In the biggest escalation yet in the criticism from the Women’s Sports Foundation toward USA Swimming, the former has sent a petition to the International Swimming Hall of Fame asking them to remove USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus from the 2014 induction class.
The letter is signed by a group referring to themselves as “Victims of Coaching Sexual Abuse,” as well as “Supporters of Victims of Coaching Sexual Abuse,” which includes the Women’s Sports Foundation as a whole and several Olympians, high level coaches, and victims in recent high-profile coaching abuse cases.
Among the signatories are Diana Nyad, who last year swam from Cuba to Florida and says that she was abused as a child by her swim coach; and Rick Curl victim Kelley Davies.
Included in the allegations in the petition are that “Chuck Wielgus Failed to Remove Known Serial Molesters from Swimming,” citing cases of Mitch Ivey, Rick Curl, Andy King, and Everett Uchiyama. In the cases of Ivey and Curl, accusations of long-ago abuse were well-known within the swimming community. In the case of Uchiyama, a letter of recommendation for a coaching job was written by Pat Hogan, USA Swimming’s director of club development, even after Uchiyama was added to a then-private banned list, according to the Associated Press.
Also among the 7 points outlined in the document, included below, are questions about Wielgus’ lack of leadership in sexual abuse prevention, hostility toward victims, and Wielgus’ refusal to apologize to victims of sexual abuse.
Wielgus was announced in January as part of a 14-member class of 2014 into the Ft. Lauderdale-based Hall of Fame.
A request for comment specifically from Wielgus, through a USA Swimming spokesperson, was not responded to. However, USA Swimming did release a comment from 5 current and former USA Swimming presidents who worked with Wielgus since 1994. That includes current president Bruce Stratton, and Carol Zaleski, who in 2009 was honored with a “Paragon Award” from the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Those full comments are posted beneath as well, and were overwhelmingly in support of Wielgus’ induction into the Hall of Fame.
“Without hesitation, we attest that Chuck is a man of impeccable character who consistently exhibits a value system steeped in ethics and personal accountability,” the statement reads. “His integrity and leadership have been inspirational to us, and we have seen first-hand his positive impact on USA Swimming’s 400,000 members that include athletes, parents, volunteers, coaches and staff.”
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in swimming and also the Senior Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, says that the response from the former presidents does not “dispute any of the facts presented.”
“To be clear, victims are holding him accountable for what Wielgus has done and failed to do,” Hogshead-Makar said. “Some changes have been made, but only very recently, and at the point of a gun. It is not admirable leadership to move an organization that is under pressure from a Congressional investigation, an FBI investigation, lawsuits and constant media scrutiny. Instead, it takes leadership to avoid that level of inquiry.
Editor’s Note: SwimSwam cannot confirm there is an FBI investigation into USA Swimming. When contacted, the FBI responded that they will not comment on any ongoing or alleged investigations. A USA Swimming spokesperson says that “there is NO [sic] FBI Investigation [sic] into USA Swimming’s insurance practice.”
“We’re asking Chuck to step down from Hall of Fame consideration,” Hogshead-Makar continued. ” He is forcing the swimming community to take sides against itself, and it is not good for the Hall of Fame or the sport.”
Update: After publishing, the International Swimming Hall of Fame sent us their statement.
As for Bruce Wigo, the president and CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, he says that the petition raises “disturbing” questions.
“The petition raises disturbing, grave questions that we take most seriously,” Wigo said in full. “The International Swimming Hall of Fame has great compassion and empathy for all survivors of sexual abuse and we are fully supportive of any effort that helps make our sport safe for young athletes. We have received and currently are reviewing the petition.”
The statement from the presidents of USA Swimming and the official protest, and exhibits, from the Women’s Sports Foundation, are attached below.
Statement from the presidents:
“Each of us has worked directly with Chuck Wielgus over the past 17 years and we wholeheartedly stand behind him and his outstanding accomplishments. His integrity and leadership have been inspirational to us, and we have seen first-hand his positive impact on USA Swimming’s 400,000 members that include athletes, parents, volunteers, coaches and staff.
“Without hesitation, we attest that Chuck is a man of impeccable character who consistently exhibits a value system steeped in ethics and personal accountability. A stalwart leader in the sport of swimming and amateur athletics, he possesses a history of honesty, compassion and success that merits his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.”
Carol Zaleski, USA Swimming President (1994-98)
Dale Neuburger, USA Swimming President (1998-2002)
Ron Van Pool, USA Swimming President (2002-06)
Jim Wood, USA Swimming President (2006-10)
Bruce Stratton, USA Swimming President (2010-Present)
Women’s Sports Foundation petition below. Download the document here.
To Download the exhibits to the WSF’s petition, click here.