Sept. 12, 2019, 1:58 p.m. (ET)
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors poses for a photo at the 2019 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly on Sept. 12, 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Sarah Hirshland and Susanne Lyons – CEO and chair of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, respectively – addressed more than 300 members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community at The Antlers Hotel Thursday morning to commence the 2019 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly.

The annual gathering brings together various member organizations of the USOPC – including U.S. Olympians and Paralympians; Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American National Governing Bodies; the Paralympic Advisory Council, Collegiate Advisory Council, Multi-Sport Organizations; and USOPC board members, trustees and staff – to keep dialogue open and help advance the movements in the United States.

Hirshland and Lyons were followed on stage at the USOPC Leadership Address and Board Town Hall by Athletes’ Advisory Council chair Han Xiao and National Governing Bodies Council chair Max Cobb before an open Q&A was hosted with the 16-member USOPC board of directors.

The two USOPC leaders gave powerful, emotional speeches that addressed the issues the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community has faced in recent times, the progress and changes that have since been made, and the future of the movement in this country.

Below are key excerpts from their speeches.

 

Susanne Lyons:

The power of sport

“I challenge everyone, myself included, the rest of our board, the USOPC staff, the athlete advocates, the NGB leaders, and everyone else here today that believes in the power of the Olympic and Paralympic movements to make the world a better place. 

The world we live in right now needs us to succeed like never before.

There are so many parts of our society that feel broken. And yet the power of Olympic and Paralympic sport around the world remains stronger than ever.”

 

Understanding victims and survivors

“Abuse has occurred in almost every sport and a lot needed to be done to create better protections for athletes. But those issues also caused us to examine other things like how coaches train, how much emphasis is placed on winning, and how to balance athlete health and well-being with the pursuit of excellence. We needed to take a hard look at USOPC oversight of the NGBs and at how the voices of athletes were being heard on issues that affect them.  All of this, and the resulting scrutiny from survivors, the media, Congress and activists has led to a great amount of turmoil at the USOPC and in many of the NGBs. It has been a tough time, but certainly not nearly as difficult as the journey so many victims and survivors have been on. I absolutely understand the lack of trust and the anger so many feel about what happened and the organizations that were supposed to protect them.”

 

Chaos theory as applied to the movements

“Chaos theory is all about how systems organize themselves.  Too much stability makes a system or organization complacent, unwilling to contemplate change, risk averse and slow to evolve.

But the flip side of too much stability is that too much disruption; too much chaos makes an ecosystem disorganized and unable to capably propel itself forward.

The bottom line is most really healthy, high-functioning eco-systems or organizations need to live right on that knife’s edge between stability and disruption.

While we lauded the apparent calm and order of our organization over the course of the next decade, that stability came with great cost.  We weren’t paying attention to the signs of trouble.  We can’t let that happen again. We will not let that happen again.”

 

Finding the right balance

“We need to find the right tension between partnership and pushback from the key groups that make up our community- the athletes, the NGBs, USOPA and the USOPC. Not enough tension or balance of power makes for a one-sided system with important groups disempowered and disenfranchised. Too much conflict prevents meaningful change and progress. 

Every voice that’s been part of the process to reform our community is critically important. But if none of us trust each other or our motivations, we’re not going to be the type of organizations that the athletes deserve.”

 

Changing the world

“If we can regain our footing; if we can come together in community in this country, committed to doing our very best for every athlete;

If we can make sure parents know their kids can safely benefit from the great joy of sport;

If we can create systems and processes to make sure that athletes receive the resources they so richly deserve;

If we can ensure the power dynamics within our community are balanced and fair, where athletes’ voices aren’t just tolerated, they’re encouraged; where the response to grievances isn’t posturing, but problem-solving; where problems aren’t swept under the rug and administrators don’t look the other way; where we all take accountability for athlete safety and well-being.

Then, and only then, we can empower our athletes to change the world.

