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George H. Morris banned for life by the U.S. Center for SafeSport

Wednesday, 20 November 2019
News

Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography Legendary American show jumping coach, former chef d’equipe for U.S. show jumping and Olympic medalist George Morris. Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography.

 

Text © World of Showjumping written by Erin Gilmore

 


 

American show jumping coach, former chef d’equipe for U.S. show jumping, and Olympic medalist George H. Morris has been permanently banned from the sport. Mr. Morris was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, allegations that were investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and ultimately upheld on appeal in independent arbitration. 

Since the matter was made public in August, Mr. Morris has consistently denied all allegations and had vowed to appeal. As of November 19, that appeal has been ruled as unsuccessful, and his status on the United States Equestrian Federation’s SafeSport Sanctions list has been changed to “Permanent Ineligibility.” That means that Mr. Morris is banned from participating in USEF-sanctioned events and barred from interacting with USEF members. USEF members who interact with permanently ineligible individuals can also be subject to sanction.

The United States Congress, the United States Olympic Committee, and the United States Equestrian Federation all recognize the U.S. Center for SafeSport as the official safe sport organization for all Olympic sports in the United States. As such, the Center has the exclusive jurisdiction to investigate and resolve allegations involving members of the United States Equestrian Federation. The Center handles allegations involving sexual misconduct, child abuse, and other inappropriate conduct. 

Bill Moroney, CEO of US Equestrian, commented that “yesterday’s ruling is the result of the Center’s process, and we respect their decision.”

Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography For decades, Mr. Morris had been looked upon as an equestrian icon. Photo © Erin Gilmore Photography.

The allegations against Mr. Morris, 81, are said to stem from incidents in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Mr. Morris was a professional rider and coach. Two victims testified in independent arbitration on November 7 and 8 during the appeal process. It is the policy of SafeSport to not publicly identify victims, but one, Jonathan Soresi, has voluntarily come forward and made statements to The New York Times. Adding to the complications of the matter, Mr. Soresi is himself a registered sex offender who had been banned by SafeSport for possessing child pornography. Mr. Soresi was reinstated by SafeSport last week.

For decades, Mr. Morris had been looked upon as an equestrian icon and considered to be one of the founders of the American system of equitation. He has long been a popular clinician to amateur show jumping riders and mentor to high performance riders. In 2016, he served as chef d’equipe of the Brazilian Olympic show jumping team and he coached the United States Equestrian Team to Olympic gold medal performances in 2004 and 2008. The announcement of charges earlier this summer kicked off a vast uproar among Mr. Morris’ many supporters, and backlash against the Center for SafeSport. 

Since 2017, SafeSport has been in place to prevent abuse and hold abusers accountable. While it would not comment on the specific matter involving Mr. Morris, the Center released a statement by chief executive officer Ju’Riese Colón that read:

“No matter how big a figure is in their sport, or how old the allegations, nobody is above accountability. Athletes and other sport participants must be empowered to stand up for what’s right and speak out against what they know to be wrong.  The Center’s fair process is a critical part of making that a reality because it gives participants confidence they will be heard, which is essential to making well-being the centerpiece of sport culture.

“The Center conducts thorough investigations before rendering a finding such as lifetime suspension.  The victims in these matters not only suffered the abuse they first report, they often bravely survive countless attacks, even in their sport, for having the courage to speak up.  Such a response is wrong on many levels, including the fact that it re-victimizes those who already suffered more than anyone should.  We cannot allow this behavior to continue as it undermines all that’s great about sport participation.

“While the Center does not comment on specific matters, it wants all survivors, including those who came forward in this instance, to know that the SafeSport Code is in place to prevent abuse, provide a voice for those who need one, and hold abusers accountable. The decision to restrict an individual’s ability to participate in sport is not taken lightly, which is why the process is exhaustive and includes many provisions to ensure fairness so both claimants and responding parties are given amble opportunity to speak for themselves, provide evidence, seek counsel and be heard in front of another independent body.”



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