Three Big Questions About Safe Sport Changes

The US Center for “Safe Sport” is making some changes. Are they good changes? We’ll see. The document that communicates the changes does at some points explain why the changes are being made.

For instance, the code has now changed the term “covered individual” to “participant” to resolve a discrepancy in terms from the federal statute.

Other sweeping changes are left mostly unexplained, leaving me with some pretty big questions about those changes:

Why the changes in confidentiality?

As this SwimSwam article explains, one of the most significant changes to the “Safe Sport” code has to do with confidentiality. They write:

This is a very important piece of clarification, particularly for our purposes in reporting all the relevant facts about an allegation or Center decision. The new Code specifically says that any involved party can be sanctioned for “abuse of process” if they disclose official documents (like the Investigation Report), recordings transcripts or evidence about a case to anyone “outside of the proceedings.” On the other hand, the new Code does make clear that both accusers and accused can discuss the incident, their participation in the investigative process and the final decision of the investigation without punishment. The Center does reserve the right to correct the record if anyone “intentionally misrepresents the process, the underlying facts or the outcome of a matter.”

So why did they make this change? What problem is this intended to mediate? Are the victims of abuse demanding this change?

This change reeks of effectively gagging complainants to the center from sharing any details of the process. Safe Sport has been roundly (and fairly) criticized for their bungling of cases, and this change seems intended to retaliate against those who would expose their mistakes.

Why are summaries of decisions confidential at all?

It is slightly good news that summaries of decisions will now be provided to clubs and organizations. The process of finding out a coach in your team was “banned” was, from all accounts, complete chaos in the past. You were notified, with basically no information on why and little idea that there was even a process underway.

But again, who is for keeping the decisions confidential? I can see situations where victims might want to keep them confidential, but otherwise there is a huge benefit to making these decisions public. This allows both for greater transparency in “Safe Sport’s” process and, crucially, in cases where someone violates the code, educates the public on what is actually out of line behavior.

Will We Begin Seeing Temporary Measures by USA Swimming?

Probably the most positive change in the entire code is that NGB’s can now enforce temporary measures, even in situations where “Safe Sport” later takes over an investigation or has jurisdiction.

In two cases, both Scott MacFarland (which we have discussed here a number of times with Sarah Ehekircher) and Dick Shoulberg, Liz Hahn of USA Swimming has communicated that effectively her hands are tied to take any measures against either because the complaints fall under the jurisdiction of Safe Sport.

Concurrent with this post I have reached out to Liz Hahn for comment on the change in temporary measures.

The changes to the “Safe Sport” code offer a mixed bag of potentially chilling any criticism of the organization, while offering some moderate gains in transparency and potentially giving much more leeway to governing bodies.