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Time to nail US based swimming-coach paedophile George Gibney.

Ireland disgraces itself over the most notorious at-large sex criminal in sports history.

By Irvin Muchnick

George Gibney, the story that won’t die, is also the story that won’t live – or at least isn’t given the oxygen to breathe.

The latest example follows last November’s headlines about the status of investigations by the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions. They suggest that this Olympic year could be the one that finally delivers justice in the excruciating legacy of Gibney, whom I call the most notorious at-large sex criminal in sports history. But that probably won’t happen if the authorities are under no pressure to drop the other shoe.

The grain of Irish journalism custom and draconian defamation contribute to the whole history of Ireland’s failures to and root out sexual abuse scenarios in high places in real time, and not just in sports

Only constant reminders of the range and tawdry depths of this scandal have the promise of holding government officials’ feet to the fire and ensuring that the current prospective new Gibney prosecution doesn’t fizzle, in the manner of multiple previous initiatives.

Unfortunately, constant reminders are precisely what the Irish news media, simply waiting on an announcement by the DPP that a Gibney prosecution 2.0 will proceed, aren’t equipped to provide. Such an announcement could take many more months or even years, especially in the absence of aggressive reporting at intervals of official responses to follow-up queries, and of informed and responsibly labelled speculation and analysis.

All this would go against the grain of Irish journalism custom and practice, as well as the country’s absence of an equivalent to America’s First Amendment and the resulting presence of a draconian defamation law regime. These contribute to a regime of passive waiting – followed by lapsed public memory. Indeed, they contribute to the whole history of Ireland’s failures to expose and root out sexual abuse scenarios in high places in real time, and not just in sports.

In my analysis, the current Gibney initiative could actually, finally, be the real deal. I say this because of reports that gardaí are confident, should the DPP pull the trigger, that the US will cooperate in extraditing Gibney for trial. There appears to be significant movement behind the scenes in both countries. I’ve never seen that element in past major reporting clusters on bringing Gibney to justice, the last of which was in 2018, in the wake of the resolution of my Freedom of Information Act case against the US Department of Homeland Security, which partially daylighted Gibney’s immigration records and raised key questions surrounding them.

The grain of Irish journalism custom and draconian defamation contribute to the whole history of Ireland’s failures to and root out sexual abuse scenarios in high places in real time, and not just in sports

Clearly, the 2020 BBC/Second Captains podcast series Where Is George Gibney?, for all my criticisms of its shortcomings, changed the dynamic. Podcaster Mark Horgan introduced the voices of fresh Gibney accusers. What this means is that the Garda and the DPP no longer have to tussle with the problem of trying to revive old cases that got quashed by a controversial Irish Supreme Court procedural ruling 30 years ago. Instead, the criminal justice authorities can advance entirely new cases. And they have the wind at their backs because of more recent Irish case law on historical abuses, which is now less friendly to defendants.

In urging on the Irish media, I don’t mean to suggest that their First Amendment-fortified American counterparts have fared any better. Many of the 5 million denizens of the Republic of Ireland are well familiar with the Gibney agony.

However, even though this head coach of the Irish Olympic swimming team in 1984 and 1988 has been a US resident alien for nearly 30 years, few of the 35 million members of America’s Irish diaspora so much as know who he is.

American journalists are guilty of the same flawed method of not staying on top of important criminal investigations and informing news consumers as to how they resolved, or if they remain open and why. (Last year Preet Bharara, a former federal prosecutor, wrote an essay in the New York Times arguing that it’s unfair – to investigative targets as well as the public – for the government to fall permanently silent on high-profile investigations.  Bharara urged a prospective practice of affirmative announcements by prosecutors of the ends of investigations.)

In 2014, USA Swimming’s long-time chief executive, Chuck Wielgus, stood down from induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in the face of a protest petition organised by survivors of sexual abuse by their coaches. In 2017, Wielgus died. The next year American newspapers, in their usual atomised way, reported that there was a grand jury investigation of USA Swimming for decades of insurance fraud and cover-ups of abuse cases, but connected none of the dots.

Thus, in the same manner as that of umpteen supposed new runs at a Gibney prosecution, that story was “one and done” in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and other outlets; it faded away.

In both Ireland and America, standard media accounts of Gibney omit critical context. Missing elements include the mystery of Gibney’s American green card; the collusion by American swimming authorities that contributed to his ability to abscond to the US on a diversity lottery visa; and the overall horror show that is underage athletes’ past and ongoing exposure to the predation of bad actor coaches in Olympic sports – everywhere.

