Why USA Swimming’s Leadership Must Face Full Inquiry Into Abuse Down The Years

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 headline at The Orange County Register tells a tales that swimming has not wished to speak of:

“100s of USA swimmers were sexually abused for decades and the people in charge knew and ignored it, investigation finds”

Reporter Scott M. Reid has long been on the case. Highlighting “protection of brand” as one of the critical barriers to the protection of athletes and safe sport, he starts his report by looking back on the sequence of events from the point at which a USA Swimming president raised a red flag in 2005 by stating his believe that the federation was “behind the curve” on dealing with abuse it knew of:

For decades the sexual abuse of young athletes by their coaches lingered just beneath the surface in American swimming’s otherwise golden waters,” writes Reid, adding:

In 2005, USA Swimming president Ron Van Pool decided it was time to bring the issue to the surface.

Giving his annual State of Swimming address, Van Pool pushed for a more aggressive approach within the sport to taking on sexual abuse.

“USA Swimming is frightfully behind the curve in this process and there are those who would have us continue to lag,” Van Pool said.

The speech, however, didn’t make much of an impression with Chuck Wielgus, then in his eighth year as USA Swimming’s executive director.

“There was nothing that struck me,” Wielgus said later in deposition.

The report demands may be nothing that many did not already think, know or dispute – but it demands nothing less than a full, official and independent inquiry of swimming’s leadership and handling of the events outlined in Reid’s report. Those events dove-tail horribly into other tragic events and USA Swimming’s support of woeful and damaging governance of swimming at global level.

The latter is published at the mid-point of two weeks of focus on Safe Sport and ahead of questions being sent out from SwimVortex far and wide next week (for this is not simply an issue that ends at USA Swimming, nor USOC: it spills out to the global sport and a woeful governance that accepts not a jot of responsibility for events happening on its watch, sexual abuse and doping at the forefront of 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.

A sorority of thinkers (from left): Prof. Joan Duda, Allison Wagner, Dana Vollmer, Caitlin Leverenz, Dr. Fiona McLachlan – at the World Aquatics Development Conference in 2014

Our series so far:

From Paul Newberry, at the Associated Press, comes this report, casts the same net when looking at who is failing young athletes: the Olympic Movement, USOC and related – and all down the chain of command, FINA include. Newberry starts his report:

Some advice to all the parents out there, particularly those swept up in the soaring passion and tear-jerking emotion of the Olympics.

If your children dream of going for a gold medal someday, you might want to nudge them in a different direction.

Those takes on what the governors of Olympic sport are doing to the sports that make up one of the world’s most spectacular shows of human achievement cane be found far and wide, week in, week out: trust has eroded. The transparency we don’t see from Olympic bosses no longer hides the woeful realities of a system of governance that wilfully fails young athletes and their safety and welfare on a regular basis. Neither the Olympic Games nor the Winter Olympics is no longer able to mask the games of politics and thrones that blazers have made their priority.

Ahead of explanations that are a must-read for the entire sport, Reid writes:

USA Swimming repeatedly missed opportunities to overhaul a culture within American swimming where the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches, according to the documents and interviews with sexual abuse survivors, former Olympians, USA Swimming officials, safe sport advocates and some of USA Swimming’s leading financial benefactors.

So much to weep over in this investigative report, including:

“This Safe Sport thing is a complete farce,” said Dia Rianda, a Monterrey-area swim coach and administrator and for several years one of the USA Swimming Foundation’s leading financial contributors. “USA Swimming is all about protecting their brand in any way they possibly can.”

Reid’s report has the following sub-heads. For regular readers of this site and SwimNews before it, see how many topics you can spot in this list alone that have screamed for our words and pages – with no response or support or encouragement from USA Swimming or any other single federation in the world.

  • The Gatekeeper (Chuck Wielgus – nothing we have not said many times before – and Reid has, too – the wider American media? Let’s hope so)
  • Protecting the brand (status quo – at all costs)
  • The nightmare (sexual abuse – read the story of Jancy Thompson and then imagine a GDR Olympic champion stating that she feels she was safer in the hands of doctors who gave her steroids because at least she was in a controlled environment and it was in the interests of the doctors to make sure she stayed healthy… gulp!)
  • Warnings ignored – how many times, how many topics – the week after next, SwimVortex will recall some of the worse abuse of power that extended to USA Swimming failing to bring down the appalling Housde of FINA when Fran Crippen died in a World Cup race in circumstances that ought never to have been – the man in charge on the day was promoted at FINA – and USA Swimming continued to vote for the status quo and a continuation of the damaging culture that contributed to Fran Crippen’s death.

