A member of the AAU swimming committee that suspended 18 athletes last month said today the Amateur Athletic Union's refusal to give full details and names has done the sport more harm than good.
Al Schoenfeld, vice chairman of the international swimming committee, said he called for full disclosure but was overruled by Bill Lippmann, chairman of the AAU swimming committee.
"It was handled very poorly and had done the sport more harm than good," Schoenfeld said in an interview from his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. "There's no way to cover up leaks. Nixon learned that. So the names-right and wrong-will come out anyway. When you cover up you make it seem worse than it really is."
The suspensions covered athletes from two separate meets. The international swimming committee suspended five swimmers for one or two years for taking cocaine and marijuana while preparing for a U.S. Canada meet in Colorado Springs last summer. It suspended 13 others three months for curfew violations following a meet in Austin, Tex., in April.
Schoenfeld said he sought that the two sets of suspensions be announced separately. He said he had the support of Mike Troy, chairman of the international swimming committee, but was overruled by Lippmann.
The AAU announced both sets of suspensions two weeks ago, refusing to release names in either case, although identities - and misidentities - of some of the swimmers have appeared in news reports.
"The effect of not releasing the names is that this thing has dragged on for weeks, some wrong names have come out and the 13 swimmers have somehow got hooked up with the five," Schoenfeld said. "The soft apples were put in with the bad ones.
"I felf by stating separately the nature of the violations and the swimmers involved, the whole thing would have blown away. It's better to make a clean breast of these things."
Schoenfeld, former publisher of Swimming World magazine, said that the AAU's Swimming Code id unique is amateur sports and that if the 13 swimmers suspended for breaking curfew had been perorming in any other sport, there probably would have been no punishment at all.
"The rules were only created for swimmers and staff members at AAU meets," he said. "The divers, for example, have no code.They could drink all night at one table, while the swimmers at the next table couldn't have anything."
Schoenfeld said the reason for the strict code is that many of America's top swimmers are teen-agers and, although it may be unfair to 20-year-old swimmers and staff, "we can't have any exceptions. You can't have two kinds of swimming codes. If the younger kids see their teammates drinking, the peer pressure would be too much on them.
"The rules say no drinking or smoking while on team trips. All staff, chaperones and managers must sign the code. We know it isn't easy to turn down a toast at a meet banquet. But it has to be done.
"It sounded the alarm to other athletes that the code would be enforced. It was like a traffic ticket."