Gibney was indicted in Ireland in 1993 on 27 counts of indecent carnal knowledge of swimmers in his supervision. That prosecution, however, got barred by a controversial Irish Supreme Court ruling that the passage of time had prejudiced his ability to mount a fair defence. Gibney was released. He repaired first to Scotland and then to the US.

In 1995, Gibney lost his last coaching job, for a USA Swimming-sanctioned club in Colorado, as the community in and around the Denver suburb of Arvada found out about his Irish past – largely thanks to the Internet postings of a Florida-based advocacy group, One Child International, run by Irish native Evin Daly.

At the same time, there was a complaint, which did not lead to charges, that Gibney had either pinched a girl swimmer or snapped the bra strap of her suit.

Now out of coaching for good, Gibney took jobs in corporate human resources and the hospitality industry, and moved to California and finally central Florida, where he has resided for well over a decade. Florida – ironically or fittingly – was the location of Gibney’s known crime on American soil: his rape and impregnation of a teen swimmer on a 1991 training trip.

A 1998 Irish government report on the widespread problem of sexual abuse in Irish swimming — after which the Irish Amateur Swimming Association rebranded itself as Swim Ireland — said the accusers in Gibney’s dropped criminal case were now “vindicated” by the evidence that had been assembled by gardaí.

This report, authored by Justice Roderick Murphy, also addressed, without naming the offenders, two other coaches who, unlike Gibney, went to prison for sexual abuses: Derry O’Rourke (the Olympic swimming coach in 1980 and 1992) and Frank McCann who did time for murdering his wife and their baby niece, whom they were about to adopt, to conceal knowledge that he had raped and impregnated a girl swimmer with special needs.

Yet another coach, Ger Doyle, who would lead the Olympic swimming team in 2000 and 2004, would be convicted and incarcerated on abuse charges in 2010. After his release from prison, Doyle committed suicide in 2020.

Back in America, five years following Gibney’s departure from the Colorado team, new trouble arose when his employer informed on him to the police of Wheat Ridge, another Denver suburb. Through the informant, police learned that Gibney had manoeuvred himself into a position of authority with a state government-financed programme to support at-risk youth. Curiously, there was no follow-up by local police or immigration officials on parallel evidence that Gibney had chaired a local Catholic parish group on one or more humanitarian missions to operate a children’s eye clinic in Peru.

Even as US Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected Gibney’s application on the basis of his false information, another agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, decided that he was not a candidate for revocation of his green card, because he had never been convicted of a crime

My FOIA lawsuit culminated in 2017 with the release of an index of withheld documents, along with partial releases of some of them, revealing that in the early 1990s, as he sought to relocate to the US even as his domestic criminal problems swirled, he had been bestowed both a “Certificate of Character” produced by the Garda and a letter offering him an American coaching job. Interviewed on the Horgan podcast, Peter Banks – Gibney’s one-time assistant for the club at the Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, County Dublin, who went on to move back and forth from coaching in Ireland and the US, including leading the Irish team at the 2012 London Summer Games – neither confirmed nor denied that he was the person who had engineered his old boss’s US job offer.

Further disclosed in my FOIA case was that Gibney lied in a 2010 application for US citizenship, by certifying that he had never been arrested or indicted for an alleged crime. The federal judge in the case, Charles R Breyer, said, “I have to assume that if somebody has been charged with the types of offences that Mr. Gibney has been charged with, the United States, absent other circumstances, would not grant a visa. We’re not a refuge for pedophiles”.

Yet even as US Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected Gibney’s application on the basis of his false information, another agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, decided that he was not a candidate for revocation of his green card, because he had never been convicted of a crime.

After the government settled my FOIA, government sources told me, the Department of Justice dispatched agents to Peru to probe the church-sponsored children’s medical mission that Gibney had purportedly led in the 1990s. The department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section investigated through its prosecutor of human trafficking finance. What happened with that investigation?

All told, the prospect of overdue criminal prosecution of Gibney – and relief at long last for his countless victims – is a welcome development. But it must be accompanied by a full accounting of the global problem of coach abuse and the enabling and coddling of loathsome figures, by Olympic officials and powerbrokers the world over.

Irvin Muchnick’s book Underwater: The Greed-Soaked Tale of Sexual Abuse in USA Swimming and Around the Globe will be published later this year by ECW Press. The book includes two chapters on George Gibney, in Ireland and in the US.