SafeSport: Are Your Club’s Policies and Procedures Up-to-Date?

In recent years, many in the rowing community have heard the term “SafeSport” but might have wondered what exactly it means, to USRowing and its members. This article serves as a reminder of what is needed, especially by member organizations, as it relates to SafeSport compliance and athlete safety.

Beginning January 1, 2015, all USRowing member organizations have been required to have and implement their own athlete safety program. While the primary focus was to safeguard children, these policies extended to all age groups including masters and college level athletes.

In January 2017, the US Center for SafeSport was established to protect participants in Olympic sports, from sexual misconduct, emotional misconduct, physical misconduct, bullying, harassment, and hazing. Following the establishment of the Center, each of the National Governing Bodies (“NGB’s”) of the 50+ Olympic sports adopted similar policies. While the Center maintains jurisdictional authority over issues of sexual misconduct, each NGB is required to develop SafeSport policies to manage issues of misconduct within the NGB or within their member organizations.

USRowing has developed specific policies for compliance with SafeSport that include background checks and online training for all individuals with direct contact and an extended relationship (24 hours or greater as defined by the US Center for SafeSport) with athletes. These “covered individuals” include coaches, staff, administrators, referees, and volunteers. In addition, USRowing has developed a specific set of procedures for the reporting, investigation and adjudication of issues of misconduct.  

USRowing’s SafeSport program requires each member organization (clubs, schools, etc.) to develop its own internal SafeSport program. To assist member organizations, USRowing has provided a SafeSport template that organizations may use to create their own SafeSport policy as well as other online resources on the USRowing website.

Similar to USRowing’s program, each member organization program should include procedures for compliance as well as policies. Member organizations must report any issue involving sexual misconduct to the Center for SafeSport using the Center’s online reporting form, as well as to any local authority, as appropriate.  The following list includes some of the key requirements for USRowing member organizations.

  1. Background Checks:  Covered Individuals should undergo background checks prior to working with any athlete.  While any background check company may be used, USRowing recommends using the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI). A special discounted rate of $20 has been negotiated for USRowing member organizations. Background checks should be completed and updated every two years.
  2. Center for SafeSport Online Training:  The Center has developed a three-part online training program which covers all areas of misconduct.  The Center is updating the training with a refresher course, age appropriate training, and parent training. While required as a compliance item for covered individuals, USRowing recommends that all athletes (regardless of age) complete the online training program.
  3. SafeSport Policy and Procedures: Among other components, each organization’s policy should include the following (see template for more info):
    • Reporting Form and Process: SafeSport reporting should be completed using a complaint form developed by the member organization. USRowing has developed a form which may be used as a template. A process for submitting the form should be established, which includes delivery to a responsible individual within the member organization.  This might include a head coach, CEO or club president. A board member should also be included as a secondary back-up.
    • Investigation and Transparency: Once received, the complaint should be investigated.  An important part of the investigation is to provide a copy of the complaint to the individual identified as the offending party. This individual, known as the “respondent” should be given the opportunity to review the concerns and respond.
    • Mediation: Often the concerns raised in a complaint can be resolved by an open discussion between the parties.
    • Hearing Panel: When the issue cannot be resolved through mediation, the member organization will need to create a hearing panel. Members of the hearing panel should be impartial. The role of the panel is to review written information and testimony from both parties and any witnesses.
    • Hearing Panel Procedures and Authority: The hearing panel should consist of a minimum of 3 impartial individuals. Individuals should review the issue prior to meeting. At the time of the hearing, the complainant, respondent and any witnesses are asked to present information to the panel. Following presentation, the complainant, respondent and witnesses are excused while the panel members deliberate. The hearing panel should be given the appropriate authority by the board of directors to recommend appropriate actions for the complainant and respondent.
    • Appeal: Any USRowing member may appeal the findings of the hearing panel and member organization to USRowing’s SafeSport program. Contact: safesport@usrowing.org or call (609) 751-0710.

SafeSport is important to all members of the USRowing community. Developing clear policies and procedures and requiring athletes to view the Center for SafeSport online training programs will help promote a safe and fair rowing environment and provide a positive experience for all of our athletes and participants.

Beginning in April, USRowing will host a series of webinars designed to assist member organizations in the development of their internal SafeSport programs. USRowing will continue to provide additional information and resources as they are  made available by the US Center for SafeSport.

Questions about SafeSport may be directed to John Wik, Director of USRowing SafeSport Programs at john.wik@usrowing.org or (609) 751-0710.

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