U.S. Soccer council calls on Congress for SafeSport changes

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- The Center for SafeSport's policies put athletes in harm's way, the U.S. Soccer Athletes Council said Wednesday, calling on Congress to take action.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, the Athletes Council -- which represents the interests of athletes within the U.S. Soccer Federation -- along with the rest of the signatories, implored elected officials to act on what it perceives to be SafeSport's shortcomings. Those signing the document included every member of the U.S. women's national team that is set to compete at the 2023 Women's World Cup. Members of the U.S. men's national team, U.S. youth national teams and U.S. extended national teams also signed the letter.

"SafeSport was created with noble and important intentions, but we believe that as it stands today, SafeSport is failing in what it was meant to achieve," the letter reads in part.

The United States Center for SafeSport was established in 2017 under the auspices of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. The legislation was passed in the wake of abuse scandals involving USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo.

SafeSport's primary focus is to review allegations of sexual misconduct that take place in Olympic sports. The organization can impose sanctions up to a lifetime ban of a person from involvement in all Olympic sports. SafeSport also is in charge of providing a public central database of sanctioned individuals across all sports.

In a response letter sent to the U.S. Soccer Athletes Council on Thursday, SafeSport's CEO Ju'Riese Colon said its "mission is consistent with the priorities voiced in your July 19, 2023 letter to Congress. Ending abuse and misconduct in sport and keeping athletes safe is all of our priority."

The letter concluded: "I recognize that these are tough issues and that we must endeavor to improve. To truly change sport culture, we must do so together. I invite you to meet and engage in a meaningful dialogue about recommended changes and how we can work together to make sport safer for all."

The Athletes Council letter focuses on three areas of concern. The first is that too many cases are "administratively closed," with no ruling in either party's favor. The letter states that this has the effect of not providing closure for victims and allowing abusers to be free to return to their sport.

The second complaint is that SafeSport has exclusive jurisdiction. This prevents a governing body like the USSF from reevaluating a decision or conducting its own investigation.

One case that drew the USSF's ire involved former Chicago Red Stars manager Rory Dames. Dames had his coaching license revoked by the USSF in January 2022 after the Yates Report revealed he had engaged in repeated instances of abusive behavior. But 18 months later, SafeSport's investigation is ongoing, and the organization opted to reinstate Dames' license and modify his restrictions on coaching young athletes.

"U.S. Soccer wants to do the right thing and take proactive steps against suspected abusers," the letter adds. "Our federation has tools and resources to investigate reports of abuse, but SafeSport is preventing them from participating in any way."

The third concern is that when SafeSport finds people culpable of abuse, the decision might be appealed, which triggers an arbitration process in which the entire case must be retried, which has the effect of retraumatizing victims. If the victim opts not to participate, the case is automatically overturned.

The letter concludes: "We are committed to working with you and other stakeholders to make the necessary changes to ensure that players are safe and protected from abuse. And that means that we need to create an efficient, fair, and effective system for athletes to report."