A formal petition launched Tuesday by former Olympians and U.S. National Team members is calling for the removal of current USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey and Board Chairman Michael Graff, citing a “lack of transparency” and an “unacceptable” pattern of behavior.
The petition points to a report in the Orange County Register (OCR) from October 27, 2020 which indicates that Ramsey was “informed of multiple allegations of sexual abuse of USA Water Polo athletes, who were minors, involving a USAWP registered and certified coach” in 2017. Per the report, Ramsey did not report the allegations to law enforcement, and did not immediately suspend the coach pending an investigation. He did refer the matter to SafeSport, which ultimately banned the coach for life after a 20-month investigation.
“At a minimum, Ramsey’s failure to act in a timely and responsible manner exposed innocent USA Water Polo athletes (minors) and USAWP members to additional risk without any notice or warning to USAWP athletes, parents or guardians of minor USAWP athletes or other USAWP members,” the petition says.
The petition adds that USAWP was named in a 2014 civil lawsuit, as reported by OCR, identifying the same coach as an alleged sexual abuser.
Another OCR article published Dec. 30 documents the sexual harassment of a USAWP official from 2009-2015. The article says that USAWP’s Ethics Committee Chair communicated to Graff what must be done, and after her recommendations were not followed, she resigned in protest.
As of Thursday, the petition has 550 signatures. The authors of the page include three-time Olympian Christopher Duplanty (1988-96), two-time Olympian Andrew McDonald (1980-84) and Olympic alternates Rachel Scott Ruano (2000) and Erika Figge (2008). Both Duplanty (2000) and Ruano (2004) were also assistant coaches for the U.S. Olympic women’s team, winning silver and bronze medals, respectively.
USA Water Polo responded to the allegations in a statement, claiming that a member of its staff was added as a signatory without permission, leading the organization to have “serious concerns about the agenda of the parties behind the petition and whether the parties purportedly supporting the petition in fact do so.”
USA Water Polo says it has launched an investigation into the petition.
“As a service organization, USA Water Polo has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind,” the statement reads. “In full compliance with the Amateur Sports Act and in cooperation with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, USA Water Polo has formally adopted rules of conduct and grievance procedures for enforcing its rules that strictly address abuse and, through the Center, provide instant, anonymous methods for reporting abuse of any type.”
Full USA Water Polo Statement:
We have learned from a member of our staff that she was added as a signatory to this petition without her permission. In light of this, we have serious concerns about the agenda of the parties behind the petition and whether the parties purportedly supporting the petition in fact do so. As a consequence, we have launched an investigation regarding the petition.
USA Water Polo has grown dramatically over the last decade. Today, USA Water Polo is an organization at the service of one of the fastest growing sports in America with tens of thousands of members across the country. The organization’s top priority is the health and safety of its athletes so that they can achieve optimal performance in the sport. As a service organization, USA Water Polo has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. In full compliance with the Amateur Sports Act and in cooperation with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, USA Water Polo has formally adopted rules of conduct and grievance procedures for enforcing its rules that strictly address abuse and, through the Center, provide instant, anonymous methods for reporting abuse of any type.
Over the past decade, USAWP policies and procedures have been examined and refined, and these policies matter because they ensure the effective, impartial handling of grievances in accordance with due process principles. The founding of the US Center for SafeSport in 2017 was an important step in the Olympic movement to address abuse, and the Center now claims exclusive jurisdiction over cases of sexual abuse as a matter of law. As much as we would like to share specific details about cases or handle them as we see fit, due to privacy and confidentiality that protect those who have filed grievances, we cannot share the details of grievances. Also, our respect for the rule of law requires that we follow our duly adopted policies and procedures and those of the Center. We also continue to diligently focus on safety in our sport. The last year has seen the development of our safety rules to address COVID-19, in the interest of protecting athletes and their families from the virus while still working to develop their competitive abilities. In addition, the USA Water Polo Racial Equity & Reform Task Force was launched in 2020, charged with ensuring zero tolerance of racism and access to water polo for all. USA Water Polo is wholly committed to sustaining an environment where athletes can focus on their performance to compete safely, and we are proud to have achieved this with a 100 percent compliance rating by the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s auditors.