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USA Weightlifting Taking Further Steps To Ensure The Sport Is Accessible, Safe And Welcoming To “Anyone, Anywhere”

Nov. 18, 2021, 11:52 a.m. (ET)

Barbell on the platform at USA Weightlifting Nationals

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (November 18, 2021) -- As part of its commitment to continuous improvement, USA Weightlifting today announced it will work to implement a series of recommendations resulting from a culture assessment focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI); athlete safety; BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities; veterans; and adaptive athletes. The review, proactively requested by USAW, was conducted by the nationally recognized consulting firm, Vestry Laight, which also examined USAW's handling of a high-profile U.S. Center for SafeSport case from 2017.

Vestry Laight’s independent report is provided here to the public in its entirety, and a summary of the report can be found here.

“I’d like to thank Vestry Laight for its professionalism and thoughtfulness, as well as the many individuals from our community who took the time to participate in this review process,” said USAW Board Chair Paula Aranda. “We are in the process of building the strongest, most responsive, most representative National Governing Body in the United States, and part of that process is identifying areas where we can be better. I’m more confident than ever that we’re on the right path. We are all learning and will continue to make sincere efforts to build trust with our community and grow from these learnings and acknowledge where we are making progress.”

According to the report, few sports possess greater potential for inclusion than Olympic weightlifting under the leadership of USAW. The national governing body has been addressing DEI challenges to realize its vision of ensuring the sport is accessible, safe and welcoming to “Anyone, Anywhere,” and the sport lives up to its potential in many areas. Although many athletes describe the sport as “life changing,” and the close, tight-knit community as “family,” room for improvement exists, as is true for any organization.

Vestry Laight interviewed 130 athletes and experts in weightlifting, cycling, rugby, wrestling and beyond to identify strengths, challenges and opportunities for sustainable improvements. The firm’s recommendations focus on the following key areas: Strengthening athlete safety; focusing on coaches to drive culture; providing greater guidance, clarity and accountability around social media usage; and reimagining regional USAW organizations as engines of culture change. Leveraging the newly configured Weightlifting State Organizations creates opportunities to reinvigorate local leadership structures, advance culture, improve mechanisms for reporting misconduct and help create a more robust pipeline of athletes from underserved communities. The report also emphasized strengthening good governance and infrastructure to ensure sustainability and accountability. 

“We took the step of initiating this review in order to be the very best NGB in the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Introspection is difficult and uncomfortable, but we’re never going to become an NGB leading the way in safety and equity unless we continue to challenge ourselves to improve,” said Phil Andrews, USAW’s chief executive officer. “I’m very proud of how we have progressed, but we need to recognize where we have gaps. We are on an ever-evolving journey and we can always innovate further.”

Andrews noted that Vestry Laight’s report follows an April 2021 report by Prince Lobel & Tye (PLT) on race discrimination in weightlifting and an audit of USAW policies conducted by The Inclusion Playbook in 2020. Andrews added that USAW has already implemented the great majority of the recommendations made by The Inclusion Playbook and PLT, and that it plans to swiftly enact recommendations from the Vestry Laight report as well. The organization is already working to assemble an advisory group to draft new social media guidelines for different sections of USAW’s membership and stakeholders, as well as immediately acting on a number of other recommendations.

You can read more about current actions at the USA Weightlifting DEI Hub

Recognizing that the handling of a complaint of sexual abuse levied by Jennyfer Roberts against her fellow athlete, Colin Burns, has undermined confidence in both USAW and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, USAW asked Vestry Laight to evaluate the matter so it can be better prepared should other cases arise. The firm found no ill intent; however, missteps fed divisive rumors and speculation within the weightlifting community and unnecessary stress for all parties. The analysis found that USAW could have and should have done more to communicate with Roberts, address inappropriate social media and to offer supportive resources without interfering with the SafeSport process.

A combination of a lack of understanding of roles and little guidance from SafeSport, which was in its nascent stages, contributed to a hurtful situation for the athletes and long-lasting damage to the process, according to the report.

Andrews recognized that revisiting the incident was painful for all involved, but said he appreciated the willingness of those who participated in the review to create better circumstances for anyone else finding themselves in a similar situation.

“Anyone who summons the courage to report an incident of abuse should be received with support and respect and should be apprised of the status of a timely investigation,” Andrews said. “That was not the case in this matter, and though we believed we did the best we could at the time, we recognize now we could have done more, and we as an organization, as well as myself, personally offer Jennyfer Roberts a sincere apology.”

Andrews added, “The experience everyone had at the time is not what an NGB wants to deliver. This review, coupled with hindsight, has helped us identify where we can be better and we fully intend to ensure that we implement measures going forward to support those who come to us for help.”

Erin Andica, athlete representative to the USAW Board of Directors, said Vestry Laight’s review and recommendations provide the opportunity for both self-scrutiny and a path for continued improvement.

“USAW seeks opportunities for self-reflection and positive change. By facing and responding to hard truths, we can work to eliminate barriers to participation and continue to build an environment that grows our sport by increasing women and BIPOC coaches, enhancing diverse recruitment within our organizational structure, improving education on DEI topics, and positioning us to better retain and engage with LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities.”