On Friday, August 13th Peter Burchard, President of USA Fencing, called a Board of Directors Emergency Meeting. WFencing applauds President Burchard for setting an emergency meeting to put forth proposals to address SafeSport concerns and on going media attention regarding sexual abuse in fencing. As a result, USA Fencing recently responded by announcing it is expanding SafeSport resources. This initial step from USA Fencing is a move in the right direction to foster eradicating sexual assault and harrassment.
USA Fencing’s announcement also begins to demonstrate that their board and officers acknowledge and understand the hostile environment members of our community are navigating and puts women and children at greater risk of abuse.
While we are encouraged by recent efforts, WFencing is concerned about the Board’s claims of lack of familiarity with the SafeSport issues that have undermined fencing’s credibility both before the Olympics and during the Olympics. Here, we do not reference the conduct of individuals. We refer to the process of addressing complaints.
As raised by members on the call, by the time of the emergency meeting, there had been several complaints made public, including the one involving Mr. Hadzic leading up to the Olympics. During the 21 days between when Hadzic first made the national news and the emergency meeting, what proactive steps could have been taken to get the Board educated and up to speed on SafeSport? What fiduciary responsibility do members of the Board have as officers of USA Fencing? As representatives of the fencing community? Could there have been outreach to the experts at SafeSport? Could that time have been used to get legal opinions on potential policy prescriptions?
The Board has prioritized significant changes to the Bylaws. See link here: Proposed Changes to USA Fencing Bylaws.
One of the major changes is the elimination of the office of “President” whereby the USA Fencing membership will no longer have a role in electing a person directly to that position. Instead, this responsibility will be given to the Board to select a “Chair.” Given that the membership just voted in a president and then a board member who were not slated but obtained write-in voting status. Given the membership has expressed engagement regarding board choices, given that engagement and the voting contemplated for President, should the bylaws be submitted directly to the membership for voting? Given the leadership needed on critical matters such as SafeSport, how does changing the role of President from membership-elected to board-selected truly benefit the membership? Additionally, outside of the July 9th meeting to receive the report from the Governance Task Force on the proposed Bylaw changes, there has not been much transparency provided to the membership. There have been no virtual meetings to educate the membership on the nature of these changes and why they are needed at this time. There has been no proactive effort to encourage feedback and comment from the membership on these sweeping organizational changes. In fact, the link to submit comments is not easily found on the USA Fencing website, and the comments are not then made public to the membership for broad membership consideration but are emailed to an internal email box. For governance matters of such consequence and significance, why is there a lack of transparency and clarity? With this issue, why not allow the new Board, to be seated September 1, 2021, to have a chance to weigh in on the changes? What is the urgency? Members new to the Board, or those re-elected, ran on a platform of transparency --where is evidence of that transparency?
Based on the above-referenced concerns, WFencing advocates for the following actions.
Support President Burchard’s SafeSport proposals including calling on other National Governing Bodies (NGBs) to join forces with USA Fencing.
Call on the USA Fencing Board to table the Bylaws changes until after the new Board takes office on September 1, 2021.
Support calls for polling of the USA Fencing membership on the specific change to the office of the President.
Have the national office or USA Fencing Board give a full presentation at the August 31 meeting on the Board’s position and action plan regarding SafeSport, including ways that the organization will improve to exceed SafeSport standards.
Use the August 31 USA Fencing Board meeting to directly address membership concerns about both the proposed by-laws and about SafeSport.
WFencing asks interested fencing community members to submit your support for these action items to firstname.lastname@example.org and copy USA Fencing Board members at https://www.usafencing.org/board-members . We also invite community members to send feedback to WFencing, join as a member and donate to support our efforts.
Vickie Miller, President