I am very active in my yacht club, and I often volunteer for the race committee and other sailing events. The club recently enacted a rule which requires all volunteers for sailing events to be “SafeSport Certified.” I had to Google this just to understand what it referred to, but I’m still in the dark about a lot of it. Can you provide an overview of “SafeSport” and why I am being asked to be certified? Does my compliance with (or failure to comply with) SafeSport give rise to the possibility of any personal liability?
Most of us are familiar with the reports of sexual abuse in amateur sports that have made headlines over the past two decades. In response to those reports, Congress enacted the “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017” (the “SafeSport Act”). This federal law created the U.S. Center for SafeSport (the “Center”), a nonprofit organization with the scope and authority to resolve abuse and misconduct reports for more than 11 million individuals who participate in U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sports. Yacht clubs and yacht club volunteers fall under the SafeSport Act because sailing is an Olympic sport.
The SafeSport Act charged the Center with developing and enforcing policies, procedures, and training to prevent abuse and misconduct. Pursuant to this authority, they developed the “SafeSport Code,” which governs the conduct of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic participants and is administered by the 47 Olympic & Paralympic national governing bodies (NGBs) for each sport. The national governing body for the sport of sailing in the United States is U.S. Sailing, and our reader was brought under this umbrella by his yacht club in compliance under their guidelines.
As set forth in the federal SafeSport Act, the general purpose of the SafeSport Code and the Center for SafeSport is to “exercise jurisdiction over . . . each national governing body with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, in sports.”
The SafeSport Code tracks the federal SafeSport Act pretty closely. There are some ambiguities in both regulatory programs – mostly concerning the extent to which the Code applies to incidents involving adult victims of abuse. But in general, it requires that a
“Covered Individual who learns of facts that give reason to suspect that an amateur athlete has suffered an incident of abuse, including sexual abuse, shall as soon as possible make a report of the suspected abuse to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.”
A “Covered Individual” (also known as an “Adult Participant”), generally speaking, is an adult who is “authorized, by an amateur sports organization that participates in interstate or international amateur athletic competition, to interact with a minor or amateur athlete at an amateur sports organization facility or at any event sanctioned by a national governing body or the amateur sports organization. In this case, our reader’s yacht club would be considered an “amateur sports organization.”
The Code also requires most covered individuals to take a 90-minute online training course to become “SafeSport certified” and to periodically renew their certification.
The SafeSport Code must be taken seriously. This is not just a token “feel good” exercise. Violators who commit acts of abuse will of course be subject to criminal prosecution under state criminal codes which prohibit such conduct, but the SafeSport code includes its own penalties relating to participation in the sport, ranging from a warning all the way up to a permanent international banishment from any form of participation in or around the sport.
Penalties under the SafeSport Code also extend to volunteers who fail to maintain their certification or fail to report suspected abuse
So, the bottom line with SafeSport is that you need to comply with the SafeSport Code if you are an adult volunteer for your yacht club during an interstate of international event. Compliance for the average volunteer means that, at a minimum, you need to be certified and you need to report any suspected incident of misconduct. More information, including links to the SafeSport Code, definitions of the many types of “misconduct” covered by the Code, and an overview of the program, may be found on the website for U.S. Sailing, at: https://www.ussailing.org/athlete-safety/
A final note before we leave this subject, regarding our reader’s question about whether SafeSport exposes a volunteer to personal legal liability. The answer is a very broad “yes.” In addition to the possibility of sanctions for failure to comply as discussed above, the SafeSport Code establishes a standard for behavior in the sailing community (and the amateur sports community in general). That standard for behavior, or “standard of care” will almost surely be used to establish fault if a civil suit is filed against a yacht club or volunteer for failing to report an incident of abuse.
David Weil is licensed to practice law in the state of California and as such, some of the information provided in this column may not be applicable in a jurisdiction outside of California. Please note also that no two legal situations are alike, and it is impossible to provide accurate legal advice without knowing all the facts of a particular situation. Therefore, the information provided in this column should not be regarded as individual legal advice, and readers should not act upon this information without seeking the opinion of an attorney in their home state.
David Weil is the managing attorney at Weil & Associates (www.weilmaritime.com) in Seal Beach. He is certified as a Specialist in Admiralty and Maritime Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization and a “Proctor in Admiralty” Member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, an adjunct professor of Admiralty Law, and former legal counsel to the California Yacht Brokers Association. If you have a maritime law question for Weil, he can be contacted at 562-799-5508, through his website at www.weilmaritime.com, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.