportunities missed likely to make a sorrowful, gut-wrenching read. In our time, on their watch.
Those looking on from outside the United States will wonder at two aspects of that sad story:
A. how is it even possible at a time of awareness and Safe Sport measures designed to address a past soaked in abuse that stretched from the junior locker room to the Olympic blocks, a former USA Team director of swimming and several well-known senior coaches among the banned for life?
B. By their own words this week, neither Sean Hutchison, the coach, nor Ariana Kukors, the swimmer he is alleged to have abused, told the truth to a 2011 inquiry when asked ‘did you have a sexual relationship’- the information and storylines from both sides are out there, writ large, on a personal blog and in media galore around the world. If the latter raises legal questions, stretching the right to fair trial, in some countries, it is, nonetheless, a feature of the powerful #MeToo movement that refuses to stay silent regardless of whether laws-enforcement and other authorities of got to it or not, too many the cases in history where nothing was done and abuse continued even when whole communities knew/suspected/had heard about bad things happening.
c. You nust read Ariana Kukors “My Story” in full to understand that her lie was her truth, her truth a lie. She was a young girl, then a teenager when, taken at her word, it all started and then rolled over her. She was 18 when she was treated to a sexual act as a birthday present that had been reserved for her coming of age. In the words she writes, we are told that her coach once asked her if she was wearing underwear. She was 15. Kukors reproduces an email written to her my the coach and explains the context. The details given by Kukors – including when and in what circumstances her sister and mother visited her when she was “living” with Hutchison (in his words) – part from those given by the coach. That now looks set to be tested in a court of law.
d. the USA Swimming ‘inquiry’ of 2011? In “My Story”, Kukors refers to a short time on a phone answering 19 questions to a private investigator she’d never met. Really, USA Swimming: is that how you deal with a young woman who might have been abused since her teenage years? A phone-call interview? A series of questions on a phone from a man a young swimmer has never met but is, presumably, asking things like ‘did you have sex with this man’? A phone call of 19 questions may work for a quick chat about plans for the season with someone like me; it does not sound the best of ways to go about getting to the truth of rumours that a coach and a top swimmer have been sexually involved since she was under-age, with all the manipulation inherent in any such potential situation. One might have assumed there were several personal visits to this athlete, including moments in the presence of her parents. One assumes that friends and teammates were also asked about the ‘rumours’. One assumes that a proper process was followed before, as Kukors puts it “aggressively closed the book on the investigation, putting out a public statement saying they had found no wrongdoing, and calling romps about Sean ‘malicious lies’.”.
So, back to bad things. Bad things like the criminal Andy King and others on a very long list of the banned from USA Swimming in the wake of many a long year of calls to do something about it.
Here’s a key part of the story, with Olympian Deena Deardurff:
Deena Deardurff Schmidt, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist who said she told her federation what was happening but nothing was done.
The first video has this line from Chuck Wielgus, the late CEO of USA Swimming, in a taped address to the coaches community:
“…one of my greatest fears is that someone is going to start linking all of this together”
It wasn’t Wielgus’ fault that Deardurff and many others were abused; it was not the fault of the vast majority of coaches who do a fine job in their work with children and young adults day in and day out across the United States; it was not the fault of journalists, either. But among all of those groups and others are people and professions who stay silent when they should not; and others who work hard to keep the silence.
The fact is, the Olympic house is built to reward those who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, even when ‘evil’, so to speak, is unfolding all around them.
Wielgus’ fears have, to come extent, come true – and there may well be more to come.
In the tide of reports on Kukors Vs Hutchison this week was one from AP that appeared on CBS under the headline: Swimming coach says he reported Sean Hutchison misconduct rumors years ago
That swimming coach was Mark Schubert, former USA Team Director (head off performance) and one of the world’s most famous coaches. If his call fell on deaf ears, then Dia C Rianda, a formner assistant coach of his, has reason to suggest her calls fell on his deaf ears. Bill Jewell, one of Schubert’s assistants and a man Rianda lodged a complaint against, was barred for three years by USA Swimming. Rianda, after filing her complaint, was dismissed by the swim club led by Schubert. Legal action followed and Schubert reached an out-of-court settlement with Rianda, a coach who must now surely be pained by the presentation of her former friend as a whistleblower.
