How USA Badminton found itself at the center of athlete abuse allegations

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The problem began with a conversation nine years ago, when a teenage badminton player, talented enough to compete at the international level, told a friend and fellow competitor that a head coach they both knew had sexually assaulted her. was forced to make.

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Nothing happened at that time as the player did not want to file a police report. But the story stayed, which was mentioned every now and then, as the coach continued to work with American athletes.

When the allegations surfaced again last summer, sparking discussions among USA Badminton officials ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the moment for action seemed right.

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There was now a greater emphasis on protecting young athletes, and a new mechanism began with the Larry Nassar scandal, in which a disgraced sports doctor manipulated hundreds of young athletes—including Olympic stars such as Simone Biles and Aly Raisman—to be caught. And to imprison before being sent.

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Millions of Dollars Were Being Invested in the American Olympic Movement Center for SafeSport, a watchdog created in 2017 to investigate abuse. Congress had jumped into the fray, requiring legislation to protect athletes and sports organizations to become more transparent in reporting allegations.

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But this ambitious effort has struggled to gain traction. SafeSport has faced criticism for being ineffective and there is still some confusion as to how the new rules should be implemented. An example is the case of a badminton player who, due to conflicting viewpoints and bickering, gets mixed up in a Rashomon-like story.

At USA Badminton headquarters in Southern California, staff were busy preparing for Tokyo as they debated whether to report the nearly decade-old allegation. The Governing Body’s Chief of Staff eventually decided to contact SafeSport and later the local police in the City of Orange. He has since been dismissed.

“I knew this was going to be the end of my job,” said Alistair Casey. “But I had no way of keeping quiet about it.”

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SafeSport recently launched a multi-pronged case looking at allegations of sexual abuse and an old allegation of rape from the 1980s. Officials want to know whether USA Badminton delayed reporting or sought to obstruct any investigation.

Congress is notified of events as required by federal law. In a letter dated October 1, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) urged USA Badminton to cooperate and noted his concerns about “the potential for retaliation against the whistleblower”. If true, these allegations could in themselves be criminal violations.”

This is not the first dustup for a national governing body tasked with overseeing this elite sport and selecting an Olympic team every four years. The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee had previously threatened to certify USA Badminton for a number of shortcomings, including the way it handled athlete safety, governance and finances.

Badminton saves itself by changing its lead, but the feelings of sadness persist.

“They’re mad at us,” Governing Body attorney John Little said of USOPC and SafeSport. “They have an ax to grind.”

Little, who has represented abuse victims in the sports world, portrayed Casey as a “bitter former employee” and said that no one at USA Badminton intends to keep the allegation a secret. However, he has been open about his disdain for SafeSport.

“At the end of the day, we have an organization that is well equipped to deal with incidents of sexual abuse,” Little said from his law office in Indianapolis. “It’s the police. Call the police.”

For all the tussle over what happened, for all the questions about what happened years ago between the coach and the young prospect, everyone seems to agree on how it all began.

In 2012, a 17-year-old woman was chatting with an elite level teammate Bo Zhao via a social media app. Zhao recalled telling her that a coach had repeatedly forced her to have sex.

The Times does not identify sexual abuse victims. The coach in question is not being identified as no formal allegation has been made against him. Efforts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

Zhao, 20, was unsure what to do with the accusation, especially because his friend had stopped playing in the US, went back to his home abroad and didn’t want to tell anyone else. Zhao sought advice from Ben Li, the head of his badminton club in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only did Lee compete and coach for America at the Olympics, he was also a longtime officer with the Palo Alto Police Department.

“I didn’t go into much detail with Ben because the victim didn’t want me to say anything,” Zhao said. “She told me that if she wanted to pursue this, she needed to go to the police department. There was no SafeSport then. ,

Lee thought “It was one of those things where nothing could be done.”

