Denver, Co. – June 11, 2020 – Robert ‘Bob’ McDonald, the husband of U.S. Technical Advisor of Dressage and chef d’équipe, Debbie McDonald, was permanently banned from the sport by the U.S. Center of SafeSport effective June 10, 2020. McDonald, 73, of Hailey, Idaho, received the ban based on the center’s ruling of sexual misconduct involving a minor.
As defined in the 2020 SafeSport Code for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, sexual misconduct is a violation of the Code for a participant to engage in. The offenses include, but are not limited to, sexual or gender-related harassment, non-consensual sexual contact (or attempts to commit the same), 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.
In June, SafeSport found there was a “preponderance of evidence” to issue a permanent ineligibility ruling, banning McDonald to participate, in any capacity, including competition, activities, and events organized or sponsored by USOPC, USEF-sanctioned events and USA Hockey.
In a statement given to PS Dressage by SafeSport spokesman Dan Hill in the early morning of June 11, he cited the center’s policy in declining to discuss the specifics of the case.
“The Center does not comment on matters to protect the integrity of the investigative process,” Hill said. “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.”
Debbie and Bob McDonald have been married for 42 years. At 14 years of age, Debbie met her future-husband, Bob, who was around the age of 21 at the time and was a hunter jumper trainer. He hired her as a stable hand to muck stalls and work around the barn to work off board for her pony. When Debbie graduated high school, she became Bob’s assistant trainer, developing and competing hunter-jumper horses, before her jumping accident that inspired the switch to focus on high performance dressage. They married in 1977. Bob was the jumping trainer for Jane Thomas, and it was through him that Debbie made the connection with Peggy and Parry Thomas, who developed into significant sponsors of Debbie and owned her famous Olympic-mount Brentina.
According to the center’s code, it states “Upon issuance of a Decision, a Respondent has ten days to request a hearing before an arbitrator.” McDonald will have the window of opportunity to request an appeal from June 10 until June 20.
This is the highest-profile SafeSport ruling involving someone in the sport of dressage other than Olympian Michael Barisone, who is currently on the suspension list as he awaits a criminal trial for two first-degree counts of attempted murder.
Many in the riding community have stepped forward to express support to the McDonalds via social media, including fellow Olympian Lisa Wilcox.
“As a woman, equestrian, Olympian, but most importantly a friend, I feel not only the impetus, but the obligation to speak up regarding SafeSport & its practices,” Wilcox wrote. “It is important that we have institutions that safeguard athletes (particularly minors) from nefarious powers and predation. That being said, the fundamental lack of due process & transparency leave me, as an athlete and educator, dumbfounded. Having been involved at the highest echelons of the sport, both as an athlete and administrator, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with countless athletes, their trainers, their sponsors and spouses. Debbie and Bob have been dear friends for going on 20 years. They have been stalwart and upstanding pillars of strength for our community, and have bolstered the careers of numerous professionals. I stand by Debbie, both as my teammate and friend, and I will continue to advocate for a more just and transparent process.”
At the time of publishing, McDonald’s legal representation did not provide a statement. This article will be updated as news develops.
To learn more about the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s process and code, read here.