That tale is further explained, in the context of latest events, in this article headlined “The ‘New’ Story From USA Swimming — Sean Hutchison’s Grooming of Ariana Kukors — Again Challenges Congress to Do Its Job and Hold Broad Hearings on Olympic Sports Youth Coach Abuse” at Irvin Muchnik’s Concussion Inc website.
Then there’s the case of Mitch Ivey, now banned for life. In 2013, the former U.S. Olympic team coach and national-team swimmer in his day was struck off the swim register 20 years after his history of sexual misconduct was first publicly reported and more than 30 years since his sexual abuse and harassment of female swimmers began.
As Scott Reid, the Orange County Register investigative reporter who has done much to expose wrongdoing in the USA sports system, put it at the time: The permanent ban of Ivey, who remained active in the sport decades after his sexual misconduct became well known within world-class swimming, closes one of the most embarrassing chapters in USA Swimming’s history but raises further questions about the governing body’s pursuit of sexual-misconduct cases and the seriousness in which the organization takes the issue, questions that most likely be repeated on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.”
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the 1984 Olympic 100m freestyle champion, long-time advocate of athlete safety and head of Champion Women, said of the 2013 case: “Mitch Ivey has always been the poster child for bad behaviour against female swimmers and I always thought if he can’t get banned for life what it’s say about every other coach.”
Lawyer Robert Allard, a man hailed by some and hated by others in a divided U.S. sports community, took the challenge to USA Swimming, saying:
“This (USA Swimming) leadership group has shown us time and again that it will not move to eradicate pedophile coaches from its organisation unless there is literally a gun placed to its head.”
Allard led the legal charge in the case of Rick Curl, too. Curl was banned by USA Swimming in 2013 after being convicted for sexually abusing a female swimmer in the 1980s beginning when she was 12. The ban came decades after USA Swimming board members and U.S. Olympic team coaches had been informed of the abuse. Said lawyer Robert Allard at the time:
“We saw it with Rick Curl and now we have seen it again with Mitch Ivey. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ivey, who for literally decades was an openly known pedophile, would not have been expelled were it not for the present Congressional oversight. This smacks as a pure ‘cover your butt’ manoeuvre as just two months ago we were told that this two-year investigation was closed. We need leaders who are proactive and not reactive when it comes to protecting kids from sexual abuse.”
USA Swimming maintains that it has done its best to clean up and this week restated its commitment to help victims in their ‘quest for truth’.
Abuse, of course, takes many forms – and in 2016, Dagny Knutson was awarded $617,800 in damages in a lawsuit against her former attorney Richard J. Foster, a former president of USA Water Polo and longtime official for FINA, global governing body for aquatic sports. That verdict is in the air. Foster appealed, then a judge called for retrial, then the swimmer appealed and there is no final outcome to any of it as yet.
In the meantime, Knutson, a big prospect in her junior years, quit swimming, and told the Washington Post, “It feels like another human swam”.
Wherever the rights and wrongs of that case may be when the law finally decides, we do know that a swimmer left the sport feeling knocked to the ground by her experience as one of the best of American prospects – without, as she sees it, the best of best-practice support from her federation.
Meanwhile, Larry Probst, the chairman of the Olympic committee, said at a news conference in Pyeongchang that no decision on the future of Scott Blackmun, CEO of USOC, would be made until the completion of an independent investigation into how the organisation handled the sexual abuse allegations at USA Gymnastics, cases that led to a 175-year sentence being handed down to (Dr.) Larry Nassar.
Blackmun was not in Korea for the Games opening because he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer back home.
Probst chose his words carefully when answering reporters’ question at the Winter Games – but the most interesting ones were those that led the NYT to write “Asked to clarify, Mr. Probst noted that the U.S.O.C. was part of the Olympic system.”
Therein lies the challenge for the USOC, USA Swimming and others. A review and overhaul of the autonomy of sport and Olympic systems and structures of governance, from the Lausanne-based parent organisation, through the likes of FINA (an organisation that likes to let sleeping dogs lie, including honours in place for the likes of Dr. Lothar Kipke, one of the criminals at the helm of abuse of under-age athletes in the days of the GDR and State Plan 14:25) and down to those who prop up the likes of FINA, is long overdue.
