Bahram Hojreh. Photo Courtesy: Rose Palmisano, Orange County Register/SCNG

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

Multiple news outlets in the Los Angeles area have reported that Bahram Hojreh, a prominent Southern California youth water polo coach, has been accused of sexually abusing seven of his female players in Los Alamitos, CA.

Sean Emery and Dan Albano of the Ocean County Register report that the 42-year-old Hojreh faces nearly two-dozen felony and misdemeanor charges, including lewd acts upon a child, sexual penetration of a minor with a foreign object, child annoyance and sexual battery.

According to the indictment handed down by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the assaults allegedly occurred between September 2014 and January 2018 when Hojreh was coaching at the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos. Prosecutors suggest the abuse took place during one-on-one coaching sessions between Hojreh and his players, four of whom were 15 years old or younger at the time.

In comments to the Ocean County Register, Ricardo Nicol, Hojreh’s attorney, said his client “adamantly denies” the allegations. Nicol noted that his client has no prior record of improper behavior.

“A guy that has been involved in the sport for 30 years, who has an impeccable reputation, who has been entrusted with hundreds, if not thousands, of kids, he suddenly becomes a serial groper in the pool?” Nicol said. “Hopefully the truth wins out. But to me, there is something here that is not adding up.”

The arrest was noted in an email sent last night from USA Water Polo CEO, Christopher Ramsey to members of his organization, the governing body for the sport in America.

“We first learned of the allegations against Bahram Hojreh from the US Center for SafeSport in January, to which the allegations had been initially reported, and promptly suspended Mr. Hojreh from USAWP membership, including his seat on a regional board,” Ramsey’s email stated. “At that time, the Center also noted the suspension on their public database while their investigation into Mr. Hojreh’s conduct continued.”

He further explained the Center for SafeSport was specifically established to respond to allegations such as those made against suspected abusers like Hojreh.

“We fully support the Center in its efforts and fully cooperate with the Center in enforcing any sanctions that the Center may impose,” Ramsey added.

The US Center for SafeSport is a national nonprofit organization providing education, resources and training to promote respect and prevent abuse in sport. Adopted in 2012 by the United States Olympics Committee, SafeSport procedures have become standard training for any professionals and volunteers working with the 47 National Governing Bodies and 34 Multi-Sport Organizations—with a combined reach of 73 million members—that the USOC regulates.

In the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal at USA Gymnastics, which has seen its senior leadership forced to resign as a result of mishandling numerous sexual abuse allegations against Nassar, the organization’s team physician, many U.S. youth athletics organizations have re-examined their procedures for protecting members from sexual abuse. In response to an investigation by the Southern California News Group, USA Swimming President and CEO Tim Hinchey acknowledged lax oversight of abuse that occurred over decades.

For USA Water Polo, which has previously avoided the scandals that have negatively impacted its USOC brethren, the Hojreh accusations are a serious transgression that will likely cause the organization to examine how a coach who had risen to a relatively prominent regional position may have sexually violated his players.

“USA Water Polo has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct,” Ramsey said in his statement. For the sake of the organization’s 45,000 members, it’s imperative that USA Water Polo quickly touch bottom on the Hojreh situation.

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