Water Polo - Photo courtesy of Chuttersnap on Unsplash

One Year Ago Today (June 7, 2021)…A lawsuit against USA Water Polo and the International Water Polo club stemming for allegations of sexual misconduct by a former coach has been settled for $13.85 million, attorneys and USA Water Polo said.

The settlement agreements were reached last month, but were officially ratified last week.

Still, the two sides do not see eye to eye on when the organizations representing water polo players were notified about the alleged abuse by former coach Barham Hojreh, who is awaiting trial on criminal charges and is next due in court July 23.

USA Water Polo released a statement saying the settlement of the suit brought by a dozen players was settled by the organization’s insurer.

“We have heard the plaintiffs’ testimony and their allegations are heartbreaking,” said USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey. “These are young women who have grown up in the USA Water Polo family. We hope that this allows them to begin a new chapter in their lives.

“As an organization that prides itself on member safety policies that aim to prevent abuse, their allegations underscore — alongside our partnership with the U.S. Center for SafeSport — that there is always more work to be done. It is also a serious reminder to our water polo community that we must all remain vigilant to identify and report abuse.”

The athletes said the abuse occurred between 2012 and 2017, but USA Water Polo officials said it appears they never informed the organization of any misconduct.

The organization said the first time it learned of the alleged abuse was on Jan. 18, 2018, from the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent watchdog established by Congress and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to oversee abuse allegations.

USA Water Polo officials said they have “zero tolerance for abuse of any kind.”

“We are committed to protecting kids from any abuse,” Ramsey said. “It is USAWP’s policy to take immediate action when, as in this case, USAWP learns about allegations of misconduct.

“As a sport, we are committed to the safety and fair treatment of both child and adult athletes. To do so, we are equally committed to working collaboratively with our members in providing them with the best support and resources to keep all athletes safe.”

Attorneys representing the water polo players say lawsuits remain pending against the Anaheim Union High School District and Irvine Unified School District, where Hojreh also coached.

“The size of this watershed settlement reflects the severe harm done to our clients by former coach Barham Hojreh and the extreme measures taken by USA Water Polo to evade responsibility for his reprehensible conduct,” attorney Morgan Stewart said.

“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 as an Olympic governing body.”

Stewart said USA Water Polo’s claims of not being notified until 2018 about the allegations are “flat out lies.”

“While USA Water Polo officials forwarded reports and complaints to the U.S. Center for SafeSport they did not report the incidents to law enforcement or child protective services even though under California law and SafeSport code they are mandated reporters of sexual abuse and the organization’s chief executive only months later would tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee that the NGB’s protocol was to immediately alert law enforcement, according to depositions, emails, letters and sworn declarations attached to the complaint,” Stewart said.

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