Closing Loopholes: Banned Individual Received Credential at Mesa Grand Prix

At the 2013 Mesa Grand Prix, there was a person on USA Swimming’s list of individuals permanently suspended or ineligible list who received a credential to be on deck. The name of said individual has not been specifically told to us (though we can infer it), but we have been told that this individual is someone who was banned specifically did not receive their ban for an issue of a sexual nature (and has never been a coaching member of USA Swimming). Sources in Arizona (before anyone starts a witch hunt – remember that we have lots of sources everywhere) have also told us that those involved with the running of the meet were made aware of the situation prior to the start of the meet by a person affiliated with USA Swimming.

USA Swimming confirmed to us that a person on the ‘banned list’ received a credential to the meet as a vendor. Vendors, under current rules, are not required to be members of USA Swimming, nor are meet volunteers. The banned list specifically precludes those individuals on it from becoming USA Swimming members under current USA Swimming rules, not from receiving credentials to be on deck at USA Swimming meets.

“We are aware that a vendor at the Mesa Grand Prix was on the list of “Individuals Permanently Suspended or Ineligible” from USA Swimming,” the organization said in a statement. “Under current legislation, the USA Swimming rule book does not require membership for meet marshals, timers, computer operators, concessionaires, vendors or spectators. With that in mind, the individual membership status of these individuals would not be under review when working or attending a swim meet. The USA Swimming rule book can be amended by legislation at the House of Delegates.”

Those are the facts of the story as they’ve been expressed to us and confirmed by multiple sources.

Now, let’s look at what this really means, and where the conversation moves from here, in a more editorial fashion:

This revelation raises some really interesting questions. First of all, how does the rule change:

What we all need to understand about rules that would preclude those on the banned list from receiving credentials. We’ll dig more to the roots of the matter in a piece planned next week, but effectively, someone would have to propose it and the House of Delegates would have to vote it onto the books: USA Swimming cannot unilaterally institute a rule requiring background checks or membership for all volunteers and vendors. It may be start considering more carefully who you elect to the leadership roles in one’s LSC.

Second: Does the lack of a rule mean that USA Swimming’s hands are tied?

In short: no. Certain people (coaches and athletes) are protected by the Amateur Sports Act. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Trials, where Rick Curl received a credential because he registered a single, unattached swimmer, who used to train with him but didn’t at the time, and whom he had no actual coach-athlete interaction at the Trials. But because the athlete and the coach both signed the form saying that Curl was the athlete’s primary coach, and because Curl hadn’t been given due process yet, USA Swimming could not deny his credential.

Vendors are granted no such guarantees. There are examples of where USA Swimming has run background checks on people who were, previously, non-members and volunteers for their meets (and thereby made them non-athlete members). A specific example is the massage therapists at the Olympic Trials. Carefully inspecting those massage therapists makes sense, because they have direct, sustained, physical contact with the athletse (as compared to, say, a timer).

“The focus of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport efforts is on individuals with the most day-to-day interaction with athletes, especially those in a position of influence,” USA Swimming said of this specific case. “At the 2012 Olympic Trials, USA Swimming and the Local Organizing Committee brought in a group of massage therapists from the Universal College of Healing Arts in Omaha, Neb., to work with our athletes on-site. As with all massage therapists and athletic trainers, we required that these massage therapists become non-athlete members of USA Swimming.”

The point is, that those background checks show that in specific instances, USA Swimming has shown the willingness and ability to inspect certain high-risk individuals more closely without inspecting every volunteer and vendor that walks through the door. Given that USA Swimming knew that this vendor was on the banned list when the vendor was issued a credential, that person would seem to be a group that should have been given extra scrutiny, regardless of whether that person was a member or if the rules required it to be as such.

Third: Should there be background checks run on vendors and volunteers before granting them access to pool decks at USA Swimming? In two parts:
a. Should background checks be run on all people granted deck access?

This sort of legislation is one that a lot of people at the local level may shy away from.

Though situations may exist, we have never heard of a reported case where an athlete was abused by a non-member, during a swim meet, as a result of the access they’ve been given to the deck. There are important ‘best practices’ on this system (separate restrooms for volunteers versus athletes, for example) that could help keep it that way, but generally speaking, these people interact with athletes only in wide-open areas, with lots of people around. Is this to say it could not happen? It certainly is not. But is it truly feasible to run a background check on every volunteer it takes to run a swim meet, from timers to the person serving nachos at the concession stand?

That is not a question for us to answer. Every law in the world has a tradeoff. Can every club afford these massive undertakings? Will volunteer positions be able to be filled if people begin feeling uncomfortable with having their child’s swim team, and the board members, learn every detail about the parent’s background? Is there enough trust that the results of a background check, even if they don’t preclude a person from volunteering, would be kept confidential in circles of volunteer meet organizers and local swimming politics? And at the end of the day, are we as a sport willing to risk a single instance of abuse happening by a vendor or a volunteer to avoid all of these pitfalls?

The questions are not easy.

b. Does the rule need to be as far reaching?

In modern politics (and if you think that youth sports aren’t political, then you haven’t spent much time around youth sports), a question becoming louder and louder from certain circles is “just because we can’t fix the whole problem, should that stop us from fixing part of the problem? Should that stop us from at least helping the situation?” It comes up in gun debates all the time.

If the membership of USA Swimming decides on the above that making every person on deck run through a background check is too much, does that stop us from making things better? The individual’s status who was credentialed at the Mesa Grand Prix was known even without a background check. In the least, meets that are direct products of USA Swimming (Grand Prixs, Olympic Trials, National Championships) should be able to be monitored. Further, the technology that it would require to ensure that every credentialed person at every USA Swimming sanctioned meet is in the least not on the ‘banned for life list’ doesn’t receive a credential is efficient and inexpensive. Even as simple of a solution as the person handing out the credentials and signing in volunteers and vendors having a list of people banned, and comparing it before the credential is turned over. Afterall, the list isn’t that long yet. It perhaps wouldn’t be a perfect system, it wouldn’t catch every offender or possible offender, but it would at least be a ‘check’. If we can keep one banned coach off of a pool deck, then we’ve made all of the swimmers a little safer, haven’t we?

And Finally: What needs to be done, if this really and truly is a loophole?

There is a lot of uncertainty in this situation about what, if anything, could be done. We are not here to instruct the membership on this matter, we are here to inform the membership, present the issues and the questions, and share the different perspectives we can gather on the topic.

It is, however, the right of the USA Swimming membership to affect these rules, clarify any loopholes, and close them, if they so desire. The 2013 United States Aquatic Sports Convention runs from September 10th -14th in Garden Grove, California.

Among the rules changes being proposed is one involving the rights and abilities of those on the banned list to continue working with USA Swimming members. The rule is not totally clear, as written, on whether that would include vendors, but that can be clarified, and established as the preference, at the convention.

Likewise, other rules can be made and voted upon if it is decided that coaching of athletes and volunteering at meets or being a vendor are separate issues.

If you have an opinion, take it to your local LSC representative. USA Swimming can hear issues, and they can present rules for changes, but it is the House of Delegates that has to approve these changes and ensure that they happen.

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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