Our investigation into those tragic events has been in our archive and remained there as a reference for subscribers. Today, we release it to general view [in full at the end of the report we link to] in light of the OC Register investigation that largely – but not exclusively – focusses on sexual abuse, an issue unparalleled in importance but for one thing: the death of an athlete when that athlete’s passing is directly linked to the governance of sport. Please, world swimming community, take the time to read the OC Register investigation – and take the time to read our investigation into Fran Crippen’s death.

The material comes from the deep SwimVortex Archive. SwimVortex.com relies on reader support for our work to continue: almost all our articles we publish are available to those who contribute just €1.25 a month (€15.00 a year) to work that some at the very helm of swimming governance have actively sought to shut down and discredit, including substantial payments having been made to PR outfits to do just that [a worrying habit that deserves exposure and condemnation … from the OC Register – “USA Swimming has also paid $77,627 to lobbying firms to lobby against legislation in California that would have made it easier for sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers and the organizations they worked for or represented in civil cases”] So, sincere thanks to those who support out work and keep us here posing the questions that need posing in a sport that at times appears to have no collective conscience.

The Top of the Day shirt from Georgia that Coach Shoulberg sent to CL for ‘writing truth’ about athlete safety – these shirts were given to the swimmers on his team who stepped up for self and team, in the water and out of it, people who supported each other, who encouraged openness and transparency.

Of late, here are words written to me by Fran’s coach Dick Shoulberg, a man who has not shied from telling the truth even in the face of red faces and bad consciences at USA Swimming and FINA:

“I live in Pennsylvania and when it became public knowledge that the Penn State football program, along with administrators, covered up sexual abuse, a shockwave went throughout the state and we still feel the repercussions today. 

“I am also sure there is a shockwave in Colorado Springs and Michigan State right now that has been heard around the world due to the discovery of a cover up of a sexual abuse case. 

“You may or may not know that Fran Crippen in the summer of 2010 going into the fall, wrote to Chuck in an effort to discuss with employees at USA Swimming about how unsafe Open Water was and how they, the athletes, need protection from an administrator through their attendance at the open water events to keep all fina open water venues safe. That request was denied. 

“I have talked to Mike, Lindsay and other people from US Swimming that USA Swimming needs to hold fina accountable for their latest actions in open water at the world university games. The head of fina open water was present at the world university games and Asian games where countries at both meets pulled out due to safety. 

“Unfortunately, the head of FINA [Open Water] was present at these competitions and did not follow his protocol. It is time that US swimming requests the removal of the FINA open water head. 

“From my knowledge, people at USA Swimming chose to be silent on this issue and silence killed a lot of people during WWII, there is no arguing that. 

“Will silence kill another person? That is the question. 

“It is our duty to ensure the safety of the sport. So, what are you going to do to protect all athletes from all nations? I had the pleasure of coaching all four of the Crippen children from the time they were little age groupers and, to this day, it is still painful to lose Fran. In my opinion,  FINA and USA Swimming did not protect the athletes and chose to be silent on the open water safety issue this past summer (2017). 

Tidal waves will roll over those who did not heed such warnings before a brighter day.

Back to Reid’s sub-heads:

This article will be pinned to the top of this website for the next seven days, during which we will be sending out questions to leadership figures among blazers, officials, coaches, athlete and others.

Spotlight on swimming – by Patrick B. Kraemer

Apologies to subscribers and to those we won’t be covering in the next couple of weeks of racing and getting on with the dedication to excellence in swimming. The environment in which you train and compete and work as coaches is too important to allow this moment of crisis to pass as a small corner of your sport treated by some as if it all comes down to the odd pervert or rogue here and there. It does not.

The week after next, we will bring you the answers or no comments or lack of response from those we write to.

The headline at The Orange County Register tells a tale that swimming has not wished to speak of: “100s of USA swimmers were sexually abused for decades and the people in charge knew and ignored it, investigation finds”. Reporter Scott M. Reid has long been on the case. As have we. Today, we release from the archive for general release Craig Lord’s investigation into the tragic death of Fran Crippen and bring you the words of Fran’s coach Dick Shoulberg and his appeal for the leadership of swimming to take up and do the right thing. Couple that with USA Swimming’s support of woeful and damaging governance of swimming at global level and to what Reid writes of and it all adds up to a demand for nothing less than a full, official and independent inquiry of swimming’s leadership and the handling of the events outlined by the OC Register and our focus on Safe Sport this month


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