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Title of Article: "The Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 - Who is it Protecting?"
Author: David D. Johnson, NAES

The Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 is an American law which establishes protection for young athletes. Among its provisions, it established the United States Center for Safe Sport as an independent entity to investigate reports of abuse and protect athletes from abuse in the United States Olympic movement.

Safe Sport is a direct result of the many verbal and physical abuse complaints from the US Gymnastics team and others after prodding from the Olympic community. The United States Congress was pressured to “do something.”

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has been responsible for organizing events then sending qualified teams of athletes to compete at world-class levels in the Olympic Games held every four years. The USOC deals with only the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) for each sport.

NAES   Therefore, Safe Sport must be mandated for each sport/discipline, making sure that the specifics are followed, with a mandatory audit of each NGB every year. Safe Sport, however, is the ultimate arbiter as to the charges made even by an anonymous source, and the appropriate punishment which they alone assign to the respondent.

It must also be noted whether or not a hearing will be held plus the respondent must pay a non-refundable fee of $5000.00.

The standard procedures for informing the respondent of any charges is often made at midnight of the first day Safe Sport’s assigned punishment period. All this is done without the respondent’s ability to argue in his/her defense or even hear what the charges are.

While it is very good that Congress is authorizing Safe Sport to protect the young amateur athlete, many legal minds are concerned about how the “Preponderance of Evidence” standard is determined plus other legal issues. Protection for the young people, many of whom are under the age of 18, necessitated a much more pro-active method of making sure there is proper protection especially for all under age competitors.

Equally important was the necessity of making sure that where one-on-one adult/competitor situations were present, that strict adherence to some sort of mandatory regulations be maintained.

Because the Safe Sport Act was developed and authorized by a Congressional Act, it gives much more authority to protecting the nation’s youth. In a sport such as equestrian, where the protection of young equestrians is paramount, there will have to be major changes in how those potential Olympic competitors will be trained when at that level. Young girls start as early as three in the equestrian and many other sports, and it’s not clear what Safe Sport will demand further.

Many exhibitors are attempting to form other organizations which would demand the use of the legal system to defend those accused. To date, “Athletes for Equity in Sport” is one group just formed to aid in the defense of respondents.

Groups such as these seek fair and equitable rights for not just the accused but also the accuser. An area for concern to legal professionals – some accusers have had their complaints not responded to by Safe Sport even when police reports were sent in as evidence.

What steps should the legal community take to get involved in order to keep the integrity of the legal system and due process?

Web Link References

David D. Johnson

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