USA Fencing’s board of directors adopted a new SafeSport athlete protection policy in an emergency meeting on July 17, 2013. (SafeSport is an initiative of the U.S. Olympic Committee that is intended to help national governing bodies—NGBs—of Olympic sports like fencing to create policies that protect athletes from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.)
- Requires all adult coaches, administrative staff, officers, referees, and volunteers (including drivers, chaperones, and tournament volunteers) who have contact with minors to become “professional members” for $35-40 per year and submit to a background check. This requirement applies from the national level all the way down to local clubs. This can easily cost a club an extra $1,000-2,000 per year.
- Makes all professional members mandatory reporters not just of suspected abuse, but of all policy violations, no matter how minor—including the failure of another person to report a policy violation. This reporting requirement is not limited to one’s own club, but applies to any USA Fencing activity, national, divisional, or local. This will encourage an environment of paranoia rather than collegiality.
- Permits anonymous reporting of policy violations, creating a climate ripe for the pursuit of personal vendettas against clubs and individuals.
- Interferes with the day-to-day activities of local clubs and coaches by imposing staffing requirements for classes and lessons and restricting routine communications with minor athletes (whether in-person or electronic). This requirement will escalate payroll costs and interfere with the mentoring that is such a vital part of youth coaching.
- Gives the national office a veto in personnel decisions for both paid staff and volunteers at all levels, from local clubs all the way to the national office. The national office reviews background checks for everyone involved with minor athletes and issues a “red light” or “green light” with no input from the local club or division.
- Applies to all clubs and coaches, whether they purchase insurance through USA Fencing or a third-party.
- Does not apply equally to domestic and international situations—e.g. the travel policy only applies to domestic competition.
(For a more in-depth discussion of The Problem, see “Details of the Problem“.)
Clubs, coaches, athletes, divisions, parents, and volunteers must work together to find a solution, as this policy will force many clubs and individuals to either get out of fencing or become scofflaws—neither of which are good for the U.S. fencing community—with smaller clubs and clubs with large volunteer cadres getting hit the worst, followed closely by referees and tournament officials.