Thursday, May 20, 2010
Two officials file complaints with USOC
Two longtime swimming officials claim they lost prestigious positions for speaking out against the way the sport's governing body handled sexual abuse cases, and they've gone to the U.S. Olympic Committee seeking to be reinstated.
Mike Saltzstein alleges he was dropped from a list of judges for major international meets because he sent a letter to USA Swimming recommending it take tough steps to deal with at least four lawsuits and other allegations of improper contact between coaches and young swimmers.
Ken Stopkotte, who coaches the Fishers Area Swim Tigers in Indiana, said he was stripped of his spot leading a USA Swimming-sanctioned all-star team that will travel to Arizona next month for a training camp and meet after he discussed an alleged culture of sexual abuse for ABC's "20/20" news magazine.
Both filed complaints this week with the USOC, asking that they be restored to their posts immediately. The New York Times first reported their cases Thursday.
"The days when you can simply dismiss people without motive, without an opportunity to be heard, without any charges, those days are gone," New York-based attorney Edward Williams, who is representing both Saltzstein and Stopkotte, told The Associated Press.
Saltzstein and Stopkotte filed their complaints under USOC rules that apply to disputes involving athletes, coaches and officials. If the organization can't work out a settlement that satisfies all parties, the case would be turned over to the American Arbitration Association for a ruling.
"We have received the complaint and are currently reviewing the situation with the parties involved in the complaint," said USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky.
Three weeks ago, Saltzstein told the AP he was troubled by USA Swimming's lack of action on such an important issue and revealed that he sent a list of six recommendations to the governing body, including an immediate mandate that two athletes have to be on hand for any interaction with a youth swimmer.
He also called on the International Swimming Hall of Fame to expel any inductee who had inappropriate contact with an athlete, responding to allegations made by 1972 Olympic champion Deena Deardurff Schmidt, who says she was molested by her coach while training in the 1960s and told officials at USA Swimming years later.
She said the coach -- whom she wouldn't name -- went on to train more young swimmers before being selected for the Hall of Fame.
Saltzstein, who served on the deck at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a technical official, said he initially sent his recommendations to Pat Lunsford, vice president of program operations, on April 16. Six days later, he said, Lunsford told him he wouldn't be re-nominated to a list of officials submitted to work at international meets.
Lunsford told the AP the list of proposed officials was completed before he ever received the letter and was based on criteria that included age, gender, geographic balance and number of meets worked.
"Mike met some of the criteria, as a whole lot of officials do," Lunsford said. "But he had only worked one meet since 2006."
Saltzstein is still eligible to work pool meets through the end of the year, according to Lunsford, and he's on the list of open-water officials through 2012.
"There has been a great deal of creative liberty taken with Mr. Saltzstein's complaint," said Jamie Olsen, a spokeswoman for USA Swimming. "We will rely on the hearing process to reveal the truth of this matter."
Stopkotte also is facing a minimum five-year suspension over accusations that he falsified results for swimmers, a charge he claims was made only after he was listed as a witness for the plaintiffs in one of the sexual abuse lawsuits.
Williams said the coach is prepared to address those charges, but only before the arbitration board -- not a USA Swimming-affiliated panel in Indiana.
"He's not trying to run away from those. He wants that heard by the AAA, where he can get a fair hearing," Williams said. "You cannot get a fair hearing before a national governing body ever, ever, ever, never."
Olsen said USA Swimming couldn't address Stopkotte's removal as coach and possible suspension because that case has been handled at the local level.