By Steve Keating
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) on Friday defended USA Gymnastics against criticism it turned a blind eye to sexual abuse and said it had no plans to conduct an investigation itself.
In their opening news briefing of the Games, the USOC leadership faced questions about a report in the Indianapolis Star on Thursday that said top USA Gymnastics officials failed to alert authorities to allegations of sexual abuse by coaches.
Reuters has not independently verified the report.
While not addressing the specifics of the allegations, USA Gymnastics said it encouraged any victims of abuse to report their allegations to police – something echoed by the USOC.
The USOC said it would not conduct an investigation itself and defended USA Gymnastics as one of the leaders in developing policies to protect athletes.
“We do not intend to investigate … we do however have what we think is a state-of-the-art policy regarding abuse and misconduct,” said USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun said, just hours before the Games’ opening ceremony.
“I will say since we became more focused on this issue in 2010, like many others, USA Gymnastics has been one of the most vocal proponents of creating very strong policies, procedures, and investigative resources to take a look at this.
“Our policy is not to investigate, it is to report any credible suggestions that there is abuse taking place.”
USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny said the governing body had followed long standing policies.
“As the CEO of USA Gymnastics, it is heartbreaking and unacceptable for a young person to have the intolerable burden that results from being a victim of sexual misconduct,” said Penny in a statement released after the USOC meeting.”We share the outrage that sexual assault victims and their families feel.
“This is why USA Gymnastics has implemented Safe Sport training and created educational materials that encourage members to contact law enforcement first when reporting incidents of abuse.”
With a large Russian contingent now looking likely to take part in the Games, Blackmun was also asked by reporters if he was comfortable watching U.S. athletes line up against competitors from a country accused of developing and operating a sophisticated state-run doping program.
The USOC has been vocal in its push for a major shakeup at World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and a overhaul of the drug-testing system following investigations that uncovered evidence of widespread state sponsored doping in Russia.
The International Olympic Committee rejected imposing a blanket ban on Russia from the Games and instead set a number of criteria and turned over the decision to individual federations to determine which athletes were allowed to compete.
“There is no perfect solution,” said Blackmun, acknowledging there would be clean Russians competing. “You’re going to have sympathy for everyone in this because there is no outcome here that is going to be fair to every single person.”
Russians or no Russians, the United States is still expected to top the medal table at the end of the Games and somewhere along the way claim a milestone 1,000th gold.
The United States currently sits on 976 gold medals, however, there is a dispute over a gold won at the 1904 Games.
(Editing by Alison Williams)