Toronto – USA Water Polo could face a congressional investigation and possible decertification as an Olympic governing body for failing to protect 12 female water polo players from sexual abuse by their coach, the victims’ lawyer said on Monday.
The athletes, who alleged they had been abused by coach Bahram Hojreh, announced on Monday they had reached a US$13.85 million settlement with USA Water Polo and the International Water Polo Club (IWPC).
“The size of this watershed settlement reflects the severe harm done to our clients by former coach Bahram Hojreh and the extreme measures taken by USA Water Polo to evade responsibility for his reprehensible conduct,” the victims’ attorney Morgan Stewart said in a statement.
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“Children who compete under the auspices of USA Water Polo are not safe from the threat of sexual abuse and will not be until the board and leadership of USA Water Polo are held accountable.
“My clients and I will call for a congressional investigation and enforcement of appropriate sanctions under the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020 which could include decertifying USA Water Polo.”
The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act, signed into law by then-president Donald Trump last October, was developed to provide athletes greater protection, giving Congress oversight and the power to decertify national governing bodies.
Hojreh, who is not part of the settlement, is currently awaiting trial on 34 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 victims, nine of whom were children at the time of the acts.
“Bahram Hojreh has always maintained his innocence against these allegations,” his lawyer, Mark Hojreh, said in an email to Reuters.
“I will tell you he has passed the polygraph in response to these allegations. It should also be noted that Bahram Hojreh was offered to be included in the insurance settlement with a mutual release. Bahram rejected the offer.”
USA Water Polo said in a statement that they were not made aware of Hojreh’s alleged abuses, which occurred between 2012 and 2017, until January 2018 when they were alerted by the US Centre for SafeSport and immediately suspended the coach.
“We have heard the plaintiffs’ testimony, and their allegations are heartbreaking,” Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, said in a statement.
“As an organisation that prides itself on member safety policies that aim to prevent abuse, their allegations underscore – alongside our partnership with the US Centre for SafeSport – that there is always more work to be done.” — Reuters