USOPC request information from group seeking removal of USA Water Polo leadership

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee ethics chief has requested information from a group of former Olympians and USA Water Polo board members demanding the removal of Chris Ramsey, USA Water Polo’s longtime CEO, and Michael Graff, the organization’s board chairman, according to three people familiar with the request.

Holly Shick, the USOPC’s chief of ethics and compliance, has also requested information from USA Water Polo, the sport’s Irvine-based national governing body.

The discussions between Shick and the former Olympians and board members, as well as USA Water Polo officials  come as calls for Ramsey, Graff and other board members ousters gain momentum.

Officials for the USA Water Polo’s Midwest and Coast California zones have also requested information from leaders behind an online petition titled “USA Water Polo Leadership Accountability; Call for CEO and Board President to Resign.” Leaders for the group are scheduled to meet with zone officials this week, according to two people familiar with the talks.

The petition, outlining what its authors described as as “the alarming history” and “pattern of behavior by the leadership of USAWP,” has attracted more than 800 signatures including at least 12 former Olympians as well several ex-USA Water Polo board members and Olympic and national team coaches since it was posted last week.

“As members of USAWP, we have no confidence in the judgment and leadership of Mike Graff and Chris Ramsey, and we ask the Board to immediately and permanently remove both from any and all positions or roles within USAWP,” the group said in the petition. “This has been a long time coming. We keep hearing from people ‘thank you, thank you, thank you for stepping up.’”

Ramsey has been CEO of the Irvine-based national governing body since 2006. He received $478,251 in compensation in 2019, the most recent year where financial records are available.

While the petition is focused on Ramsey and Graff, the reaction to it has also exposed unhappiness with the board as a whole, former Olympians and USA Water Polo officials said.

“There’s been a complete disconnect between Ramsey and the board, and the members,” Kachmarik said. “(USA Water Polo members) don’t just want Ramsey, Graff (and USA Water Polo board member) Bill Smith gone, they want everyone gone. Everyone is saying ‘the whole board has to go, you have to clean house.’

“It’s been ugly for a long time.”

The petition followed a Southern California News Group investigation of Ramsey, Graff and USA Water Polo’s handling of sexual harassment and verbal and physical abuse allegations from 2009 published last month.

A Chicago-area female referee alleged to USA Water Polo officials that she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by Perry Korbakis, the chairman of referees for USA Water Polo’s Midwest’s region.

Korbakis resigned his position under pressure from USA Water Polo officials, but was allowed to continue to be involved in the organization. The female referee disputed assertions by USA Water Polo that officials for the organization detailed to her the process that could have resulted in Korbakis’ suspension or permanent banishment from the sport.

A second female referee also alleged to USA Water Polo in 2009 that Korbakis had sexually harassed her as well.

Korbakis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

While there has been growing dissatisfaction and frustration with Ramsey and Graff within the sport in recent years, a push for Ramsey’s firing began to gain traction after an SCNG report in October on USA Water Polo’s handling of 2017 sexual assault allegations against Orange County girls teams coached by Bahram Hojreh, according to the former Olympians and board members.

The SCNG investigation revealed that Ramsey and other top officials at the NGB did not report the incidents to law enforcement or child protective services even though under California law and the U.S. Center for SafeSport code they are mandated reporters of sexual abuse and Ramsey only months later told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that the NGB’s protocol was to immediately alert law enforcement, according to depositions, emails, letters and sworn declarations. The U.S. Center for SafeSport is reviewing a formal complaint against Ramsey, according to a person familiar with the review.

Hojreh was arrested in April 2018 on 22 charges ranging from sexual battery, lewd act with an individual under 14, and sexual penetration of a minor with a foreign object, according to arrest records and court filings.

Hojreh allegedly continued sexually abusing at least a dozen underage girls he coached between July 2017, when the first complaints about the coach and IWP were submitted to USA Water Polo, and his April 2018 arrest, according to police reports, court filing, and interviews.

Ramsey in letter to USA Water Polo members in response to the petition said the organization was “shocked” by Hojreh’s arrest, which came only nine months after the sexual assault allegations against his teams were provided to Ramsey.

“The trust between athletes and their coach is sacred,” Ramsey wrote. “The violation of that trust through any abuse is appalling, and USA Water Polo was shocked to learn of the allegations against Mr. Hojreh. We have been fully cooperative with the (U.S. Center for SafeSport) and law enforcement regarding their actions in this case.”

USA Water Polo has been named in several civil suits related Hojreh’s alleged sexual abuse filed in Orange County Superior Court.

Ramsey has spent much of the past 10 days trying to do damage control. He requested a conference call with Midwest Zone officials last week to revisit the Korbakis case, according to two sources familiar with the call.

He also sent out a confidential letter to USA Water Polo’s zone chairmen January 4. In the letter obtained by SCNG, Ramsey alleges the SCNG Korbakis investigation “does not accurately reflect USA Water Polo’s actions” but does not address specific charges raised in the investigation.

“We ask you appreciate that we are in litigation, and it is in all of our interests to allow the facts to come forward in court, where there is a higher standard for truth than may be the case in the press,” Ramsey wrote.

Ramsey also instructed the zone chairmen to refer “inquiries about any of these matters, especially from the media” to USA Water Polo’s communications director.

Ramsey has also said the organization has launched an investigation into the petition. Some people listed as signing the petition have told USA Water Polo they in fact have not signed the document, Ramsey said.

“Where does that leave us?” Ramsey wrote in the letter USA Water Polo’s membership. “Do we really want to allow unfounded allegations that remain unproven in court to damage or destroy our organization, including our Olympic teams, our new training center and all of the policies and protections put in place for our athletes?”