Given that the Olympic Movement will not move itself (no, Vision 2020 etc don’t get even close to what is needed), then national governments need to step in and enforce it with independent oversight and laws designed to bring the Olympic circus to a halt if no action is taken when action is clearly called for, be that in the realm of sexual abuse, doping, financial fraud, kickbacks and other forms of corruption.
#MeToo has shown what’s possible. Oprah‘s “Time’s Up” followed – and now the whole thing has reached sport. Yes, there is always a risk of injustice rearing its head in a headlong rush for justice long overdue, but what is beginning to unfold in the United States should be a catalyst for action far and wide when it comes to telling the IOC and all below it: you are not a law unto yourselves and we will refuse to send our athletes to your show if you don’t clean up and submit to truly independent oversight.
Here’s what Nancy Hogshead-Makar had to say in Washington as The Safe Sport Act came in and the U.S. government gets set to hold a series of hearings into abuse in many realms, sport, the workplace included. The Act needs signing by the U.S. President. A matter of time – and not before time, too: a law that protects children in sport. Do you have such a thing in your own country?
“Things better change,” says Senator Dianne Feinstein as the video below concludes. A part of that must be recognition and action when it comes to how the Olympic structure of governance contributes to the environment and circumstances in which emotional and physical harm of athletes can (and does) occur:
Meanwhile, alongside honours for Putin, the Qatari regime and various other heads of state and big wigs called out as unsavoury far and wide, the likes of FINA, the IOC and others who ask athletes to leave their politics at home hand out ludicrous ‘media awards’ to favoured ‘journalists’ who stay largely if not wholly ‘on message’.
The investigative reporter Scott Reid, mentioned above, has done tremendous work to expose wrongdoing. Andrew Jennings and many since have done so, too.
- Here’s a take of a hearing in the U.S. in which senators got to question Jennings alongside the head of U.S. soccer – it drips in the reasons why much more of this kind of scrutiny is needed in the Olympic realm
- Watch the whole thing
There are people like Grit Hartmann, author of Goldkinder and a journalist who works with Jens Weinreich and others on investigations. They will never be welcome in the current Olympic realm that cannot stand to have its dirty laundry washed in public. IOC/FINA/et al ‘journalist of the year’ award coming up for them?
Of course not. Such things are reserved for those who obfuscate, cover up, have their travel and stay paid for by those they should be asking hard questions of, suggest they are independent when they are anything but. In Korea, the media benches will include what is described in the realms of media covering military manoeuvres in dangerous place as ’embedded journalists’. Understandable in war zones (and even then, there are issues to be addressed) but in the realm of Olympic sport? It should not be happening – under any circumstances.
Investigative journalism is expensive – and is less in demand at many news organisations that ever at a time when newspapers that once sent teams of 10 and 20 to events such as the Commonwealth Games and many more to the Olympic Games now plan on having between 1 (all sports – imagine that and know that there will no coverage beyond the surface skim and colour piece that allows a sense of ‘didn’t we do well’ even when the truth is something else) and a handful there.With Thomas Bach as President of the IOC and a keen awareness of the damage of doping and corruption and the Olympic link to such things, it is perhaps no coincidence that Germany is the nation that appears to be investing more in investigative journalists than others when it comes to moments such as the Winter Games.
The ZDF crew, along with Der Spiegel and others are in Korea not just to tell us how lovely the light show was, how well oiled the chest from the man from Tonga was this time round nor that a new generation of Finnish ski jumpers is about to bring on a storm (the latter was made up, I have no idea): they are there to scrutinise the realm of highly paid ‘volunteer executives’ who take per diems for time away from work but seem to spend their lives doing nothing else at all other than Olympic and related ‘business’.
They are there because there is surely not a single serious news organisation in the world that does not now smell blood in the realm stacked with beasts that need a stake driving through their heart in the interests of the Olympic Games being synonymous with ‘Fair Play’, ‘Excellence’, entertainment and inspiration, rather than things wholly more seedy, sordid and corrupt.
There are many ways of getting that message across, including persuading athletes and coaches that self-chosen boycott of a big but lesser moment than the Games would be a Games changer in their interests. Here’s another way of getting sentiment to target (a hint of why Hamburgers said ‘Nein, nichts mit unserem Geld’)
And here… (a little over 37 mins in…):