USA Badminton is grappling with how to deal with a sexual harassment allegation.
(Dita Alangkara / The Associated Press)

The issue was largely forgotten until six years later, when a coach at Lee’s club was arrested on suspicion of molesting a minor. The SafeSport existed as long as federal laws required that governing bodies such as United States Badminton to report any “facts they reasonably suspect were implicated that an amateur athlete had been subjected to child abuse”. have suffered an incident of abuse.”

Li and Zhao spoke briefly about the 2012 incident three years ago. Lee, who until then was a board member at USA Badminton, took no action in 2018.

“These things happened a long time ago,” he said. “You think it’s resolved.”

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The alleged abuser was named last July during a United States Badminton staff call camp in connection with an unrelated matter. The next day, Lee – no longer on board – called Casey, USA Badminton Chief of Staff, to explain the allegation.

As for SafeSport’s chief of staff and liaison, Casey recalled bluntly: “When did you know? Was it reported?”

A series of intense discussions ensued, but Badminton officials were too busy preparing to arrive at Tokyo’s decision. When they returned, chief executive Linda French—who referred all questions in this story to Attorney Little—called on a relatively new board member, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, for advice.

Hogshead-Capricorn is a four-time Olympic swimming medalist who has dedicated herself to the cause of women’s rights in the sport. As an attorney, she founded the Organization of Champion Women to advocate for Title IX compliance. To avoid sexual abuse, she, along with other swimmers, banned a well-known coach, Mitch Ivey, for life.

The conversation with the French left him with mixed feelings.

“I think people, in good faith, didn’t understand the rules,” she said. “They honestly thought that because it was so long ago, the victim didn’t want to come forward … that they weren’t responsible for reporting to SafeSport or the police.”

But as a woman who insisted on new safety laws, Hogshead-Capricorn was concerned because the accused coach, who was still a major in American badminton, was still dealing with minors. He asked the French to report immediately.

“That’s why I’m on board,” she said. “I knew what the law was.”

From here the situation became even more dire. Casey says that, although her bosses never explicitly forbade her to take action, she felt pressure to keep quiet. He says he raised the issue of another alleged rape, dating back to the 1980s, which Casey had heard about at the time but never reported.

Casey went ahead and contacted SafeSport, explaining both incidents. He later filed a police report in Orange.

“I think people, in good faith, didn’t understand the rules. They honestly thought that because it was so long ago, the victim didn’t want to come forward … that they weren’t responsible for reporting to SafeSport or the police.” Were.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a lawyer and member of the USA Badminton Board

With regard to the recent allegations, Little recalled that he favored going to the police but wanted to wait on SafeSport. He has often accused Sentinel of tampering with investigations and getting in the way of better-trained law enforcement.

“I tell everyone to report to the police first,” Little said. “Once the police tell you it’s okay, go to SafeSport.”

Their dismay stems from the fact that the center has long been seen as less and less staffed, leading to a backlog of cases. There are questions about Freedom, given that it receives $20 million a year from the USOPC – the bulk of its budget.

Still, Hogshead-Maker said, “I don’t care how many horrific experiences you’ve had in the past, the law says you must report both. [SafeSport and police],

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To some extent, Nassar’s subsequent procedure worked in this case. When the story of the Badminton allegation surfaced last summer, officials were notified relatively quickly.

Zhao, an elite sportsperson who first heard the allegations, recently contacted the alleged victim. She still refuses to talk to the authorities. Police in Orange say that with no victims to interview, they have closed their investigation. USA Badminton insists it has cooperated with SafeSport, submitting more than 1,000 requested documents.

“At the end of the day,” said USA Badminton Attorney Little “there is no delay in problem reporting.”

But Casey believes the situation should have been addressed years ago with the advent of the SafeSport, and the matter is far from resolved.

The incident soured relations between Casey and his associates. It didn’t help that he had a personal email account with Little’s law firm, the contents of which he handed over to investigators. Both sides agree that none of the emails were related to the alleged abuse, but may have included an earlier sensitive internal discussion…

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