USA Volleyball and USA Wrestling — the Olympic national governing bodies for their sports who oversee networks of coaches and clubs that work with hundreds of thousands of children across the country — maintain lists of adults banned from their organizations for activities including sexual misconduct but keep those lists confidential, officials confirmed.
With the issue of sex abuse in Olympic sports organizations highlighted by revelations of USA Gymnastics’ flawed sex-abuse prevention policies, The Washington Post sent survey questions about child protection to all 47 Olympic and Pan American national governing bodies earlier this year. In their responses, USA Volleyball and USA Wrestling both acknowledged they kept lists of adults banned for transgressions including sexual misconduct, but they do not make those lists public.
Other Olympic governing bodies — most prominently USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming — for years have published lists of adults they’ve banned for sexual misconduct to help prevent them from joining other organizations that work with children.
USA Swimming, which has banned more than 120 coaches and officials for sexual misconduct, said it routinely gets phone calls from other organizations that work with children, checking about people on the banned list who have applied for jobs.
“If it’s information that we know, and it can make kids safer, then we feel like it’s important to publish it,” said Susan Woessner, director of SafeSport, USA Swimming’s abuse prevention program.
Eleven Olympic national governing bodies, commonly called “NGBs,” publish banned lists online — those for swimming and gymnastics, as well as USA Archery, USA Diving, USA Fencing, USA Judo, USA Taekwondo, USA Triathlon, USA Water Ski, USA Weightlifting, and U.S. Figure Skating.
There may be other Olympic governing bodies that also keep confidential banned lists. Out of 47 Olympic governing bodies, 17 declined to answer any of The Post’s questions, including USA Softball, U.S. Sailing and U.S. Rowing. Others answered in ways that avoided disclosing if they have banned lists, such as USA Track and Field, which repeatedly referred Post reporters to its approved coaches registry database, declining to answer follow-ups on if the organization maintains a banned list of coaches not in that database.
USA Volleyball officials declined an interview request and said in emails that it intends to publish its list eventually, declining to specify when. In a phone interview, USA Wrestling officials also said they plan to publish their list and declined to say when.
Les Gutches, USA Wrestling’s associate executive director of programs and strategy, said the organization’s leaders were gauging the risk of a lawsuit from a banned coach or official, among other considerations, as they discussed the possibility of publishing the list.
“It’s a tough one,” Gutches said. “Clearly, we want to make the safest environment possible for kids. . . . It’s something we would like to do, and are going to do.”
Meeting a different standard
Entrusted by federal law with overseeing the elite ranks of their sports, including international competitions, the 47 Olympic and Pan American national governing bodies credential or certify coaches and clubs who, collectively, work with millions of children across the country. USA Volleyball has more than 330,000 members, according to its most recent annual report, which does not provide a breakdown by age group. USA Wrestling has about 200,000 members, according to Gutches, and most of them are under the age of 18.
Both organizations, like many of their counterparts, are headquartered in Colorado Springs, but their membership programs extend their reach across the country. For USA Wrestling and USA Volleyball, these membership programs are both a way to raise money and to maintain quality control over the talent pipeline for future Olympians. For local coaches and clubs, these memberships provide a way to leverage the prestige of an association with an Olympic organization to attract students.
The practice of Olympic sports organizations keeping banned lists stems from a problem that long has vexed youth-serving organizations: The criminal justice system catches only a small percentage of adults who abuse children. Abuse victims often never come forward, and the ones who do often come forward years after their abuse, making allegations difficult to prove in criminal court.
As a result, child-protection experts have recommended youth-serving organizations go above and beyond law enforcement to keep potential abusers from working with children. For years, USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming periodically have hired private investigators to look into allegations of abuse raised against member coaches and officials. The investigators present evidence to volunteer disciplinary panels, who vote on whether to impose a suspension or ban, using an evidence standard lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal courts.
“In law enforcement, even if they do a really, really good job, they have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Victor Vieth, a former sex crimes prosecutor and founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center who has advised USA Swimming on its abuse prevention policies. “They have this really, really high bar to meet, and if you set the bar that high, you’re not going to protect very many children.”
