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Senate passes powerful Olympic reform legislation

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed major Olympic reform legislation Tuesday that would demand greater accountability from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the national governing bodies of Olympic sports in this country in the wake of the USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming sexual and physical abuse scandals.

The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athlete Act places greater legal liability on the USOPC and NGBs for sexual abuses by coaches, officials and employees and provides Congress with mechanisms to dissolve the USOPC’s board of directors and decertify NGBs.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) in July 2019 and following an 18-month investigation into widespread and systemic sexual, physical and emotional abuse within American Olympic sports.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering companion legislature introduced by South Bay congressman Ted Lieu.

“Today’s Senate passage of our Olympic reform legislation marks a critical step towards providing effective safeguards and protections to Olympic, Paralympic and amateur athletes pursuing the sports they love,” Moran and Blumenthal said in a statement. “We could not have passed this bill in the Senate today without the input and guidance of the survivors – athletes who traveled to Washington countless times, shared their stories and demanded change. While powerful institutions failed these survivors in the past, we aren’t going to.”

Olympic gymnastics champion McKayla Maroney, a Nassar survivor said the legislation “recognizes that USOC failed us, and put child athletes at risk. I am grateful to the Senate for passing this bill, and look forward to see the House of Representatives take the next step to hold the leadership of USOPC fully accountable for their failures,”

“When athletes dream of competing for their country, standing on the podium, listening to their national anthem, they don’t imagine they’d be forced to suffer years of sexual abuse to get there,” Maroney said. “Larry Nassar was an abusive monster, who preyed on thousands of young, vulnerable girls. He abused my trust, he abused my body, and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away. Equally disturbing is the fact that he couldn’t have gotten away with his crimes for as long as he did, if it were not for powerful institutions looking the other way, and enabling his abuse. For too long, the wrong people held all the power – now, it’s back in the hands of the athletes, where it belongs.”

Tuesday’s passage comes a day after financial records released by the USOPC showed that the organization spent nearly $20 million more in 2019 on its employees than it did on direct financial support to American athletes training for the Olympic Games and other major international competitions even as the USOPC pledged to athletes, Congress and the public that it would become  more athlete-centric.

The financial records also reflected the USOPC’s focus on corporate sponsors and the impact the sexual abuse scandals in USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and other USOPC-sanctioned national governing bodies has had on the organization.

The USOPC spent nearly $26 million in legal related expenses in 2018 and 2019. By comparison the organization paid out $667,300 in legal expenses in 2017. The $8.15 million the USOPC spent on legal in 2019, was roughly $600,000 more than the organization contributed to the operation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport. The USOPC also spent $180,366 on lobbying in 2019.

“We would like to thank Chairman Moran and Senator Blumenthal for their work in drafting and advancing this important legislation,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement. “It will cement increases in athlete representation in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements, improvements in athlete safety protections, and increases in transparency and accountability in our system. The USOPC board recently approved the second phase of the most sweeping governance reforms in recent history. Building on that commitment and this legislation, we will move rapidly to implement reforms to address any outstanding provisions from this bill.”

Source: Orange County Register

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