Why Sports Clubs Need an Athlete Welfare Policy
1. Why should your club adopt Safe4Athletes or similar child safety and welfare policies and procedures?
The local Club is responsible for the safety of its program participants and is obligated to take immediate action to remedy a hostile environment.
2. Why, from a “protection from harm” perspective, is it important for a local club to have policies defining prohibited behaviors, misconduct, etc.?
3. What is the Club's risk re: a coach who is terminated for misconduct, suing the club?
· Proper procedures are:
- Any coach’s or other employee’s contract should include a provision that the club and the coach agree to abide by the USOC’s and NGB’s Coaching Code of Ethics and the Club’s policies and procedures on professional coaching and employee conduct. The employment agreement should also contain a clear statement that failure to adhere to the Club’s professional conduct policy is grounds for dismissal.
- Coaches, staff, and volunteers should sign a statement that they have received a copy of the Club’s policies and procedures and understand that failure to follow them may be cause for termination of employment or dismissal from the Club.
- The Club should formally adopt Safe4Athletes or similar recommended model policies and procedures for handling allegations of abuse or misconduct under those policies. These policies include fair processes and a listing of possible sanctions and should be distributed to all parents, coaches, employees, and volunteers.
- The Club should conduct criminal background checks and should confer with all previous employer references before new employees and volunteers are permitted to work with program participants.
4. Should the sports club keep a list of coaches and other employees banned for misconduct or other reasons and post this on its web site or distribute to parents?
5. Should the Club wait for the NGB to process a coach misconduct case before it takes action?
6. What if the NGB in our sport has a weaker policy compared to Safe4Athletes model documents?
7. Should a sports club have insurance that covers sexual harassment and other forms of coach misconduct?
8. Are there additional costs associated with running a Safe4Athletes program ?
9. What are the responsibilities of the “athlete welfare advocate” (AWA)?
10. Why is the position of “athlete welfare advocate” (AWA) important?
While most coaches are highly ethical, it is important to remember that the AWA position is critical to protect athletes from the one coach or employee who may be an abuser or pedophile. Thus, coaches and others should not be overly sensitive to the following comments. They are not intended to portray coaches and others as “villains.”
the coach continuing to provide unbiased instructional attention
selection as a team member or starter
the support of teammates, or
11. Who helps the “athlete welfare advocate” (AWA)? What if people have an interest in serving in this role but don’t feel confident that they can do it?
12. Why is the role of “Fact Finder” important in the complaint process?
- If there is a disagreement between the complainant’s view and the alleged abuser’s view, and the Fact Finder has reason to make a credibility determination, the Hearing Panel must accept this determination as “fact” unless the Panel believes that the Fact Finder has not made an impartial determination (i.e., has reached a conclusion that is wholly inconsistent with the facts or one that has been influenced by fraud, corruption or misconduct). If the Ethics Panel rejects the Fact Finder’s credibility determination, no credibility determination is made and the decision rests solely on the facts presented.
- It is acceptable for the Fact Finder to conclude that she/he cannot make a credibility determination, in which case the Ethics Panel, who has not interviewed all witnesses, cannot make a credibility determination
Seeking Expert Volunteers. Lawyers are professionally obligated to engage in pro bono (free) community service. The Club should consider approaching local law firms to see if they would ask firm attorneys to volunteer for duty as Fact Finders in cases of serious misconduct.
13. Who helps the “Fact Finder”? What if people have an interest in serving in this role but don’t feel confident that they can do it?
14. There are many private clubs and sport instructional programs and leagues that are owned by coaches or other individuals. In these privately owned commercial clubs, there is no Board of Directors consisting of parents or others who can play the oversight and protection role recommended by Safe4Athletes. What about these organizations?
15. Do Club complaint procedures have to conform to the strict “due process” provisions of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (ASA)– such as the right to confront your accuser and engage in adversarial or hostile questioning of the accuser?
16. Do Club athletes dismissed from the Club or coaches or other employees dismissed from the Club for misconduct have any right to appeal to the NGB/USOC and the arbitration provisions of the Amateur Sports Act?
No…. any action by a local club to dismiss a participant or employee does not prevent that individual from competing for or being employed by another team or club program. Therefore the Club’s action does not deny access to amateur competition in that sport or any of the protected competitions governed by the Amateur Sports Act.
17. Why is the Safe4Athletes model policy so detailed with regard to prohibited behaviors? Should it be modified to be more positive?
18. Can our Club use the Safe4Athletes policies and procedures even if the Club chooses to modify them?
19. Why is the issue of confidentiality so important in the case of an abused athlete?
Research shows that it may take 15-20 years for an abused person to feel safe enough to speak about the traumatic experience. Thus, every effort must be made to educate young athletes (1) about what constitutes abuse, (2) that abuse is not their fault, and (3) that a safe place exists for them to discuss a traumatic or distressing experience and get help.
Molesters of children cultivate the silence of the victim through clear instructions to keep the relationship or misconduct secret, making the athlete think he/she will be:
20. What size club is going to be able to support a Board of Directors, two Athlete Welfare Advocates, a Fact Finder, and an Ethics panel? Background checks on all of them will get expensive for the coach-owned clubs. Let's put it this way, my club has 70 members, is a small coach-owned club and I have trouble getting my parents to be "timers" at meets.
21. Educating athletes and parents on policy at the beginning of each season invites athletes and parents to come “whining.” The already busy coach may have another job, family, etc., and is not going to want to spend the time to do all of this each year. Burdening the coaches and taking them away from coaching is cumbersome. Not to mention the cost in time and money to duplicate and distribute educational materials and educate everyone involved.
22. The Fact Finder is the only finder of credibility. If the Fact Finder has an agenda against the coach, the Fact Finder might have or has too much power. Who represents the coach?
23. Once a Club puts these policies in place, the risk in liability for the Club if one of these links (AWA, Fact Finder, etc.) doesn't do their job or does not perform according to the standards put forth will be held liable. This could open the Club up for more liability.