FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, June 2. AFTER significant public pressure from a group of sexual abuse victims organized by the Women's Sports Foundation, USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus has elected to withdraw his name from induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
"After significant reflection and discussion, International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Chairwoman Donna deVarona and President/CEO Bruce Wigo, and USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus jointly announce that Mr. Wielgus' name will be withdrawn from consideration of the Hall of Fame," ISHOF released in a statement to Swimming World. "The induction ceremony should be a time to celebrate our sport and the outstanding accomplishments of the individuals being honored. Both ISHOF and USA Swimming believe our mutual decision is in the best interest of the swimming community as a whole and we are committed to working constructively together with other organizations, including the Women's Sports Foundation, to end sexual abuse and ensure a safe culture for athletes."
Wielgus had been slated to be inducted as an Honor Contributor in the Class of 2014 during the 50th Annual Honoree Induction Ceremony on June 14 at the Marriott Resort Fort Lauderdale Harbor Beach. But, with Wielgus removing himself from the induction, he saved ISHOF the need to make a decision one way or another on whether to go through with his induction or to rescind it. ISHOF also will not have to prepare for a potential on-site protest had it decided to go through with the induction.
Toward the end of last week, the WSF group led by Senior Director of Advocacy Nancy Hogshead-Makar submitted a protest letter to ISHOF regarding Wielgus' pending induction with information challenging Wielgus' leadership, or lack thereof, when it came to the sexual abuse scandals within the sport. That letter also led to the creation of a Change.org online petition.
The protest letter, that included co-signatures from Diana Nyad, Deena Deardurff Schmidt, Kelly Davies, Caren McKay, Suzette Moran, Brooke Taflinger, Jancy Thompson, Caren Bonnet, Stephanie Tyler Vieira, Anna Strzempko, Katie Kelly, Laura Tocheny, Michele Kurtzman Greenfield, Laurie Priest, Julia Thompson, Allyson Turner, Gretchen Ash, Anonymous victim of Everett Uchiyama and Debra Denithorne-Grodensky as those identified as victims of abuse. That letter detailed reasoning stating that Wielgus was an active participant in covering up some of the scandals of the past decade.
The opening statement of the document found in full below is as follows:
We are survivors and childhood sexual abuse victims of USA Swimming coaches. We are stalwarts of our sport; as current and former swimmers, coaches and family members and advocates of victims who are impacted by the sexual abuse scandal rocking the swimming world.
We've been told that the ISHOF Board of Directors did not have information or materials regarding Chuck Wielgus' handling of sexual abuse prior to voting. These materials have been assembled for you to re-consider your prior vote.
Together, and with these materials, we are asking that the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) immediately rescind the upcoming June 13, 2014 induction of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus to its Hall of Fame.
Chuck Wielgus has been the Executive Director of USA Swimming for 17 years, earning $908,432.00 in 2012, (Exh. 1, p.2) yet he has not shown leadership in combating sexual abuse in the sport of swimming for most of that time. As of May 1, 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life, making this one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the US Olympics sports world. Many of these coaches had well-known, long histories of sexual abuse, yet Wielgus enabled these men to continue to coach for years. Not until Wielgus was heavily pressured by the United States Congress, by heart-breaking media stories on the unrelenting parade of victims, by lawsuits, and by new United States Olympic Committee (USOC) rules, did USA Swimming start to protect victims. In short, when it comes to sexual abuse, Chuck Wielgus has not been a leader in protecting victims; he has instead responded to outside pressure, and only after other avenues of obfuscation have been exhausted.
Full Protest Letter
Wielgus had responded to the WSF claims with his own packet sent to ISHOF, including the support of all the USA Swimming Presidents who have worked with Wielgus during his time with the organization. Wielgus, however, decided throughout the weekend to withdraw his name.