By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has taken the first steps to revoke USA Gymnastics of its status as the national governing body for the sport in the latest fallout from the sex abuse scandal involving a former team doctor.
The USOC said the challenges facing the governing body, which is trying to recover from a scandal over the sexual abuse of hundreds of female athletes by ex-team doctor Larry Nassar, are more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form.
“This is a situation in which there are no perfect
solutions,” USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said in an open letter to the gymnastics community. “Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that we have come to easily, but I
believe it is the right action.
“In the short-term, we will work to ensure that America’s
gymnasts have the support necessary to excel on and off the field of play.”
USA Gymnastics has been in turmoil ever since dozens of female gymnasts, including Olympic champions such as Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, came forward to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse.
Over the past two years, three CEOs — Steve Penny, Kerry Perry and interim chief Mary Bono — have been forced out of the organization after being criticized for the way they handled the situation.
Bono resigned just four days into the job last month following criticism by some top gymnasts about whether the former Republican congresswoman was fit to lead the organization.
Then Penny was arrested on charges he tampered with evidence in the Nassar case.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement its board of directors was seated in June and inherited an organization it described as being in crisis and with significant challenges that were years in the making.
“In the four months since, the Board has done everything it could to move this organization toward a better future,” the board of directors said.
“We immediately took steps to change the leadership and are currently conducting a search to find a CEO who can rebuild the organization and, most importantly, regain the trust of the gymnastics community.”
Nassar was sentenced in February to up to 125 years in prison after some 200 women testified about decades of abuse at his hands.
In her letter, Hirshland said “you deserve better” and that the USOC even offered USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its recognition voluntarily.
Hirshland also said in the letter a review panel will be identified, a hearing will be held, a report will be issued and a recommendation will be made. Then the USOC board will vote to continue to recognize USAG, or to revoke that status.
Seeking a revocation does not guarantee a particular outcome.
Hirshland did not say how long the process would take and that the USOC would make every effort to proceed quickly. She also called this moment the beginning of an important process for gymnastics in the United States.
“The path is not crystal clear, but our motives are,” Hirshland wrote.
“So, we move forward, committed to ensuring the type of organization each gymnast and the coaches, trainers and club owners who support them, deserves.”
The announcement comes a day after the conclusion of the world gymnastics championships in Doha where Biles became the first female gymnast in 30 years to claim a medal in all six events at a major competition, including a record fourth all-around title for a woman. Her haul included four golds, one silver and a bronze.
Lawyers for a number of Nassar victims who filed lawsuits against both the governing body and the USOC said the Committee’s move was not enough.
“Today’s announcement by USOC seeks only to deflect from their total failure over decades to protect the gymnasts in their care,” lawyers Michelle Simpson Tuegel and Mo Aziz said in a statement.
“In protecting and enabling Larry Nassar for so long, USAG and USOC failed in its core mission – which it claims is to empower athletes – and gave a known child abuser unfettered access to hundreds of victims.
“It is high time that the institution and its enablers that failed to protect and care for these young women as minors be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, ediitng by Pritha Sarkar/Peter Rutherford)