It would be naive to assume that USA-Swimming is the only swimming organization in the world that had a problem with coaches sexually abusing their swimmers. In fact, this is an issue that likely plagues every swim league in the world, most recently with Swim Ireland, the national governing body of the sport on the Emerald Isle.
George (John) Gibney, a former Irish National Team and Olympic coach, has been accused by many former swimmers of molesting them when they were children between 1966 and 1982. According to Indianapolis lawyer Jonathan Little, he was able to get away with it for so long because of an authoritarian culture that existed in Swim Ireland where nobody dared questioned the coach, especially one in as high of a position as Gibney.
Now, a high court in Ireland has struck down the case of a 39-year old woman who claims to have been abused by her former coach 20 years ago while on a training trip in Orlando, Florida. The first charges were brought against Gibney (as well as the Irish Amateur Swimming Association and Olympic Council of Ireland) back in 1994, and included allegations of abuse by many swimmers over a 16-year period.
After an appeal by the IASA and OCI, those proceedings were struck down on grounds of “delay,” similar to the concept of Statute of Limitations in the US. In Ireland, “Indictable offenses” have no set statue of limitations, and rather the discretion is left up to the judiciary on the assumption that they adhere to the clause in the Irish Constitution that orders there be “speedy and efficient dispatch of civil litigation.”
The current accuser, whose identity has not been revealed, brought her charges in 1997 alleging abuse in 1991. The charges then remained idle for 11 years until, 2009, she was granted approval by a high court judge to renew the papers within 6-months. This week, another high court judge, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, said the 13-year delay in activity on the case was inordinate an inexcusable, and that it was unlikely than anyone “could or should be prepared to resurrect this litigation” in the future. What it boiled down to, in the judge’s opinion, was that the damaged caused to the defendants by the huge delay in proceedings outweighed the potential benefits and recourse to the plaintiff from the proceedings.
The plaintiff argued that, since Gibney had fled the country to live in the US, the delay was being caused by the difficulty in serving him papers. While the judge recognized that fact, he said that it still was not an excuse for the total lack of activity on the case in such a long time. Though Gibney might have escaped prosecution on a purely administrative basis, at the very least his name is now out in the public in the US, his current home, and he will be kept away from children at all costs.
There is now a push in the United States to prosecute Gibney on perjury charges because he did not disclose his past criminal history on his green card application, which likely would’ve resulted in his being denied entry to the country. At the very least, it would have prevented him from being named a swim coach in North Jeff County, Colorado. Beyond the failing of the Irish organization to protect its members, now USA-Swimming is culpable for failing to protect its members as well.
Much like the seemingly institutional failings in the US, this is not an isolated incident for the Irish Swimming community, either. Gibney’s replacement, Derry O’rourke, was sentenced to a 127-year term (of which he only served 9 years prior to release in 2007) for sex crimes against children. Another prominent figure, former Irish Team Manager Frank McCann, murdered his wife and children to keep them from discovering that he had fathered the child of an underage swimmer.