Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened to hear the powerful statements of the girls and women who confronted Larry Nassar in court. It was devastating to know that he was able to perpetuate his abuse for so long – undetected by parents, coaches and the organizations involved, including ourselves at the USOC.
All of us in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community have an obligation to find out how this happened and take whatever steps are necessary to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again. We must honor the courage and bravery of those who have come forward and recognize the pain of those who have not. We must oversee the system in which victims, peer athletes and adults have a safe and clear path to report abuses. We must have the tools, personnel and resources to detect abuses and respond swiftly and decisively to stop them.
The USOC recognized that we needed a more concerted focus on addressing abuse, harassment and bullying in the U.S. Olympic Movement nearly eight years ago, following the sexual abuse that occurred in USA Swimming. With the guidance of experts, athletes and others, we created new standards, training and procedures that are now required for all our affiliated sport bodies.
In addition to that effort, our most important initiative has been the creation and funding of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is the only organization of its kind in sports in the world. The Center is an independent entity solely responsible for handling the reporting and investigations of alleged sexual abuse. It opened in March 2017 and is already changing the way our community deals with abuse.
Although establishing the Center is an important accomplishment, it is not enough. To uncover and understand any past failings in the Nassar case, a special committee of the USOC board of directors has retained Ropes & Gray LLP, one of the nation’s leading law firms with expertise in such investigations, to conduct a fully independent investigation into Nassar’s abuse – who knew what about Nassar’s abuse of athletes and when, and what they did or did not do with this information. The investigation will have access to USOC and USA Gymnastics personnel, documents and data, and the investigator’s report will be made public.
But we are not simply waiting for the results of that investigation to make improvements. We are taking immediate actions based on what we already know. We demanded a full turnover of the USAG leadership and board, and we are now working with USAG to bring deep, meaningful and lasting change to the organization. We have made clear that if these changes are not successful, we will pursue decertification of USAG, our strongest possible punitive action. All National Governing Bodies have been audited in the past nine months for compliance with the SafeSport requirements and almost all are in full compliance. The few outstanding audit items are expected to be cleared in coming weeks.
And today, we are announcing a series of additional steps to strengthen efforts to handle abuse effectively and ensure a safe sports environment.
- We are providing new funding and resources for support and counseling for gymnasts impacted by Nassar's crimes and launching a new resource for athletes from other Olympic and Paralympic sports recovering from similar abuse.
- We are forming an advisory group to bring together survivors, advocates, child psychologists and other medical professionals to guide us on stronger safeguards against abuse throughout the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, and effective support for victims. This may lead to additional changes to USOC policies or methods for addressing cultural issues and conflicts of interest that exist in many sports, hampering prevention of abuse.
- We will double the USOC’s funding of the U.S. Center for SafeSport to enable the hiring of more investigators and staff, improve the speedy resolution of cases, enhance ongoing communication for victims and their families, provide age-appropriate training on recognizing and helping to prevent abuse, and offer better, more accessible resources online.
- We are launching a review of the relationship between the USOC and NGBs as currently defined in legislation -- the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act -- and will seek input from safe sport advocacy groups, the NGB Council, the Athletes’ Advisory Council, current athletes and policymakers to consider clarifications and changes. As the leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements, we must ensure that our governance structure unequivocally provides the USOC with the ability to oversee and act when necessary to protect athletes.
- We are revisiting our SafeSport procedures to determine what measures are necessary to ensure allegations of abuse are reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, in addition to law enforcement, and that necessary follow-ups occur. This also would enable NGBs and the USOC to be more aware of problems as they arise, spot trends, and know where more oversight and engagement are necessary.
- We will ensure that athletes have an even stronger voice within the USOC. In addition to the AAC already in place, we will seek input on our decision making from currently competing athletes and athletes who have competed in the past.
- We will also continue to work with USAG to address its governance issues, implement a culture change, and act on the results of the independent investigation once it is complete.
The USOC has made significant progress to strengthen protections for athletes, but our collective efforts to improve athlete safety must never cease. We must honor the strong voices who have stood up against abuse and bring real and lasting change to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family’s ability to detect, report, investigate, resolve and end abuse.
Susanne Lyons, acting CEO, USOC