Five months after an ABC News investigation revealed that 36 swim coaches were quietly banned for alleged sexual misconduct with their athletes, USA Swimming has officially passed new legislation that implements athlete protection policies, expands background checks, and enacts mandatory reporting of credible information of sexual abuse.
"Our membership really stepped up today to provide their overwhelming support to this important issue," out-going USA Swimming President Jim Wood said in a statement.
The House of Delegates, the group in charge of passing USA Swimming bylaws, voted on the new measures by overwhelming majority, which also included enacting new education efforts to inform members of USA Swimming about the issue of sexual misconduct. The measures had been put forth by the group's Board of Directors.
New athlete protection policies now prohibit rubdowns or massages by coaches, audio or visual recordings in locker rooms, and shared hotel rooms between athletes and coaches at swim meets, among others.
Effective January 1, 2011, the expanded criminal background check program will be updated on a "continual basis, to avoid any gap in information," USA Swimming announced. Previously, the checks were only be updated every two years since being implemented in 2006.
In the past, the criminal background check program did not check all predators.
San Jose swimming coach Andy King, 62, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in January after authorities discovered a pattern of sexual abuse that stretched over three decades up and down the West Coast and involved more than a dozen teen female victims. Despite allegations against him and a police investigation, as he had never been charged or convicted of a crime, the USA Swimming background screening came back clean in 2008.
"Congratulations," read the letter. "Your background screening has been thoroughly reviewed and meets the qualification standards set by USA Swimming." King went on to molest a 14-year-old swimmer in San Jose, now one plaintiff in a handful of lawsuits against USA Swimming.
Now, all employees and volunteers of USA Swimming and its local affiliate clubs will be required to undergo background checks as well. And local clubs are encouraged to include further backgrounds screenings and employer checks.
Also new, the USA Swimming rulebook will now require members to report any incident regarding sexual misconduct to the organization's new Athlete Protection Office, former competitive swimmer Susan Woessner.
"Reporting must occur when an individual has firsthand knowledge of misconduct or where specific and credible information has been received from a victim or knowledgeable third party," according to USA Swimming.
Attorney Bob Allard, who is representing multiple alleged victims of abuse by USA Swimming coaches, warned that "the policies and procedures adopted will only be as good as the enforcement and follow through by USA Swimming."