Swimming South Africa Accused Of Lying To Parliament In Briefing On Abuse Cases

2022-06-04 Reading Time: 4 minutes
Women and Men Against Child Abuse - Athletes Against Child Abuse - the logo of the organisation supporting victims of alleged recent and historic sexual abuse

Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) Athletes division has accused Swimming South Africa of lying to the country’s Parliament in a formal six-page complaint against the swimming body to the Portfolio Committee on Sport, Arts and Culture.

The move follows a briefing given by Swimming SA to the National Assembly at which, WMACA alleges, Swimming SA Chair Alan Fritz told “blatant lies”. Lying to Parliament is prosecutable.

Independent Online, popularly known as IOL and one of South Africa’s leading news outlets, sought comment from Fritz, Swimming SA and SASCOC, the South African Olympic Committee, but at the time of going to print has received no replies. Several questions put to the swimming federation by this website and its chair more than a year ago on the matter of abuse allegations also remain unanswered.

The IOL today reports that WMACA said the statements submitted by Fritz regarding several allegations of sexual abuse by a number of coaches who are members of Swimming South Africa, some going back 40 years, are “false”.

A year ago, after The Guardian broke news of a key complaint among a number lodged with Swimming South African, the Saturday Star reported that two cases of sexual abuse were brought to the attention of the swimming federation. The first case, involving two women, dates back 40 years, was reported 20 years ago, to no avail and with no action taken by the federation, and then again in 2020 after South African laws changed and certain statute-of-limitation legislation was overruled in favour of victims of alleged abuse being allowed to bring their cases regardless of the passing of time.

The second case reported by the Star involved an allegation relating to much more recent events. It is understood that at least four aquatics coaches have been the subject of complaints in the past few years. At the time two of the cases made the news in South Africa, the national swim federation issued a short statement saying it has since instituted an investigation into what it says are “very serious allegations.”

Swimming SA CEO Shaun Adriaanse said at the time: “Until such time as the investigation is concluded, no further public comments will be made. Under the circumstances, we are unable to confirm the identity of any of the parties involved as the matter is under investigation”.

Now, the co-founder and CEO of WMACA, Olivia Jasriel, a survivor of abuse in tennis whose abuser was successfully prosecuted and jailed, said that Swimming SA had stalled those investigations it spoke about. One victim has evidence to show that five months passed between her reporting to Fritz the allegations Swimming South Africa had been made aware of some two decades before and a board meeting of South African Swimming at which at least some members of the top table heard about the allegations for the first time.

Jasriel says that statements made by Fritz before parliament were untrue and that she felt them to be “completely dismissive of the trauma the victims of the sexual abuse suffered”, in words reported by the IOL. Jasriel states: “The statements he made are very much against his opening comment that Swimming SA is extremely sensitive throughout their structures towards any improper conduct, in particular, that of a sexual nature towards minors.”

In the six-page letter to parliament, WMACA highlights what it calls the “dishonesty” and the “total lack of respect not only for the laws of this country but for the victims”. Jasriel said Fritz claimed Swimming SA was made aware of three matters relating to improper conduct. She adds:

Turbulence in the pool - by Craig Lord

“This is untrue. In July 2021, a fourth victim spoke out about his abuse and the radio silence received by Swimming SA. Anthony Rocchi, submitted a sexual abuse claim in 2016 to CEO Shaun Adriaanse through coaches Dean Pryce and Wayne Ridden, against Australian coach John Wright, who has subsequently been arrested in Australia on multiple claims of sexual abuse and is awaiting trial. WMACA athletes and Mr Rocchi advised Swimming SA and SASCOC of the criminal matter that was pending against John Wright who had coached for Swimming South Africa, in Durban in the 90’s.”

Olivia Jasriel

Jasriel noted that in the case of one complainant – Debbie Wade – allegations were brought to the attention of Swimming South Africa in 2019, with a full formal complaint made in 2020. She says:

“Fritz claims that without breaching any rules of protocol, procedures and the law, Swimming SA has set out to investigate the matter. Swimming SA commissioned an attorney to do that, and they followed their own internal disciplinary procedure. Fritz stated that with a full panel of experts, a disciplinary hearing was set up and the member, the complainant in this case, withdrew from the hearing and refused to provide an affidavit or statement of the nature of the conduct. We find it very strange that Fritz would state that the member/complainant refused to provide an affidavit or statement when there was communication from the attorney to the complainant.”

Olivia Jasriel

The IOL cites Jasriel as saying that the Goldman Report found that Swimming South Africa, despite being served with an order to reveal what it knew, refused to furnish the complainant as well as the Portfolio Committee with the requested information because a criminal investigation was underway and, therefore, they could not make the report public.

Police have confirmed that an inquiry was opened and the allegations are being investigated.

“It took 11 years for the docket to get on the roll. Cape Town SAPS will now close the case and the matter will be investigated by Pinetown SAPS, where the matter originated,” an officer told The Star.

WMACA Head of Advocacy Luke Lamprecht said the alleged abuse seems to be more prevalent in netball and swimming. He told IOL: “The profile of the coaches often protects them. The power behind the abuse is secrecy. There is such a sense of discomfort as most of the coaches are men. But we will continue to fight for children who have been silenced by abuse in sport.”

An interview with Olivia Jasriel on abuse of children in sport:

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