A landmark report on the internal culture of USA Swimming (USAS) claims the organisation’s leaders were aware of sexually abusive coaches within its ranks but either ignored them or refused to act, enabling the careers of many accused paedophiles and exposing hundreds of young athletes to further abuse.
Citing a trove of legal documents and internal memos from USAS, The Orange County Register claims the organisation’s upper echelons repeatedly refused to take definitive disciplinary action against known abusers over fears it could lose prestige and high-profile corporate sponsorships.
One passage alleges “Top USA Swimming executives, board members, top officials and coaches acknowledge in the documents that they were aware of sexually predatory coaches for years, in some cases even decades, but did not take action against them.”
Documents show that former executive director Chuck Wielgus didn’t take action against some coaches even when presented with “direct complaints” of abuse.
The Orange County Register states at least 252 coaches or officials have been arrested, charged, or internally disciplined by USAS in the past two decades for abusing those under the age of 18. Those individuals alone are alleged to have abused at least 590 children, some of them in pre-school classes.
But USAS also kept a record of coaches and officials “flagged” for being accused of child abuse offences by law enforcement agencies who were not internally disciplined; of 32 coaches on the list in 2010, only six were subsequently banned by USAS over the abuse.
The list of “flagged” individuals is also not available to the public, and some abusers are not even present on the “flagged” list.
The paper illustrates the issue with a particularly galling example. In 1996, USAS was alerted by law enforcement officials that coach Norm Havercroft had allegedly abused underaged swimmers. In 1997, Havercroft allegedly began abusing 15-year-old Jancy Thompson. In 2001, USAS was again notified of the allegations made against him. Thompson reached an out-of-court settlement with Havercroft in 2014.
However, Havercroft does not appear on the USAS list of coaches banned for life. Internal documents reveal that despite top USAS officials being aware of Havercroft’s alleged abuse, the organisation has never moved forward with internal disciplinary action.
The report also includes details pertaining to lobbying firms hired by USAS to push back on legislation that would have made it easier for abuse victims to seek compensation.
Those are only a few of the accusations put forward in the report, which draws parallels to the detestable actions of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar – and the alleged inaction of USA Gymnastics itself. You can read the full report HERE.
If you would like to talk to a counsellor about rape, sexual assault or domestic violence, give the people over at 1800 RESPECT a call on 1800 737 732.