By David Dodge, CEO
Sports Officiating Consulting, LLC
USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus says U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte and his three teammates face disciplinary action at home for their fabrications about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio. The incident received worldwide attention, much to the annoyance of Brazilian, Olympics, and U.S. officials, and the swimmers are about to find out the severe ramifications of not adhering to what seems like a simple enough Code of Conduct adopted by USA Swimming.
The Code of Conduct seems concerned about competing and doping provisions, along with bullying, sexual misconduct, and drug use, but includes broad language which says a swimmer may be punished for “any other material and intentional act, conduct or omission not provided for above, which is detrimental to the image or reputation of USA Swimming.”
Swimming is one of 47 sports in which the U.S. competes in the summer and winter Olympics. Each sport has its own governing body, and each body has its own code of conduct or ethics or rules about conflicts of interest. One can only imagine the administrative chaos should athletes from, say, USA Equestrian, USA Sailing, and USA Tennis all get mired in one scandalous event.
One assumes and hopes each governing body has broad enough language in its code of conduct to cover almost any eventuality. But it would take a seriously embarrassing incident to discover if that is true, and whether the governing bodies even have adequate procedures in place for reporting of serious violations.
All the more reason then for Team USA to consider adopting a integrity and compliance program which would extend over all 47 sports that comprise Team USA. An umbrella compliance program would introduce common expectations and common procedures and, above all, would compel the governing bodies to devote time and attention to educating athletes on the importance of appropriate behavior at all times. Most athletes are aware of it, some only dimly, and a formal compliance program would go a long way towards reinforcing Team USA’s expectations.
It is possible some U.S. officials assume they don’t need a compliance program because they have adopted a code of conduct. At a presentation I and a colleague gave to U.S. Olympics officials last year, one of the officials asked what was the difference between the two. Perhaps the implication was are they not one and the same?
Compliance professionals know a code of conduct is only one aspect of an effective compliance program. We may be at a point in our sports culture where “code of conduct” is too genteel a term to convey minimum expectations. Sports-governing bodies have to adopt the stronger, firmer language of compliance and violations and disciplinary actions for athletes to realize breaking the law is not a sporting matter.