Settlement of $13.85M Reached in Civil Suit Involving Water Polo Coach Bahram Hojreh

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A settlement—the largest ever levied against an American water polo organization—has been reached in the civil suit involving water polo coach Bahram Hojreh, a one-time age group water polo coach in Southern California. While head coach for his International Water Polo Club (IWPC), Hojreh is alleged to have physically abused as many as 13 former players.

The insurer for International Water Polo Club (IWPC) has agreed to pay $13.85 million to settle allegations, brought by 12 IWPC female athletes, that Hojreh, engaged in sexual misconduct. The settlement includes releases for all parties insured by the insurer, including USA Water Polo and its employees.

Hojreh, arrested in 2018 and awaiting criminal trial, remains out on bail. He was not a party to the settlement agreement.

But the assault on their persons is not the allegation at the heart of the explosive criminal and civil allegations leveled against Hojreh. The charge is that Hojreh encouraged, even coerced, his players to perpetrate sexual violence against another underage person. But what seems certain is that, on at least two separate occasions, players on Hojreh’s 16U girls squad deliberately sexually assaulted their opponents during competition.

The certainty stems from the number of sworn depositions that have been entered by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, the Irvine, California-based firm who bill themselves as “AMERICA’S LEADING SEXUAL ABUSE LAW FIRM,” into evidence in a civil suit to be tried early next year. The consequences of this particularly heinous accusation—for Hojreh, for USA Water Polo (which was responsible for overseeing the coach and the competition where the alleged abuse took place), and, most important, for the victimized athletes themselves—will almost certainly be life-altering.

“We have heard the plaintiffs’ testimony, and their allegations are heartbreaking,” said Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo. “These are young women who have grown up in the USA Water Polo family. We hope that this allows them to begin a new chapter in their lives. As an organization that prides itself on member safety policies that aim to prevent abuse, their allegations underscore–alongside our partnership with the US Center for SafeSport–that there is always more work to be done. It is also a serious reminder to our water polo community that we must all remain vigilant to identify and report abuse.”

The plaintiffs testified that the alleged abuse occurred between 2012 and 2017.

USA Water Polo claims it first learned of the allegations against IWPC and Hojreh on January 18, 2018, from the U.S. Center for SafeSport , the independent watchdog established by Congress and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to assume exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of sexual misconduct in the Olympic movement. Upon being notified by the Center, USAWP immediately suspended Hojreh’s membership. Neither Hojreh nor IWPC have been USAWP members since 2018.

However, in a statement released this afternoon, Morgan Stewart, a partner at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, claimed victory over USA Water Polo while accusing them of “flat out lies” in regards to their statement on this case.

The statement also reads that: “According to the lawsuits, USA Water Polo received numerous complaints that Hojreh had been teaching and coaching his players to sexually assault players on other teams during competitions. These assaults included grabbing and penetrating the genitals of female players.”

“While USA Water Polo officials forwarded reports and complaints to the U.S. Center for SafeSport they did not report the incidents to law enforcement or Child Protective services even though under California law and SafeSport code they are mandated reporters of sexual abuse,” Stewart said in the statement. He went on to allege that Ramsey in 2018—only months after allegations of abuse surfaced against IWPC—would tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee that the NGB’s protocol was to “immediately alert law enforcement, according to depositions, emails, letters and sworn declarations attached to the complaint.”

USAWP is the National Governing Body for the sport and has more than 500 member clubs, such as IWPC, each of which are independent businesses that hire and supervise their own coaches. Members sign codes of conduct to abide by the law, as well as USA Water Polo’s athlete safety policies and the Center’s Code of Conduct. Coaches and officials must be background checked and complete SafeSport training.

“USA Water Polo has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. The organization fully complies with the Center’s policies and supports its mission to eradicate abuse in sport across the Olympic movement. As a member benefit, USA Water Polo’s omnibus insurance policies provide coverage for its member clubs — coverage that is generally required by the aquatic facilities used by clubs for games and practices. Those insurance policies are funding the IWPC settlement.”

“We are committed to protecting kids from any abuse,” said Ramsey. “It is USAWP’s policy to take immediate action when, as in this case, USAWP learns about allegations of misconduct. As a sport, we are committed to the safety and fair treatment of both child and adult athletes. To do so, we are equally committed to working collaboratively with our members in providing them with the best support and resources to keep all athletes safe.”

These are admirable sentiments from Ramsey, but he has been under fire for his management of this issue since it was first reported in 2017  that members of IWPC’s 16U girls’ team had committed sexually assault during USAWP sanctioned competition. Opponents of the long-term CEO have alleged that he regularly turned a blind eye to abuse within his organization, and launched a petition last January to have him and outgoing USAWP board chair Mike Graff removed from the organization.

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