Swim officials, child advocates team up
USA Swimming announced a partnership Monday with a national children's group to help protect athletes from sexual abuse, a move that did little to placate the most vocal critics of the embattled governing body.
The Washington, D.C.-based Child Welfare League of America, which describes itself as the nation's oldest and largest membership-based organization dealing with child welfare issues, will help USA Swimming develop new safeguards and conduct an annual audit to ensure enough is being done to prevent coaches from having improper contact with their athletes.
"We recognized the importance of obtaining concentrated input from independent experts in the field of child welfare," USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement. "After meeting with CWLA and reviewing the long and distinguished history of the organization, we are confident that we have the best people helping us with our ongoing efforts to serve our membership."
USA Swimming has been criticized for not addressing a rash of sexual abuse allegations against coaches, several of which have resulted in lawsuits.
In April, Wielgus unveiled a seven-point plan to deal with the issue, which included releasing the names of 46 people banned for life from the organization, mostly for sexual misconduct. The list included former national team director Everett Uchiyama.
Wielgus also announced plans to bring in outside experts to help USA Swimming develop a protection plan that would be a model for all youth sports.
But Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for attorneys suing USA Swimming, said the Child Welfare League of America appears to be primarily a trade association that lobbies for improvements in the nation's foster care system.
"We think it is clear that USA Swimming has entered into an agreement with an organization that has no credible experience working in youth sports to stop the molestation and abuse of young athletes by coaches," Vasquez said. "Instead of hiring top experts to deal with a very serious problem, USA Swimming is shamefully using a children's advocacy group to rebuild a tarnished image and continue protecting coaches that engage in inappropriate sexual conduct with their swimmers."
Founded in 1920, the Child Welfare League of America describes itself as an organization that works with nearly 800 agencies around the country to assist with a variety of problems affecting young people, including adoption, adolescent pregnancy and day care, as well as child protection.
"We must engage all Americans in promoting the well-being of children and young people and protecting them from harm," the group says on its website.
The Child Welfare League will assist USA Swimming in developing guidelines for coach-athlete interaction, study the group's code of conduct, ensure that athlete protection is a top priority and recommend education programs from the governing body's some 300,000 members, Wielgus said.
"We look forward to working with USA Swimming to create safe and positive environments for youth swimmers to grow and succeed," said Christine James-Brown, CEO of the Child Welfare League. "This partnership brings the strengths of both organizations together to better the lives of children."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press