USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey testifed for a Senate Subcommittee Wednesday, giving some updates on USA Swimming’s progress in the area of SafeSport and especially emphasizing the need to speed up response time to sexual abuse complaints.
Hinchey was one of four sports federation executives to testify for the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security. He joined USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews, U.S. Figure Skating President Anne Cammett andUSA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele in testifying in person, while USA Taekwondo Executive Director Steve McNally provided written testimony, according to the committee’s website.
Much of the discussion centered around what federations are doing to protect athletes and how federations are interacting with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the relatively new entity that now oversees all investigations and bans on sexual abuse allegations against coaches in Olympic sports. All four executives expressed full support of the Center, but did offer feedback on how the process could improve.
Staffing & Response Time
For Hinchey, that feedback focused on the response time between when official complaints are fired and when ban decisions are finally made.
“With the change as it relates to initial reporting and adjudication to the Center for SafeSport, what we’re learning is that our responses, unfortunately, are not as fast as they were when we were first handling it,” Hinchey said.
The change Hinchey refers to is the authority of the Center for SafeSport, which now takes in all complaints, investigates them and hands down sanctions – a task that used to be in the hands of sports federations, or National Governing Bodies (NGBs). The Congressional testimony several times referred to the flood of allegations currently being investigated by the Center, which is still working on acquiring funding.
Hinchey said funding the Center is vital, as is making sure the Center can hire enough staff to work through complaints and investigations more quickly.
Feedback From Athletes & Survivors
Hinchey was uncharacteristically open about criticism USA Swimming has gotten on its current SafeSport efforts, noting several key pieces of feedback the federation is working to address.
“We’ve taken some criticism, based on meeting with some survivors, on our content,” Hinchey said, referencing the SafeSport content the organization has used as educational tools for athletes, coaches and clubs. “So we’ve halted that distribution. We’ve hired Prosidian to come in and audit that fully. We look forward to having that content improved and then listening to the athletes on the best possible methods to distribute that.”
Hinchey emphasized that much of the feedback has come from athletes. He said he’s met with survivors of sexual abuse within the sport, along with athletes that represent both elite-level national teamers and club-level swimmers.
“Even last week at our convention, we met with some of our SafeSport Fellows, which are local club athletes,” Hinchey said, “and they were very critical of the fact that we’re not helping them with the right tools, specifically with social media communication, so that’ll be the next expertise we hire outside.”
USA Weightlifting CEO Andrews specifically lauded USA Swimming’s athletes and national teamers, who he says addressed multiple National Governing Bodies (NGBs) a few days ago.
Revisiting Old Complaints
While Hinchey had plenty to say about current SafeSport efforts, he continued to avoid commenting on USA Swimming’s history with athlete protection. When we interviewed Hinchey shortly after he was announced as CEO in the spring of 2017, he said he didn’t “have a whole lot of knowledge as it relates to what’s gone on,” but said he’d be getting up to speed on the issue as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, he told the Senate that athlete protection has been “my top priority since I’ve been at USA Swimming,” but also declined specific comment on two high-profile cases of coaching abuse allegations from before his time at USA Swimming, saying he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of those cases.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D – CT) specifically asked Hinchey about the status of Norm Havercroft and Paul Bergen, coaches accused of sexually abusing their athletes.
“I’m not familiar with that case prior to my arrival to USA Swimming,” Hinchey said of Havercroft, before confirming that Havercroft was not banned, but was not a member of USA Swimming. There was some discussion of a “flagged list,” or a list of people like Havercroft and Bergen, who are not currently USA Swimming members (and thus not within the jurisdiction to be officially banned), but would be denied membership should they apply. Hinchey said USA Swimming doesn’t specifically use the “flagged list” terminology, but would deny the membership of someone applying to be a member who had a criminal charge leveled at them for sexual abuse of an athlete.
The Center for SafeSport would now be in charge of banning Havercroft or Bergen. Their rules of operation (the SafeSport Code) does have a broad definition of “covered individuals” that would seem to include former coaches who are no longer USA Swimming members: the SafeSport code defines “covered individuals” as “Any individual who: (a) currently is, or was at the time of a possible violation of the Code, within the governance or disciplinary jurisdiction of an NGB.” Bergen has been reported to the Center, but hasn’t yet appeared in their banned database.
Other topics brought up during the hearing were the establishing of an “inspector general” within the U.S. Olympic Committee (which all four executives said they supported) and Hinchey’s recommendation that the Center for SafeSport mirror the model used by USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), which he says has made great progress in the area of anti-doping.