Other Sports

More Underage Sexual Harassment Problems for USA Swimming

| by Alex Groberman

USA Swimming was hit with yet another allegation of sexual assault this past week.

On Wednesday, news emerged that 28-year-old Jancy Thompson had filed a lawsuit alleging that her former coach committed a number of offenses against her, including unlawful sexual touching, molestation and sexual abuse starting when she was 15. The harassment, according to Thompson, lasted over five years. USA Swimming is named as a defendent in the lawsuit, as was coach Norm Havercroft.

"I am here today in hopes that USA Swimming will retain new leadership and clean up its program — get rid of abusive swim coaches and create a safe environment for young swimmers," she said in a public statement.

Including the Thompson case, there are currently five pending lawsuits against USA Swimming. All said cases, aside from one, involve coaches and athletes entangled in some form of harassment accusations. Thus far, only one Olympian has stepped forward to make any claims regarding the accusations. Deena Deardurff Schmidt, a 1972 Olympic medley champion, said in a March news conference that in the 1960s her coach repeatedly molested her.

Despite the lack of Olympic swimmers coming forward, the U.S. organizations that govern Olympic swimming are keeping a watchful eye on the problem.

"What's happened recently has sensitized people to the fact that they may have issues in their own sport that they didn't know or didn't think about in the past," says Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Swimming is not the only Olympic sport to be under such scrutiny for harassment charges. Last May, Steven Infante was found guilty of child rape and molestation against underage female athletes. Infante harassed underage female gymnasts in Connecticut and Massachusetts beginning in the early 1990s. USA Gymnastics pulled Infante’s membership in 1998.

Robert Allard, Thompson's lawyer, had this to say: “It’s beyond shocking that an organization such as USA Swimming, the umbrella organization for swim clubs across the country with more than 300,000 members, did not have better protection, reporting or response procedures in place before this.

"It's mind boggling to me. The more I look into this, the more appalled I am that little, if anything, has been done to protect children."

Chuck Wielgus, the USA Swimming executive director, said the organization had a code of conduct for all members that "expressly prohibits physical or sexual abuse," since the early 1990s. Further, he said USA Swimming was one of the first Olympic sports to institute a governing body to screen coaches, starting in 2006.

With all of the allegations made over the years, USA Swimming has made a conscious effort to work with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)  to build stronger policies and protective measures for the youngsters involved.

"What they had in place was, in 20/20 hindsight, not adequate," says Linda Spears, CWLA vice president of policy and public affairs. "But I don't think it was uncommon."

Issues relating to harassment of children in these type of instances appear to be becoming more prevalent in recent years. Tougher practices -- designed to watch how coaches and managers conduct themselves -- is a good start. However, is there really any way to stop these types of incidents from occurring?