Hunter/jumper trainer Robert ‘Bob’ McDonald has been permanently banned from horse sport and hockey by the U.S. Center of SafeSport due to sexual misconduct involving a minor.
It’s the same charge levelled against famed horseman George Morris, and the highest profile sexual abuse case to concern the sport of dressage. Bob is husband of U.S. Technical Advisor of Dressage and chef d’équipe, Debbie McDonald.
On June 10, 2020, the 73-year old of Hailey, Idaho was listed as “permanently ineligible” on the SafeSport Sanction List, the harshest sanction the Center can impose.
Sexual misconduct, under the 2020 SafeSport Code, includes sexual or gender-related harassment, non-consensual sexual contact and non-consensual sexual intercourse (or attempts to commit the same), sexual exploitation, and/or bullying or hazing, or other inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation confirmed the ban in the following statement:
“The U.S. Center for SafeSport has issued a lifetime ban of hunter/jumper equestrian trainer Robert ‘Bob’ McDonald for violating the SafeSport Code. With this decision, Mr. McDonald is permanently prohibited from participating, in any capacity, in any event, program, activity, or competition authorized by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, USEF, or any affiliates of USEF.”
In a statement to PS Dressage, SafeSport spokesman Dan Hill declined to discuss specifics of the case:
“The Center does not comment on matters to protect the integrity of the investigative process. Since it’s [ruled as] ‘permanent ineligibility’ it means that the investigation was concluded, the findings reviewed, and the final decision made to render the responding party permanently ineligible across the movement.”
McDonald has appealed the ruling and issued a statement on Friday denying the allegations against him, which are said to have occurred in 1973:
I want to begin by stating that I am humbled by the outpouring of support that Debbie and I have received during these past few days. It would be impossible to deal with this matter without your warm kindness and I wanted to thank you all for it.
With that said, it is with great sadness that I have to release a statement such as this one, but as many of you already know, on June 10, the U.S. Center for SafeSport banned me from participating in the sport that has been my entire life over the last 50 years. It is beyond heartbreaking to see the reputation that I have painstakingly built throughout my career be tarnished by an allegation of misconduct from 47 years ago. Even more gut-wrenching is watching my loved ones being dragged through this as well. It is a terrible reality that we are living in a time when allegations alone would lead to the imposition of such a harsh public sanction. Unfortunately, the system in place does not allow for individuals to be given the opportunity to effectively defend any of the allegations prior to a ban, which is why I have requested for an independent arbitration on the matter.
It would be inappropriate of me to comment more other than to simply say that I categorically deny the allegations that have been made against me. Throughout my 50-plus year career in the sport, I have always acted in a professional and respectful manner towards all individuals that I have come in contact with, which is why I am shocked at the allegations that were made. While it is paramount for the sport to have a thoughtful and thorough avenue for our riders and trainers to address complaints and areas of concern, it is of equal importance that the process be fair and balanced. That certainly has not been the case here. I am looking forward to the opportunity to present the facts and a fair defense at an independent arbitration. I stand firm on the reputation I have built over half a century and am confident that I will be fully exonerated when the arbitration is complete.
Finally, I want to add that these are difficult and trying times for myself, Debbie, and our families. We again would like to thank everyone who has reached out with kindness, generosity, compassion, and grace. Your support has carried us the last couple of days and will continue to do so.
Created by Congress in 2017 in response to the Larry Nassar case involving sexual abuse of minor gymnastic athletes, U.S. SafeSport Center was established to address the issue of abuse in sport.