SSA and SASCOC fail swimmers after abuse allegations

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling for an urgent investigation into an international report that executives at Swim South Africa (SSA), some of who serve on the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) board, have failed to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors to the South African Police Service (SAPS) as required by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007.

The Guardian reported that a police investigation was only launched after the Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) alerted authorities that sexual abuses allegedly reported to Alan Fritz, President of SSA and SASCOC board member, and Ron Andrews, SSA executive committee member, were never reported to SAPS.

Section 54 of the Sexual Offences act states that “(1) (a) A person who has knowledge that a sexual offence has been committed against a child must report such knowledge immediately to a police official. (b) A person who fails to report such knowledge as contemplated in paragraph (a), is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both a fine and such imprisonment.”
 
The article also alleges that newly elected SASCOC President Barry Hendricks knew of the allegations sexual abuse at SSA and hired an independent investigator earlier this year to investigate the claims. Hendricks was reportedly given the report of the findings in September but has yet to share it with the sexual abuse victims. The DA believes that it is imperative that this report be made public and that an investigation is launched into how Hendricks, the SASCOC board and SSA has handled allegations and investigations into sexual abuse at large, and sexual abuse of minors in particular, at these federations.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is rampant in South Africa, and sporting institutions should be safe spaces for women and children where they shouldn’t have to constantly look over their shoulders. It is shocking that these abuses did not only take place, but that when they were reported, something which takes tremendous courage, the federations failed the victims of abuse by not reporting it to SAPS as the law dictates thereby allowing for potential abuse to continue.

To date, only two sporting federations in South Africa, rugby and gymnastics, have adopted safeguarding policies to protect members against sexual abuse and allow for proper reporting channels should abuse occur. It is simply atrocious that in this day and age, and in a country where GBV is rife, that sporting federations do not have safeguarding measures in place. By failing to have these policies, federations are willfully and callously putting their members at risk.

It would also be prudent for the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, to address these issues head on in terms of section Article 13 (5) (i) of the National Sport and Recreation Act 110 of 1998 which states that the minister can “intervene in any dispute, alleged mismanagement, or any other related matter that is likely to bring a sport or recreational activity into disrepute”. Allegations that the sexual abuse of minors are not being reported to SAPS certainly falls into this category.

SASCOC cannot wait any longer to present a strategic plan to implement safeguarding policies for all sports in South Africa. These policies must be available in layman’s terms on all their websites. It must provide a timeline and should be held to account for failure to implement.

SASCOC and SSA cannot be allowed to continue to fail victims of sexual abuse. Their failure to act decisively is not just morally reprehensible, it also puts the victims at risk of re-traumatization.