A South African child protection agency has launched legal action to force swimming executives in the country to hand over to state authorities an independent investigator’s report into allegations of historic sexual abuse involving minors.
Leading figures in South African swimming have been accused of failing to report the abuse claims to the police, as required under the country’s sexual offences legislation.
The Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) in South Africa and its advocacy manager, Luke Lamprecht, triggered a police inquiry last month by opening dockets – official documents in which a record is kept of a reported crime and the investigation conducted into that alleged crime – on Alan Fritz, the president of Swimming South Africa (SSA), and his fellow board member Ron Andrews, after claims that they failed to draw the allegations to the relevant authorities’ attention.
A third file was opened on a swimming coach who has been reported to police by two women alleging that they were sexually abused over a period of years in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. The coach was a fellow swimmer and a teenager at the time of the alleged offences. He strongly denies the claims.
Lamprecht, who with WMACA played a key role in securing the 2015 conviction of the former tennis pro Bob Hewitt on charges of rape and sexual assault of girls aged between 12 and 14 when he was their coach, told the Guardian: “We’re not judging. We’re simply requesting an investigation by the appropriate authority into the circumstances that gave rise to this (independent) report sent to SSA. The role of Mr Fritz and his organisation is to assist the police and prosecutor to get information needed for the state to run its case, not replace its role.”
In an echo of the #MeToo scandal that has swept across the world, advocates say the failure to deal with abuse accusations properly is a governance issue across many sports in South Africa. Olivia Jasriel, an abuse advocate and survivor of historic sexual assault by Hewitt, believes failures to tackle the issue extend to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).
Barry Hendricks, elected president of Sascoc last Saturday, was among those who “excluded me from any feedback on progress” in implementing safeguarding policies, said Jasriel.
Hendricks said that he had referred Jasriel to Sascoc staff when she wrote to him in May 2019 after a conference at which he had promised delivery of safeguarding policies. He had then spent most of 2020 suspended pending the resolution of Olympic-committee in-fighting that ended with his reinstatement in September, when he was able to confirm that he would enter the race to become president.
Jasriel waits to be sent the safeguarding policy that was adopted at Sascoc’s general assembly in November last year. Since then, only two sports, rugby and gymnastics, have adopted the policy.
Hendricks wanted other sports to catch up, noting: “It is imperative that each member of Sascoc at national to club level have these policies and procedures as well as education programmes in place. That will take time.”
SSA has told survivors that it has a safeguarding policy but has not responded to requests for that policy to be sent to them, while there is no safeguarding policy posted on the federation’s website.
Hendricks said he was grateful to the Guardian for raising questions on “this very serious matter”. He acknowledged that there was much work to do, including posting the policy in the public domain on an “updated and upgraded” website still being built.
“All policies and programmes will be placed on this platform,” said Hendricks, while noting: “We still need to formulate our safeguarding procedures and this is one of critical focus areas currently under the helm of our 2nd vice-president Dr Debbie Alexander.”
In addition, Sascoc has named Patience Shikwambana as its safeguarding officer.
The new Sascoc board, which includes Fritz, would now meet “in two to three weeks” and safeguarding would be high on the agenda, Hendricks indicated. He said: “I regard the safeguarding programme as critical to protecting people in sport.”
Jasriel said: “A team can have as many meetings as they like. That’s not the same as getting things done. Nearly two years ago we were promised that things would get implemented. It hasn’t been done. I’ve been excluded from any feedback on progress of these policies. There’s nothing in the public domain and the vast majority of sports do not have this safeguarding policy in place. Someone needs to be accountable.”
She points to a letter she sent to Fritz in October 2019 requesting details of “the safeguarding policies and vetting procedures for coaches” at SSA.
Jasriel, head of the eponymous Jasriel Foundation working for “justice and healing for survivors of sexual abuse”, wrote to Fritz in November last year after sex-abuse scandals involving a water polo coach and a teacher at two public schools hit the headlines. Jasriel asked to see swimming’s “safeguarding policies and vetting procedures for coaches”.
Fritz replied to say that SSA “certainly share your sentiments on safeguarding of our children”, said that he would share the federation’s safeguarding policies with her and invited her to an executive meeting so that she could share her knowledge. But Jasriel never heard from him again.
“It is what makes it so impossibly hard for those who’ve been abused to come forward and report,” Jasriel said. “When you’re up against that kind of avoidance, the only thing you can do is turn to the law.”
The SSA executive board member Penny Heyns, South Africa’s double Olympic swimming champion of 1996, said she had not been informed of the specifics of the allegations when approached by the Guardian more than a month after Fritz had been handed the independent investigator’s report. Leading the new Sports Voice safeguarding initiative, Heyns said she could not comment on the merits of the case but added: “We owe it to the youth of today to give them a safe environment.”
The full, original article was published by the Guardian (UK) and can be accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/nov/13/south-african-sport-under-scrutiny-over-handling-of-sexual-abuse-claims