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SafeSport: An obligation for some, and a best practice for all

In passing the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, the U.S. Congress designated the U.S. Center for SafeSport with the authority to respond to reports of sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Movements. This legislation designates the Center to serve as the independent national safe sport organization, with the additional responsibility for the Center to develop national policies and procedures to prevent the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of amateur athletes.

Through this legislation, the Center has the exclusive authority to respond to allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. It also allows the Center to have discretionary jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis over any other forms of misconduct, including bullying, harassment and physical and emotional abuse. 

When you first read the above, it would be easy to assume because most of us are not grooming Olympic athletes within our private clubs, that the requirements of this legislation do not apply to us. For some, we would be wrong! (One of the frustrations with this law is that many youth organizations and associations may not be aware of its passing or understand their obligation to comply with it.) Clubs are encouraged to contact their legal counsel to understand how this affects their youth sports and other children’s offerings.

The U.S. Olympic Paralympic Committee (USOPC), the National Governing Bodies (NGB), and the Local Affiliated Organizations (LAOs) must comply, in all respects, with these policies and procedures. Also, some non-NGB sports organizations must comply as well. Non-NGB sports organizations include those teams, leagues, camps, sports facilities, tournament hosts, churches and schools that participate in interstate or international amateur athletic competitions, and whose membership includes any adult who is in regular contact with an amateur athlete who is a minor. The reach of the federal act is limited to organizations that are engaged in interstate or international commerce or activities. Interstate competition refers to sports organizations that travel across state lines to compete. But even those that do not travel across state lines are indirectly impacted by the act because it sets a new standard of care that will likely apply to all organizations. Most states will also move to pass state-specific legislation that directly applies to sports organizations that do not cross state lines.

In the case of our own club, we have an active ice skating program that includes a number of competitive hockey teams. Because our hockey program participates within an affiliate of USA Hockey, we are obligated to comply with the requirements for SafeSport and the reporting and training requirements of the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Here are several key elements which you should understand. This is not intended to be all inclusive or to cover each in depth, but will rather serve to introduce the basic premise.

Mandatory Reporting

“The term ‘covered individual’ under the Safe Sport Act means an adult who is … authorized by an amateur youth sports organization that participates in interstate or international amateur athletic competitions to interact with a minor or amateur athlete at an amateur sport organization facility or at an event (including travel, lodging, practice, competition and health or medical treatment) sanctioned by an amateur sports organization.”

Participating adults are required to report suspicions of child abuse, including sex abuse, as soon as possible (within a 24-hour period) to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, as determined by state or federal law. Each state has a separate law relating to mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. Some states require every adult to report suspicions of abuse and neglect. Others only require certain adults to report under certain circumstances.

The Safe Sport Act provides a limitation of liability provision that protects the sports entity and any officer, employee, agent or member who reports suspicions of abuse. They are protected against civil actions for defamation, slander and libel arising from the execution of their functions under the Act. In addition, the Act prohibits retaliation by the amateur sports organization against the reporting individual.

Mandatory Prevention Training

Non-NGB sports organizations must “offer and provide consistent training to all adult members who are in regular contact with amateur athletes who are minors, and subject to parental consent, to members who are minors regarding prevention and reporting of child abuse … ”

It is important to note that the type of training contemplated under the Act is not merely to identify those who may already have been victimized by abuse by a list of indicators but also to learn how to prevent sexual abuse from occurring. In other words, the training must be proactive rather than reactive.

Mandatory Prevention Policies

The Safe Sport Act requires sports organizations to establish reasonable procedures to limit one-on-one interactions between an adult and an amateur athlete who is a minor… without being in an observable and interruptible distance from another adult.

The following are required policies we established to ensure compliance with the mandates of our USA Hockey affiliate. Clubs may obtain sample policies from the U.S. Center for SafeSport website or from your insurance providers, as many Sexual Abuse and Molestation policies require this or similar language prior to providing coverage.  

One-on-One Interactions Policy

The majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated in isolated, one-on-one situations. Applicable Adults shall not engage in any prohibited one-on-one interactions with any minor Participants.

A. Observable and interruptible 

One-on-one interactions between a minor Participant and an Applicable Adult at a Facility are permitted if they occur at an observable and interruptible distance by another adult and the other adult is made aware of the interaction.

B. Out-of-program contacts 

Coaches are prohibited from interacting one-on-one with unrelated minor Participants in settings outside of the program that are not observable and interruptible (including, but not limited to, one’s home and individual transportation). All other Applicable Adults are prohibited from interacting one-on-one with unrelated minor Participants in settings outside of the program that are not observable and interruptible (including, but not limited to, one’s home and individual transportation), unless parent/legal guardian consent is provided in advance. Nonetheless, such arrangements may raise risks of actual or perceived misconduct and are strongly discouraged.

The following are additional policy types that were required and which we have implemented:

  1. Locker Room Policy
  2. Locker Room Monitoring
  3. Parents in Locker Rooms
  4. Minimum Attire Policy/Coed Players
  5. Common Restroom Use 
  6. Cell Phones and Other Mobile Recording Devices
  7. Prohibited Conduct and Reporting 
  8. Athletic Training Modalities Policy
  9. Social Media and Electronic Communications Policy
  10. Social Media 
  11. Email, Text Messaging and Similar Electronic Communications 
  12. Social Media and Group Chats Among Players 
  13. Request To Discontinue All Electronic Communications or Imagery with Athlete
  14. Abuse and Misconduct
  15. Travel Policy
  16. Prohibited Conduct and Reporting.

It is essential to clearly state in your club policies that you prohibit all types of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, threats, harassment and hazing—consistent with the requirements of your related governing body. Participants, employees or volunteers in the program may be subject to disciplinary action for engaging in any misconduct or abuse or that violates SafeSport Policies. Reports of any actual or suspected violations, may be made by calling the SafeSport Help Line 24/7 at 866-200-0796 or by going to  and utilizing their instant messaging or mobile app features. For more information on compliance, please contact your legal counsel or the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Luke O’Boyle, CCE, is the general manager and chief executive officer of the Chevy Chase Club in Chevy Chase, Md., and currently serves on the board of NCA.