PHOENIX, Arizona, August 19. USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program, designed to protect athletes by investigating and eliminating members who violate the organization’s Code of Conduct, will be thoroughly investigated by a leading child abuse expert this fall.
The review, instigated by USA Swimming on a recommendation by Safe Sport Director Susan Woessner, will be led by Victor Vieth, the executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. According to the website for the Wisconsin-based NCPTC, Vieth and his staff have trained child-protection professionals in all 50 states, and in a few countries around the world. His review will, according to USA Swimming, comb through every aspect of the Safe Sport Program, from website design and background checks to the Code of Conduct and other policies.
“We thought it was time to do a performance review of how we’re doing and how we could get better,” said USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. “We weren’t looking for an academic review. We wanted a review by an organization that had experience on the ground.”
The most recent investigation done by the NCPTC was an analysis of South Carolina’s Silent Tears program, the state’s plan to tackle child sex abuse cases. The 100-page report lauded the state’s child protection program as “among the best in the nation,” and “fueled with faith, labored with love and carries the hopes and dreams of millions of children.”
Whether Vieth’s review of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program will be as glowing will not be known until the report’s release early next year, but Wielgus told Swimming World that he and the rest of his staff is anxious to find the blemishes in the program that could hold it back from continuing to protect athletes and grow the sport.
“We anticipate that we’re going to get recommendations on how to get better, and that’s what we need,” he said.
Safe Sport made its debut in 2010, known then simply as Athlete Protection. In that time, USA Swimming’s Code of Conduct regarding reporting and detecting sexual abuse among its registered members has expanded and gotten tougher. As of today, more than 80 people have been investigated and are permanently banned from being members of USA Swimming for reasons that range from sexual misconduct to falsifying information.
Wielgus stressed that nothing sparked USA Swimming’s desire to undergo a review of its Safe Sport Program, other than to get an external set of eyes on its inner workings. Of the things that Wielgus hopes is recommended for improvement, he would like to see a stronger push toward making more of the membership aware of the opportunities available for education about the program.
“Our mission is to raise awareness to reduce risk,” Wielgus said, “and that’s a good way to do it.”