Robert Dover, 6-Time Olympian & Former USA Team Coach, Comes Out in Support of Changes to SafeSport

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Robert Dover and Debbie McDonald at the 2016 Olympic Games. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

WELLINGTON, Florida, June 19, 2020–Robert Dover, a six-time Olympian and former U.S. dressage team coach, has joined an appeal to overhaul investigation and disciplinary procedures applied by SafeSport to deal with abuse in sports.

The 64-year-old equestrian signed a letter from the Athletes Advocacy Group to the U.S. Equestrian Federation supporting the ideals of the Center for SafeSport, set up in 2017 with a mandate from Congress to prevent abuse. Congress acted after the disclosure of sexual abuse of youth athletes in gymnastics, swimming and other Olympic sports.

Lisa Wilcox, an Olympic bronze and World Equestrian Games silver medalist also based in Wellington, is another prominent dressage rider and trainer and sign the letter.

The new drive to change current SafeSport investigation and disciplinary procedures comes after Robert “Bob” McDonald, the husband of current U.S. team coach Debbie McDonald was banned for life from equestrian and hockey a week ago for alleged sexual misconduct of a minor more than 40 years ago. He has categorically denied the accusation and filed an appeal with arbitration.

The letter sent to the USEF said that SafeSport has become a powerful entity to investigate and discipline members of Olympic sports bodies for abuse but violates constitutional rights.

“We feel strongly that it is essential any group with the power that SafeSport has should: Follow fair and impartial rules according to the laws of USA; provide notice and share discovery confidently with attorneys and have oversight by a third party.

“At this time, SafeSport meets none of these criteria.

“SafeSport’s process violates US constitutional rights, because their single-investigator procedure is flawed and incomplete.”

The Center for SafeSport, set up in Colorado Springs where the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is based that was among the bodies accused of covering up abuses, the letter said had adopted a single investigator model based on its use in university sexual abuse resolution. The university format has since been found to violate civil rights of both reporting parties and accused individuals. As a result, legal actions have reversed some findings and led to lawsuits against colleges for substantial damages. the Federal Department of Education has issued new guidelines requiring due process.

The complete letter:

Letter to USEF from the Athletes Advocacy Group

We support the ideals of the Center for SafeSport insofar as preventing abuse.

Advocating for justice does not mean that you support abuse. In fact, just the opposite: It sends a clear signal that sport will be made and kept safe from bad actors, and that all disciplinary methods will be handled according to the highest standards — not the bare minimum.

We feel strongly that it is essential any group with the power that SafeSport has should:

Follow fair and impartial rules according to the laws of USA
Provide notice and share discovery confidently with attorneys
Have oversight by a third party ( beyond an audit)

At this time, SafeSport meets none of these criteria.

SafeSport’s process violates US constitutional rights, because their single-investigator procedure is flawed and incomplete. The Center for SafeSport ill-advisedly adopted the single investigator model as their procedural blueprint based on its use during the Title IX university sexual abuse resolution.

This model has been subsequently discredited and found to violate the civil rights of both reporting parties and accused individuals. As a result, verdicts in cases resolved using these methods are being reversed.

It is our hope you are aware that the Department of Education has issued new Title IX guidelines, adding due process. You should also be aware that Federal courts are awarding millions of dollars in damages to be paid by universities and colleges in hundreds of wrongfully and inaccurately rendered decisions by university panels using tort law procedures.

Logic suggests that it is simply a matter of time before the USOPC, NGBs, and LAOs likewise experience such exposure to comparable damages.

Furthermore, we hope that upon seeing the similar pattern of flaws and inconsistent accuracy in SafeSport cases, the BOD in its wisdom would demand for all athletes a more equitable SafeSport process.

There currently are documented cases wherein the Center’s flawed and inaccurate investigations have allowed competitors to use untruthful SafeSport reports to remove stakeholders, coaches, and athletes from competition. This should never be accepted by any NGB or LAO.

We understand that Congressional mandate requires compliance with the Center for SafeSport’s rulings. What we don’t understood is why NGBs and LAOs believe that fighting for justice for their athletes is not in the NGBs’ best interest.

The undersigned athletes and coaches respectfully ask that you, the USEF Board members, act on our behalf to ask the USOPC to request that Congress overhaul SafeSport to make it a process of which all parties can expect the organization to treat them fairly even if the organization has no legal or constitutional obligation to do so, and a process we can all feel proud and support, confident that the Center for SafeSport’s rulings will be based on the utmost integrity and most thorough of investigations, with a threshold of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.