Banned Coach Bahram Hojreh Seen at St. Pete Event; Prompts USA Water Polo Response

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Amidst the beauty of St. Peterburg's North Shore Aquatics Complex, the drama surrounding Bahram Hojreh swirls. Photo Courtesy: Next Level Water Polo

An incident last weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida exposed a flash point in a contentious legal battle involving USA Water Polo and former SOPAC Zone coach Bahram Hojreh, the subject of criminal and civil charges for alleged abuse of his players.

Pictures of Hojreh with members of the Jacksonville Water Polo Club masters team in St. Petersburg, Florida, in conjunction with the Battle of the Bay x 3 tournament, provoked a response by Chris Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo.

“Bahram Hojreh is permanently ineligible to participate in any USA Water Polo events,” Ramsey said in a strongly-worded statement shared with Swimming World. “Although his name did not appear on any verified roster for the Battle of the Bay event, his presence in the vicinity of the event has been reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport by USAWP for further investigation. A grievance is also being filed with USAWP to address any violation of USAWP’s Rules Governing Conduct or the Center’s Code that may have occurred.”

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The Jacksonville Water Polo Club last weekend in St. Petersburg; Bahram Hojreh is in the back row on the right. Photo Courtesy: Manly, Stewart, Finaldi

As a result of an ongoing investigation by the Center for SafeSport into alleged abuse of minors on his International Water Polo Club girls’ team—the focus of criminal and civil suits in California—Hojreh is permanently ineligible to participate in any USAWP-sanctioned events.

“USA Water Polo is awaiting direction from the Center in regard to any action that the Center may take, granted its jurisdiction regarding Mr. Hojreh’s alleged violations, resulting from Mr. Hojreh’s actions and those who may have acted in concert with him,” Ramsey said.

“A USA Water Polo hearing panel will determine what additional actions may be forthcoming regarding other members who may have violated USAWP’s Rules Governing Conduct.”

Complicating matters is that the pictures showing Hojreh violating his SafeSport ban were unearthed by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi—attorneys for the plaintiffs in a civil case against the disgraced former coach, a suit that also names CEO Ramsey, Director of Membership Christy Sicard and USA Water Polo.

The images show Hojreh fraternizing with members of the Jacksonville club before and after masters tournament play last Saturday and Sunday at St. Petersburg’s North Shore Aquatics Complex. One picture suggest he may have attempted to participate in the competition—an audacious scheme given the severity of the charges against him.

To do so, Hojreh would have had to play under an assumed name. USAWP verifies rosters prior to competition, and referees are directed to request identification on the pool deck. There is the possibility that local referees might not be privy to Hojreh’s status with SafeSport; a representative for the Jacksonville Water Polo Club said that he did not know his visitor from California was under sanction from USA Water Polo. He stated that Hojreh did not play in the tournament with the Jacksonville club.

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Hojreh (far right) in St. Petersburg. Photo Courtesy: Manly, Stewart, Finaldi

This episode potentially exposes the porous nature of enforcement of SafeSport and USA Water Polo regulations. Ramsey’s promise of repercussions against Hojreh and others connected to his Florida getaway may also be seen in contrast to the organization’s previous actions against a one-time member of its regional governing structure.

Morgan Stewart, a partner with Manly, Stewart & Finaldi has argued that, following reports in 2017 of abuse by members of Hojreh’s 16U girls’ team against opponents during regional Junior Olympics play, Ramsey, Sicard and USAWP did not move quickly enough to discipline a coach who was a fixture in SoCal age group water polo the last two decades. Hojreh was allegedly allowed to continue abusing his players for another year before much publicized legal action was taken.

Stewart’s outing of the rogue coach at a Florida tournament—one of a very few USAWP events in the last six months—was meant to raise questions about USAWP’s ability to police its events. Ramsey’s statement is a counter play to keep the alleged abuser at bay. Both are salvos in a continued legal skirmish that will likely drag on until next year.

7 comments

  1. Ryan Guerra

    Why should anyone listen to SafeSport when swimming coaches Murray Stephens and Richard Shoulberg haven’t been banned for their actions against their athletes??? Are both of these men untouchable because they were on the USA Swimming Board of Directors and made secret deals to avoid punishment with disgraced former USA Swimming Head, Chuck Wielgus? Facts are facts and it’s time for Stephens and Shoulberg to pay the piper!

  2. avatar
    Joshua Harrison

    Is there any presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, or is the treatment of Justice Kavenaugh now the norm from top to bottom of our legal system?
    It should be a SafeSport for athletes, but also for coaches.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Joshua:

      I appreciate your comment, thought I’m going to sidestep the political issue to put this in context. Imagine that your buddy came to a birthday party for your kid, brought a friend who you didn’t know had been accused of bad stuff w/kids, and this person introduced himself using a fake name. Would you want him running around playing pin the tail on the donkey?

      You might realize how the folks w/the Jacksonville club feel about this situation—including that they may endure sanctions from USAWP because Hojreh came w/his friends, didn’t identify who he was, and — apparently — didn’t have the presence of mind to stay off social media.

      Your correspondent

  3. avatar
    Joshua Harrison

    Thanks Michael, you’re a solid reporter and I respect you and my comment wasn’t directed at you; I understand that it’s your job to cover news, and in your story you properly qualified the accusations as being just that: accusations (not verdicts). Rather, my comment was generally about how the modern “me too” cultural trend towards punishment based on mere accusations may be extending to this case. Have people related to Bahram’s accusers profited from Bahram’s demise, by quickly adopting his pool access, players and program and promptly starting a replacement club? If so, then that would seem fishy, though I really don’t know what to believe … which is why we have a legal process with evidentiary rules, informed jury, etc, and wait for a verdict to form opinions. Was the St. Pete tournament a MASTERS tournament with all adults and zero kids? If so, then it would seem proper for USAWP to investigate whether a violation occurred, unemotionally and without a tone of outrage and kid-protecting righteousness. Just my personal thoughts …

  4. Ryan Guerra

    Why should anyone listen to SafeSport when swimming coaches Murray Stephens and Richard Shoulberg haven’t been banned for their actions against their athletes??? Are both of these men untouchable because they were on the USA Swimming Board of Directors and made secret deals to avoid punishment with disgraced former USA Swimming Head, Chuck Wielgus? Facts are facts and it’s time for Stephens and Shoulberg to pay the piper!

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