The USOC’s Safe Sport Program

This post is worlds away from my normal musings but it’s something that’s been bugging me a lot and I need to get it off my chest.

For the first time in nearly twenty years, I am no longer very involved in the sport of fencing. I became a technician after accompanying my then-fiancé to a national-level tournament in November 1996. As an international-grade technician, I met many wonderful people from countless countries, and made a lot of good friends. In 1998, I became the Treasurer of the Georgia Division of the US Fencing Association. I have not worked as a technician in several years because of physical limitations but I held that Board position until I reluctantly resigned at the end of July.

Two years ago, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) rolled out their Safe Sport program.I recognize that abuse happens everywhere, including sports, and it must come to a halt. Perhaps if this awareness was around twenty-plus years ago, fencing would not have lost a promising female sabrist because of alleged verbal abuse from her coach. Then there are the allegations against Bela Karolyi, the US Gymnastics coach in the 80s and 90s. That said, there must be a better way.

While Safe Sport applies to any sport governed by the USOC, I can only speak to my experience with fencing.

Two years ago, my US Fencing annual membership fee jumped from $25 (“Supporting”) to $105 (“Professional”) because I wanted to volunteer. There are no additional benefits derived for that $80 so I was paying for the privilege of donating my time and expertise. In addition, a background check was required every two years, for which I paid an additional $35. (Remember, my husband volunteered, as well, so double the load on our joint wallet.) An additional $160 every year plus $70 every two years won’t break our bank but I do wonder how many people they lost because they couldn’t afford the increase.

This year, in addition to the increase in dues plus the background check, all “Professional” members (coaches, referees, Division officers) are required to take a 90-minute online training course on how to recognize and deal with abuse. At the end of the course, you receive a certificate, which implies you are then trained to recognize abuse.

As I said above, I haven’t worked a tournament in several years. As Treasurer, the only people I generally have contact with are bank tellers but I may walk into an ongoing tournament because there is a meeting following.  The scenario I posited:

I walk into a club because there’s a meeting following the conclusion of the tournament. I may go to the restroom; I may have a conversation with someone, our backs turned to the room. During the time I am there, an alleged incident of abuse happens and, given our litigious society, the alleged victim decides to sue. Any attorney worth his or her salt is going to pull the “certification” of every person in that venue and, because we are “certified”, sue us for not stopping the alleged abuse.

My husband and I are approaching retirement. We cannot afford to defend ourselves in such a lawsuit and there are no provisions in the Safe Sport program for insurance against such. The liability coverage in our homeowner’s insurance does not cover this sort of situation (I asked). It was a very difficult decision but we both decided to back away from our involvement in fencing rather than risk losing everything we have worked for.

While we are still helping the Georgia Division in aspects that do not require compliance with the Safe Sport policies, I feel as if a part of me has been lost. And it’s a part that will never be recovered unless these policies change.

I haz a sad.