President's Message: 2016 Convention Letter

President's Message: 2016 Convention Letter

By Jim Sheehan//USA Swimming President  | Saturday, September 24, 2016

Good evening. Thank you all for being here tonight. It has been a very exciting and productive year for USA Swimming. We had a wonderful Olympic Trials that broke all records  for attendance. And a spectacular Olympic Games in Rio where our athletes dominated the pool like no other Olympics in several decades. 

With the Olympics now in the books, it is time to return to the work that is done year in and year out that helps get us to those lofty heights. And this past year has seen a lot of great work. 

We have had task forces working on a number of issues. For the past 13 months, an LSC/Zone review task force has been working under the leadership of Larry Johnson to identify opportunities for improvement of the governance, management and operations of both the LSCs and the Zones.  With the expanded responsibilities of the Zones, it is very important to see that the services each layer provides is done in the most effective and efficient manner.  The task force produced its report and it was distributed to the Board in early September. It was also provided to the LSC General Chairs at the same time and there were several opportunities during this convention to ask questions about the report and its recommendations.

The Board has approved moving forward with most of the recommendations while some will require additional work. Some of the recommendations will be able to be implemented in the near term but a number of the issues will take time to address. But all of it will make us better.

My thanks goes out to the entire task force (Arlene McDonald, Amy Schulz, David Anderson, Liz Kershaw, Paul Thompson, Todd Adams, Van Donkersgoed, Wayne Shulby, task force chair Larry Johnson and staff liaison Pat Hogan.

A new task force has been created to identify and oversee a study to review the USA Swimming Board of Directors. This will include an assessment of its composition, structure and operation. A vendor to perform the study was selected this week with a goal to have a report to the Board for the April, 2017 meeting. Coach Bill Schalz is leading the task force and I thank him for taking on this important project.

As many of you may know, USA Swimming has its own captive insurance company, the United States Sports Insurance Company, commonly known as USSIC. We created this company in 1988 at a time when we could not get liability insurance through traditional markets. Over that time it has been a very successful venture and protected USA Swimming, its LSCs and clubs. USSIC was critically important during the recent period when we responded to the issues of sexual misconduct within our sport. With the creation of the Safe Sport programs in 2010, we have taken strong steps to protect our membership and that has been recognized by many in the world of sport. Our work in Safe Sport has also been noticed in the insurance industry to the extent that we were able to place all our liability insurance with a traditional insurance company in 2014 for the first time in over 25 years. 

While that insurance program has been successful, USSIC still had to cover us for incidents that occurred prior to 2014 and has continued to operate accordingly. Earlier this year, we were provided the opportunity to sell USSIC to a third party and in doing so, transfer the liability for claims prior to 2014 to this third party. After several rounds of negotiations, the Board of Directors approved the sale and I am pleased to announce that the sale closed yesterday. By selling USSIC, USA Swimming will have all its insurance coverages placed with third-party providers. Of course, should the insurance market change and we need to find an alternative to traditional sources of coverage, the tool of having a captive insurance company will always be open to us.

There is one additional task force that has been at work during the past year. It was created out of the January Board meeting in response to questions about whether our membership structure is meeting the needs of our current and potential members. Pat Hogan, Director of Club Development, was tasked by the Board to work with the Registration/Membership, LSC Development and Club Development committees to look at different approaches to membership. They reported on their progress at the April Board meeting and provided an update this past Tuesday. After reviewing the information provided, it was clear that more work was needed and the task force will continue moving forward in identifying opportunities that will enhance our membership offerings. The rules proposals that were intended to lay the groundwork for some possible changes will be withdrawn so that we can take the time to develop the best solutions.

There is another rule change proposal in the packet that I would ask you to spend some time reviewing. The Board of Directors participated in a governance seminar in January of this year and one of the topics included volunteer and staff job titles. The current structures for non-profits is to have the officers of the corporation be staff positions as they are the people who are responsible for the day-to-day operation. Based on that, the Board asked our Secretary and General Counsel, Lucinda McRoberts, to work with the Governance Committee to assess what changes would need to be made to bring USA Swimming more into the mainstream of non-profit governance in this regard. From that review, the Board has proposed rule changes which would move the officer titles to the staff and adjust the volunteer titles to more correctly reflect their responsibilities. There is an FAQ sheet that has been available to attendees this week that helps provide more detail background on the proposed changes. Please read that sheet and support the changes being proposed at tomorrow's session when the rules are up for approval.

