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Gazette Premium Content USA Swimming CEO makes first public apology to sexual abuse victims

photo - USA Swimming President Bruce Stratton, left, and executive director Chuck Wielgus speak during a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, June 24, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. The trials start on Monday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) + caption
USA Swimming President Bruce Stratton, left, and executive director Chuck Wielgus speak during a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, June 24, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. The trials start on Monday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
By Joe Paisley Updated: June 7, 2014 at 7:41 am

USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus publicly apologized to sexual abuse victims for the first time since the scandal came to light four years ago.

"I'm sorry," he said to open the statement. "These are powerful words some people have wanted to hear from me for a long time. I have been criticized in blogs, and most recently in the petition opposing International Swimming Hall of Fame induction, for not apologizing for not having done more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches."

Earlier this week, Wielgus' induction was rescinded after a petition was filed by the Women's Sports Foundation.

The foundation said that decision shows that "not only must there be zero tolerance for sexual abuse, but also that leaders must do all within their power to protect the victims, perform competent investigations and remove abusers from positions of access and power."

Wielgus acknowledged mistakes in how he handled the situation, which began when it became known that some youth swim coaches were molesting their athletes and the abuse went unreported to the Colorado Springs-based organization or if so, the safeguards were inadequate.

"I brought this on myself in April 2010 when I said I had nothing to apologize for on a national television interview," he said. "Subsequently, I remained, if not defiant, at least defensive. I talked about all the good that USA Swimming was doing in the fight to eradicate sexual abuse. But, I never apologized."

"And so today, four long years later, I can truthfully say how sorry I am to the victims of sexual abuse."

In a 2010 letter to the organization's then-12,000 (now 17,000) coaches Wielgus said that he was "extremely sorry if our organization has not done enough to provide the highest level of child protection safeguards and guidelines."

Wielgus said it became more difficult to apologize since.

"As time progressed, I became afraid that my sincerity would be questioned and anything I said or wrote would be judged as just an attempt to put public relations ahead of true remorse," he said. He said the past four years were eye-opening after the organization's Safe Sport program began in 2010 and developed a banned coaches list. Additional task force recommendations approved in May include an assistance fund and adding an education coordinator to develop a training strategy for coaches, clubs, athletes, parents and volunteers.

"Going back in time, I wish I knew long before 2010 what I know today," he said. "I wish my eyes had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse. I cannot undo the past. I'm sorry, so very sorry."

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