Michael Pliuskaitis removed from USA Swimming’s banned coaches list

A former Loudoun County swim coach who was placed on USA Swimming’s permanently banned list in February 2013 for sexual misconduct is eligible for reinstatement after that decision was overturned last week by the American Arbitration Association.

Michael Pliuskaitis, a former coach at Snow Swimming, has been removed from the banned list — a move that one of his lawyers, Ryan Schmalzle, who did not handle the arbitration proceedings, characterized as vindication for the Code of Conduct violations USA Swimming alleged occurred between 2010 and 2012.

USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, made clear its disappointment with the decision Monday but acknowledged it will abide by it. The American Arbitration Association is the venue of last resort for disputes involving amateur sports, under the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act.

“While USA Swimming does not agree with the arbitrator’s decision in the case of Pliuskaitis v. USA Swimming, we respect the ruling of the American Arbitration Association,” USA Swimming spokesperson Karen Linhart wrote in a statement. “Mike Pliuskaitis’ name has been removed from USA Swimming’s public list of Individuals Permanently Suspended or Ineligible for membership.”

The AAA did not provide a copy of its decision, which followed a hearing held in Washington, nor did it shed any light on the rationale behind it, citing its policy of confidentiality.

According to Schmalzle, the arbitrator found that USA Swimming had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in banning Pliuskaitis last year.

According to others familiar with the decision, the arbitrator’s conclusion turned on an interpretation of what constitutes an improper relationship between a coach and an athlete that differs from that of USA Swimming.

At the time of his ban, Pliuskaitis was the third swim coach in the Washington area to be banned for life by USA Swimming in an eight-month span for alleged sexual improprieties with athletes.

The four rules he was accused of violating related to sexual misconduct, and the alleged violations were said to have occurred between 2010 and 2012. For most of that time, Pliuskaitis was president of Snow, the Loudoun County swim club that his wife, Teresa Meike, founded in 1998. The couple has since divorced.

Troubled by reports of sexual and physical misconduct among coaches of young athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2010 launched an initiative to address the problem. Under USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program, an upshot of that initiative, any complaint alleging a Code of Conduct violation is examined.

Noted Linhart, on behalf of USA Swimming: “USA Swimming stands by its Code of Conduct and Athlete Protection Policies and is deeply committed to the safety and welfare of all its members. It is the mission of the Safe Sport Program to increase awareness to reduce the risk for abuse in sport, and our organization has no tolerance for violations of our Code of Conduct.”

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