In 1990, USA Gymnastics became the first Olympic sport governing body to publish a banned list, in its monthly newsletter. Before 2010, USA Swimming kept its list confidential. In response to a series of high-profile sex-abuse cases that year, USA Swimming officials decided to publish their banned list on its website.
That list revealed that a former national team director, Everett Uchiyama, had been banned confidentially years prior, after admitting an improper sexual relationship with a 14-year-old swimmer. The relationship didn’t result in a criminal charge because the victim didn’t come forward until after the statute of limitations had passed.
After accepting the ban, Uchiyama moved on to a job as aquatics director at a local country club in Colorado Springs. After USA Swimming published the banned list, Uchiyama resigned from the country club. Club management said at the time they knew nothing of the allegations against Uchiyama.
“I’ve seen many a situation where a coach . . . once they get banned, if it’s confidential, they’re free to move on and start their own club, or go work somewhere else with children,” said Robert Allard, a San Jose lawyer who has represented several abuse victims in lawsuits against USA Swimming and other Olympic national governing bodies.
“The only reason why an NGB would not want that information published is to protect its own hide . . . because it’s a black eye, it’s embarrassing, it’s an acknowledgement that abuse may have happened under their watch,” Allard added.
Banned lists are one measure in which some Olympic organizations are more aggressive than peer agencies. For example, schools have long struggled with how to handle information about teachers fired for abusive or sexually related acts that don’t result in an arrest. In education circles, there’s a commonly used phrase for when a school allows a teacher to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct and move on to another school: “passing the trash.” Several states have passed laws prohibiting the practice.
Flaws in the system
USA Wrestling’s Gutches said the organization has a disciplinary process similar to USA Swimming’s, and it sometimes conducts its own investigations of adults suspected of abuse. Rather than publish that information, USA Wrestling flags banned member names in its internal database, Gutches said, so they are ineligible to purchase membership again.
In defending USA Wrestling’s decision not to publish its list, Gutches pointed out other Olympic organizations published their lists after well-publicized abuse cases.
“USA Wrestling has not really come up against such an issue,” he said.
While the size of USA Swimming’s and USA Gymnastics’ banned lists — both exceed 120 names — may give the impression those sports are more heavily afflicted with abuse than others, experts said those lists simply show aggressive child protection policies working.
“If you’re doing a good job . . . you should have a number of identified cases” of abuse, said Daniel Rhind, a senior psychology lecturer at Brunel University in London who researches child protection in sports. “That’s very hard for sports officials to get their heads around. They think zero cases is the goal. . . . I’d be more concerned about the sport with no identified cases, or a sport with only a few cases. . . . It’s highly unlikely, especially with a large organization, that they’re going to have no cases.”
USA Wrestling declined to release any details about its list, such as the number of names, and how many have been banned for sexual misconduct. USA Volleyball deferred comment to its attorney, Steven Smith of the law firm Bryan Cave, who declined to answer questions.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has endorsed publicly the practice of publishing banned lists. It’s unclear if USOC officials have been aware that USA Volleyball and USA Wrestling still kept confidential lists.
“Banned lists are one of many tools we can use to keep predators away from athletes and help keep young children safe while they’re participating in sports,” USOC spokesman Mark Jones wrote in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to make all available information public and easy to find.”
In March, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about sex abuse in Olympic sports, USOC executive Rick Adams acknowledged the disparity between banned list policies at Olympic governing bodies has been a problem that likely has allowed adults unsafe to work with children to escape detection.
“One of the flaws in the existing system is . . . where there was vigilance [strong abuse prevention measures], the predators would simply avoid those situations, and they would simply move . . . between sports, between clubs,” Adams said. “The issue of banned lists is another area where there needs to be consistency.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 10 Olympic national governing bodies publish lists of coaches and officials banned for sexual misconduct. The correct figure is 11, USA Weightlifting also publishes a banned list.
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