By David D. Dodge
Based on a finding by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, former USA Taekwondo national team coach, Jean Lopez, has been declared permanently ineligible for any involvement with Olympic sports in the U.S. Lopez was banned for sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct with a minor.
This case is the first big test for SafeSport, an independent not-for-profit organization established in early 2017, with a mandate to investigate child abuse and sexual assault, and other compliance matters in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement. SafeSport compiled evidence from three female athletes who alleged that Lopez had engaged in sexual misconduct over a period of nearly ten years. According to SafeSport investigators, Lopez was described as “an older athlete/coach abusing his power to groom, manipulate and ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes.”
According to a report by Houston Chronicle writer David Barron, SafeSport is also investigating Jean Lopez’s younger brother, Steven Lopez, for similar misconduct. This development at USA Taekwondo is just the latest in a series of scandals among other U.S. Olympic National Governing Bodies (NGBs), notably USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming. Despite both Lopez brothers having been under investigations earlier by USA Taekwondo, they were allowed to participate in 2016 in the Rio Olympics.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport (Center) has the exclusive jurisdiction for matters of sexual misconduct among the Olympic NGBs. The Center is independent of the U.S. Olympic Committee in its investigations of matters of sexual misconduct and has the exclusive authority to sanction “actual sexual misconduct and misconduct that is reasonably related to an underlying allegation of sexual misconduct.” The Center’s Code goes on to indicate that “neither the NGB nor the USOC will conduct its own investigation or arbitration with respect to possible sexual conduct, unless otherwise provided…”
The Center also has the discretion to accept authority over alleged violations of other prohibited conduct that may fall short of actual sexual misconduct or related conduct, but it has exclusive authority over those specific areas.
SafeSport has published Jean Lopez’s name in its database while noting that its decision is subject to appeal and not yet final. Lopez has reportedly said he would appeal the Center’s decision.
Establishing the U.S. Center for SafeSport and giving it the exclusive authority to investigate and adjudicate matters of sexual misconduct was a bold step, yet a needed one, to address the growing number of scandals within the U.S. NGBs. Its first big step will be to handle effectively the Lopez case at USA Taekwondo to conclusion, including any arbitration which may follow this writing.