So that’s why I’m here. I want to help build a world-class organization, and help support our national governing bodies, all of whom are serving the most committed group of athletes on the planet: Team USA."

 

Sarah Hirshland:

The most important learning

“As I begin today, allow me to offer that over the past year I have listened and learned many things, but perhaps none more important, than the following:

If our community is going to address the abuse crisis in this country, then we must start by believing those who tell us when it occurs. We must open our ears, our eyes and our minds to create a culture in sport that believes a young boy or girl when they try to tell us something isn’t right. Even when our own experiences might steer us to another conclusion.

So to the victims and survivors of abuse, let me say: We believe you, we care about you and we want to be part of the solution.

And to all of the athletes in our Team USA family, we are doubling down on our promise to empower you to achieve your greatest potential on the field, in the pool, at the rink or on the slope. And we are also expanding our commitment to support your overall well-being as you embark on your journey toward excellence.”

 

Acting on the family’s recommendations

“Of the 200 or so recommendations, we have acted on or have imminent plans to act on nearly 90 percent of them with only still a handful we’re still working through and evaluating the best approach.

We’re setting higher standards and holding organizations accountable where there are deficiencies. But we’re also supporting those organizations with additional resources, human and otherwise, to help them get better…

We’ve repurposed additional resources to add people and expertise to the office of the ombudsman, a critical link for athletes who need help with a system that sometimes seems designed to confuse and confound rather than provide clarity and just outcomes…

We’ve backed up our promise for financial transparency with a more detailed breakdown of our resource allocation process and have committed to laying out, NGB by NGB, and eventually athlete by athlete, what resources have been made available, to whom, and why...

We’ve elevated our support for the Paralympic movement, providing absolute parity in Op Gold awards to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and rightfully, finally, including the word ‘Paralympic’ in our organization’s name and on all our properties…

As you may have seen from our recently proposed governance reform, only the beginning of our efforts to provide greater representation, inclusion, and awareness for Paralympic athletes.

We doubled support for the U.S. Center for Safe Sport for the second consecutive year, providing nearly $10 million annually from the Olympic and Paralympic community, meaning the USOPC and our partner NGBs.

We’ve also asked Congress to invest in the Center in the same manner that they invest in USADA…

We’ve also started to formalize some fundamental governance changes in areas we believed a consensus had emerged, recognizing that none of the various reports were exactly aligned.

These are reflected in the proposed amendments to our bylaws that we posted on our website on August 19th, for a public comment period.”

 

Looking ahead

“This isn’t the end of the road. It’s hardly the first mile. 

What we’re doing next will be laid out in our five-year strategic plan and will be an ongoing conversation with all of you. 

Our four priorities – and where you’ll see us invest and make substantive change in the coming years – are focused around how we create a better experience for our athletes on and off the field of play, how we improve the effectiveness of all the organizations that serve our athletes, how we establish an athletes-first culture, and ultimately begin preparing for the awesome, transformational opportunity represented by hosting the Games in Los Angeles in 2028. 

This will mean instituting things like a whistleblower resource, improved medical benefits, a detailed annual report to Congress, and a new compliance and certification model with NGBs.”

 

Inspiring a nation

“Having watched and met with numerous athletes over the last year, I have come to understand that, for most, representing Team USA is the most important accomplishment of their lives. The magnitude of what it means, and the difficulty of the journey are undeniable.

Our mission, together, is to make sure that their experience as Team USA athletes is one that each and every athlete cherishes, not only in the moments of athletic achievement, but for the positive impact this experience has on the rest of their lives. 

That won’t be easy, or perfect, but when, not if, we are successful, we will enable our athletes to reach their dreams, their greatest potential…and in turn, they will inspire us and our country.  That’s the orchestra.

So, let’s do it.  We are the team behind the team, and they need our support.  I’m reaching out, in partnership, and in friendship, asking you to join together on this journey.”

Click here to download the full remarks from Lyons and Hirshland.