USA Swimming: We will protect our sport’s children

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On the heels of this week’s allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by its coaches, USA Swimming will implement a seven-point action plan.

The plan, which focuses on protecting children and other sport participants from sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior,  was laid out in an open letter to USA Swimming members from President Jim Wood and Executive Director Chuck Wielgus.

“We fully recognize that parents expect USA Swimming to do everything possible to protect their children from individuals who would do them harm, and we take very seriously the trust they have placed in our organization,” the executives wrote.

As set forth in the action plan, USA Swimming said it would:

1. Develop and disseminate comprehensive guidelines addressing acceptable coach behavior.

2. Enhance the system for reporting sexual abuse to USA Swimming and law enforcement.

3. Review USA Swimming’s Code of Conduct, as well as those of other top youth organizations.

4. Review USA Swimming’s current background screening program and determine if enhancements can be made.

5. Produce stronger communications to member clubs, which are responsible for hiring and employing coaches, regarding pre-employment screening, and the responsibility associated with hiring club employees.

6. Evaluate the process for sharing coaching history records with member clubs and other youth organizations.

7. Educate athletes, parents, coaches and club leaders on this important issue.

The plan will enhance USA Swimming’s existing child protection safeguards, which are:

1) Background Screening: In 2006, USA Swimming implemented a Background Screening requirement for all member coaches. The process, required before membership is granted and then every two years, screens for both criminal convictions and for criminal charges involving felonies, illegal drugs and sexual misconduct.

2) Code of Conduct: USA Swimming vigorously enforces its Code of Conduct, which specifically prohibits any form of abusive behavior.

3) Club & Coach Education: When considering coach hires, USA Swimming encourages clubs to conduct pre-employment screening beyond the criminal background screen. Coaches are required to have current certification in CPR, First Aid, and Safety Training for Swim Coaches. Additionally, all coaches must take and pass the “Foundations of Coaching,” test, before registering for the second year of coaching.

4) Reporting/Investigation/Board of Review: Sexual abuse is a criminal activity, and one that should be immediately reported to the local police. As a secondary level of reporting, anyone can file a complaint with the Executive Director of USA Swimming. These complaints are immediately turned over to legal counsel who may engage the services of a third-party private investigator. Complaints with merit go forward to the National Board of Review which has the authority to suspend or revoke membership when appropriate.

The organization’s leaders also said they would share their findings and successful safeguard measures with other youth organizations.

“While we must properly focus our efforts on the micro world of swimming, we must simultaneously recognize the much broader societal implications,” Wielgus said.

“Our efforts should seek to both learn from others and then in turn share what we learn so that not only will the membership of USA Swimming benefit, but other youth organizations may also find ways to enhance their own safeguards and educational efforts.”