A former USA Swimming vice president who complained about the organization's handling of sexual abuse cases was reinstated to the list of potential referees at major international events by an arbitrator.
Mike Saltzstein, a vice president from 2000-06, had initially claimed he was removed from the officials list after going public in April with his criticism of USA Swimming, which is dealing with accusations that it failed for years to address improper relationships between coaches and underage athletes.
The American Arbitration Association found the decision to drop Saltzstein from consideration as a deck official was actually made before he weighed in on the sexual abuse issue.
But arbitrator James R. Holbrook found that Saltzstein's rights were violated under the Amateur Sports Act, calling the decision to drop him from the list "arbitrary" and "capricious."
Edward Williams, Saltzstein's New York-based attorney, called it a landmark ruling in protecting the rights of judges, referees and other officials.
Saltzstein served as a technical official at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The arbitrator ordered USA Swimming to immediately notify FINA, the international governing body, that Saltzstein was back in consideration for future meets, which might include next year's world championships or the London Games in 2012.
Williams said he learned shortly before this week's arbitration hearing that his client was removed from the list after a meet official passed along "scurrilous hearsay" in a telephone call to the chairman of the committee that submits a list of potential referees from the U.S.
"They never gave Mike a chance to respond. He got no notice, no opportunity to be heard," Williams said. "This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an official has actually invoked the authority of the Sports Act."
Saltzstein said the ruling reaffirms the rights of everyone involved in the Olympic movement. He also feels like many support his desire to change the culture within USA Swimming.
"Coaches who I know and respect have told me this was the right fight at the right time," he said. "Around the world, many have written in the last 24 hours to say, 'Congratulations, well done, we look forward to seeing you.'"
USA Swimming issued a statement maintaining that Saltzstein was not singled out after he proposed a list of reforms the governing body should adopt immediately to deal with sexual abuse. The scandal has stretched all the way to the former director of the national team, Everett Uchiyama, who was banned for life for a relationship he had with a female swimmer beginning at age 14.
"The arbitrator's decision in this case was not in any way based on Mr. Saltzstein's original complaint that USA Swimming retaliated against him because of his position on USA Swimming's response to allegations of sexual misconduct by swimming coaches," the organization said. "In fact, during the hearing, [Saltzstein] withdrew his retaliation claim after his counsel admitted that they had put on no evidence of retaliation."
USA Swimming still faces an August arbitration hearing over the complaint filed by Indiana coach Ken Stopkotte, who claimed he was removed as the head of an all-star team after he discussed an alleged culture of sexual abuse for ABC's "20/20" newsmagazine.
The biggest changes could come at the group's September convention in Dallas. Saltzstein said he plans to be there to push for a stronger stand against sexual abuse.
"Yes, I plan to introduce legislation to the floor. Yes, I do intend to vociferously and forcefully argue this is a duty, responsibility and obligation of USA Swimming," he said. "You can't just count gold medals and hurt young children. You have to protect the children and win gold medals."