While the activity I've been reporting on is important, we must also recognize the great work done by all the staff and volunteers of USA Swimming throughout the year. While I could speak for several hours on what our volunteers and staff have accomplished, there is one area that is a very important part of our work as a national governing body that deserves special recognition.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee and staff have been hard at work helping our clubs and LSCs enhance their work in attracting and supporting a diverse membership. It is a basic tenet of USA Swimming to treat everyone of our members with the utmost respect and fairness and I thank the people working on these issues for their excellent work. Led by Kathy Mendez as chair of the committee and MJ Truex on staff, USA Swimming is producing a series of resource guides, each tailored to meet the needs of a different group of members. The first three have been published with more to come in the future. In addition, there was a separate track at this year's convention to provide guidance and education to as many of our members as possible. That track included a breakfast with special guest, Schuyler Bailar, from the Harvard University swim team. Thank you, Schuyler, for sharing your experiences with us.

We all know how important our Safe Sport program has been for the protection of our members, especially the athletes. The Safe Sport staff and committee are some of the hardest working people in USA Swimming and the program has made great strides to keep our sport safe over the past six years. I am excited to share an upcoming development for Safe Sport across the Olympic movement. In 2013, the US Olympic Committee announced plans to create an independent, national center that would be responsible for investigating and adjudicating allegations of misconduct against athletes for all national governing bodies. The Center for Safe Sport is scheduled to open in 2017 and we are looking forward to working with the center to help us and all the NGBs provide a safe environment for our members. The transition will be a managed process to make sure that we continue to provide the support our athletes have received and deserve while moving to the new structure. As that process gets finalized, there will be more information provided to our membership.
If you were paying any attention to the Olympics, you could not have missed news and comment regarding anti-doping issues. And I hope all of you have seen the film USA Swimming produced, The Last Gold. Seeing that film along with everything going on in the world around doping has made anti-doping a major focus this past year. And it is clear to me that the current world structure is not accomplishing what needs to be done. While there has been progress in some quarters, it is not nearly enough. There are still too many things going wrong.

One of the areas of progress originated with the athletes. At the end of last year, a large number of our national team members signed a letter to FINA asking for increased testing of athletes throughout the year leading up to the Olympic Games. In early January this year, coach Jim Wood and USADA CEO Travis Tygart flew to Lausanne, Switzerland to deliver that letter in-person to FINA. And the result was that FINA, working with the leading national anti-doping organizations, instituted an expanded testing plan for the top ten athletes in each event. Thank you to Jim, Travis and, most importantly, the athletes, for making it clear to FINA that they demand clean competitions.

But more has to be done. Going back a few decades, it was the responsibility of USA Swimming to manage the anti-doping process including the adjudication of each case and the assignment of appropriate penalties. It did not work very well as there was a built-in conflict of interest. When USADA was created, we along with all the other NGBs were very happy to hand over those responsibilities and the protection of clean athletes is much better for it.

Now the rest of the world needs to adopt a similar structure. The World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA, currently has responsibility for some of the functions in the fight against the use of performance enhancing drugs. But here are others that fall to the international sport federations, including the IOC. I'm happy to report that at a summit meeting of National Anti-Doping Organizations, in Copenhagen at the end of August, a program of reform was recommended to remove many of the responsibilities for anti-doping from the international sport federations, including FINA and the IOC. USADA was a participant in that summit meeting and fully supports the proposals that came out of that meeting.  

While there would be a lot of details to be worked out to accomplish a change of this magnitude, it is important for sports worldwide to move in this direction. And it is important for us to stand with USADA in support of this type of change in the global battle against doping in sport. We will be monitoring the various international organizations who will be looking at these reforms and hopefully their efforts will produce positive results.

We have also been looking at efforts by the scientific community to develop new methods for improving the testing models to make it easier, faster and less expensive to perform the testing. The development and testing of these new methods can take a number of years to produce results but we are hopeful that they will prove to be successful in the near future.

We have established a new task force to study the issues related to Age Group Anti-Doping. This initiative came out of concerns of both the Age Group Development and Sports Science/Medicine Committees and we are looking for guidance from this task force to help raise the level of awareness about the dangers of abuse of drugs and supplements. When you read a report that showed that the use of steroids in high school sports is estimated at 7% and HGH use at 11%, it has to raise concerns about our athletes’ health and safety. You will be hearing more from this task force in the not too distant future.

