|DALLAS, Texas, September 18. THE much-discussed USA Swimming Athlete Protection Policies spurred by the sexual abuse scandal within the sport this year were passed at the United States Aquatic Sports Convention today in the House of Delegates meeting.
A comprehensive package of policy changes regarding penalties and reporting structures to protect athletes from predators as well as education requirements and background checks were implemented.
"The first step has been made," Mike Saltzstein, a consistent critic of USA Swimming's handling of the issue this year, told Swimming World. "Now, the policies need to be implemented in a timely manner."
Saltzstein made his presence known early in the House of Delegates meeting, insisting that wording in the Athlete Protection Policies be expanded to go beyond the executive director having sole discretion on whether a claim should move forward after an initial investigation.
According to a source close to the situation in Dallas, Salztstein's version of the chain of command in claim reporting was voted into policy.
Complete USA Swimming Press Release:
The USA Swimming House of Delegates implemented measures to expand USA Swimming's athlete protection efforts at its annual meeting in Dallas on Saturday. The measures, which were put forth by the Board of Directors, will educate the membership on the issue, implement athlete protection policies, expand background screening to include all non-athlete members and require those employees and volunteers that interact with athletes, to become members and therefore undergo background checking. Additionally, the House of Delegates passed legislation making it mandatory to report credible information regarding sexual abuse.
By USA Swimming bylaws, the above legislation had to pass by at least a 90% margin, with the exception of the non-athlete member background checking and education requirement, which required a two-thirds vote.
"We have been committed throughout this process, to doing the right thing, and taking actions that, first and foremost, will foster a safe and positive environment for our athletes." said out-going USA Swimming President Jim Wood. "Our membership really stepped up today to provide their overwhelming support to this important issue."
The background checking program was expanded in two ways with Saturday's action. First, all non-athlete members (volunteers, officials, etc.) must satisfactorily pass a criminal background check as a condition of membership .This represents between 30,000-40,000 additional background checks for the organization. Coach members have been required to pass a background check since 2006. The House of Delegates also voted to require employees and volunteers of USA Swimming, Local Swimming Committees and clubs who interact directly and frequently with athletes, to become members of USA Swimming, and therefore be subject to the background check requirement. This will also apply to club owners. The screenings, which have been required every two years for coaches, will now be updated on a "real-time" basis, to avoid any gap in information.
Additionally, the Board voted earlier this year to implement expanded background checking criteria. Along with the database check, coaches and officials will now be required to undergo a county court search (all counties of residence in the last 7 years) prior to becoming a member of USA Swimming.
All background checking legislation will go into effect January 1, 2011.
With legislation passed on Saturday, all non-athlete members of USA Swimming will be required to complete an "Athlete Protection Education" requirement as a condition of membership. The education must be updated every three years. All members must be in compliance with this rule prior to registering for the 2011-2012 season.
The House of Delegates voted to formally add the Board-approved Athlete Protection Policies to the USA Swimming Code of Conduct. Any violation of these policies can result in disciplinary action up to and including revocation of membership. The Policies are effective immediately. Earlier this year the Board also adopted "Best Practice Guidelines for Athlete Protection."
The House of Delegates added Article 306 to the USA Swimming rulebook, which reads in part, "It is every member's responsibility to promptly report any incident regarding sexual misconduct by a member … to USA Swimming's Athlete Protection Officer. Reporting must occur when an individual has firsthand knowledge of misconduct or where specific and credible information has been received from a victim or knowledgeable third party…." Failure to report, retaliation against any individual who reports in good faith, and reporting in bad faith were added as Code of Conduct violations.
By Board action earlier this year, it is USA Swimming's policy to report any such incident involving a minor, to law enforcement.
USA Swimming Clubs, will now be required to conduct specific pre-employment screenings prior to hiring any coach, employee or volunteer who would be in a supervisory position over athletes. To assist clubs in fulfilling this requirement, USA Swimming recently completed a 20+ company RFP process to identify approved third-party providers.
Earlier this year, the USA Swimming Board approved a proposed policy that USA Swimming will, after offering a due process hearing, add individuals who are no longer members, but who are found to have committed misconduct or who refuse a hearing, to its suspended-for-life-list. The House of Delegates strengthened that action Saturday, by adding verbiage to USA Swimming's rule book, that makes it a condition of membership that an individual submit to the jurisdiction of USA Swimming with respect to any rule or code violation that occurred during the period of membership, whether or not that individual is still a member.