Speaking of the future, we are nearing the start of the 2020 quad plan that will drive the business of USA Swimming for the next four years. In December of 2015, I was very fortunate to be involved with the senior staff at the start of their work on the plan. After that all day meeting, the staff went back and developed a draft plan which was provided to the Board and asked for their input on those areas already identified as well as any other areas they felt should be included. Tomorrow, in his State of the Sport report, our Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus, will be providing much of the detail of the 2020 quad plan. That will be the template for all of us as we move forward to take USA Swimming to greater heights as an NGB.

There is one more group of our members I would like to thank for their work this past year as well as prior years in contributing to the success of USA Swimming. First, I want to thank Buddy Pylitt, chair of the National Board of Review, for all the work he has done as Chair of the National Board of Review Committee. Over the past few years, Buddy, along with Vice-Chair Kathy Oates-Dacey and Doug Everett, have led dozens of National Board of Review hearings, many of them involving sexual misconduct. Leading those panels is a very difficult thing to do and we need to thank these three for the incredible work they do. I also want to thank all the members of the National Board of Review Committee for participating in those panels and helping adjudicate the complaints that are brought to the National Board of Review for resolution.

The Olympic year is always special and 2016 is no different. As mentioned earlier, it is fitting that we are here on the 20th anniversary of the 26th Olympic Games in Atlanta as we celebrate one of the most impressive performances by the athletes in USA Swimming history.

But before we get to Rio we had a little thing called The Trials in Omaha several weeks before the Olympics. With 1800 athletes and over 200,000 tickets sold, it looked like we were in for a great event and it certainly was that. Every evening was great racing in front of a packed house cheering for all the swimmers to make it onto Team USA. Eight wonderful days of exciting racing.

But there was something that occurred behind the scenes at Trials that definitely deserves recognition. In 2012, the Trials officials bid on pairs of backstroke flags and in doing so, raised over $1200 for the USA Swimming Foundation. Well this year, they literally upped the ante. Organized by Amy Hoppenrath and Ron Van Pool, the auction of backstroke flags was again a great success. The auctioneer was Olympian and USA Swimming Foundation Board member Brendan Hansen and with his assistance in managing the bidding, the Trials officials raised $8,300 for the Foundation. These officials paid their own way to work Trials and still dug deep to raise funds for the foundation. Thank you Amy, Ron, and Brendan, and thank you Trials officials.

And now on to Rio. Thirty-three medals, sixteen of them gold. Our athletes won as many gold medals as the rest of the world combined in swimming. Absolutely amazing.

I was lucky enough to be in Rio for the competition and it was a very different experience for me. Most of you know that I was not a competitive swimmer but spent much of my time in our sport as an official. And you all know that officials are not permitted to cheer at competitions. Well, this time the restraints were off and I took full advantage, yelling and screaming for every member of Team USA. It was unusual for me to do that at a swimming event but it felt great.

I know Chuck's State of the Sport address tomorrow will spend more time on our Olympic success but there was one thing that struck me about the performances of the Team USA swimmers and I want to share that with you. My seat was near the start end of the pool so I had a good view of the finishes. Several times it looked like an athlete might come up a little short, but then somehow got a hand on the wall to finish on the podium. It showed to me that these athletes gave it their all from the start all the way to the finish and showed the world how to win races. And the world recognized these performances. On a number of occasions, sport leaders from other federations came up to me and congratulated the USA for their performances. I can't think of a time when I was more proud of the performances of the Team USA Swimmers. Congratulations to all our Olympic team athletes.

As spectacular as the performances were, an important part of the team effort belongs to the people behind the scenes. I'm speaking of the coaches, trainers, managers, and all support staff for Team USA. They seem to be working 24 hours a day and they deserve our thanks for helping the athletes be ready to perform at the level they did. Congratulations and thanks to all of Team USA.

As you can tell, we have had one heck of a year on many levels. From governance studies, committee initiatives, and business plans to the success of our Olympic team, we have a lot to celebrate. And none of that work gets done without the contribution of time, skill and knowledge from the thousands of members from around the country.

In closing, I want to recognize your participation in the governance of our sport. Whether you are an athlete, a coach, a volunteer or a staff member, your contribution is invaluable. You are all part of our success and your energy and camaraderie is such a large aspect of what has made being a part of USA Swimming such an important and rewarding experience. Please give yourselves a loud round of applause.



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