Sarah Hirshland speaks with the USOPC Board as part of the 2020 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly on Oct. 8, 2020.
In keeping with the theme of 2020, the annual U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly convened in an unconventional way on Thursday and covered topics that no one would have predicted a year ago.
Instead of gathering in person and celebrating in the aftermath of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that were to take place this year in Tokyo, participation was virtual and the topics included the response to the global pandemic, ongoing work to keep everyone physically, mentally and emotionally safe and healthy, and efforts to promote racial and social justice.
Yet the overall messages from United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland and Board Chair Susanne Lyons were ones of hope, praise for the Olympic and Paralympic community’s ability to adapt in trying times, and admiration of the spirit of Team USA.
“This year is different in so many ways, and there is no question 2020 will be a year we talk about well into the future — for the impact on our communities and the way we live, and for the unprecedented impact on global sport and our Olympic and Paralympic universe,” Lyons said. “But for all of the challenges, I am humbled and thankful to say that this community — our Olympic and Paralympic family in the United States — has shown tremendous resiliency.”
The postponement of the Olympics and Paralympics this summer and shutdown of competition and training created a myriad of challenges for not only the USOPC but also national governing bodies, athletes and grassroots organizations. Acknowledging the impact of the cancellation of events and reduction in jobs and programs, Hirshland recognized the creativity of the NGBs and other organizations for adapting to the new COVID environment.
“Whether through virtual competitions, modified coaching and training techniques, or fan engagement initiatives, the resilience and persistence of our sport partners deserves our collective applause,” she said.
Hirshland also lauded Team USA for taking a “first big step toward being true advocates for social justice.” Amidst the response to the pandemic, the USOPC assembled the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice, bringing together athletes, organization leaders and outside experts to help define outcomes and next steps by early next year.
“This is an example of our community listening, recognizing frustration and honoring pleas for understanding and support,” she said. “This important work will have a lasting impact, and we are grateful to all who raised their hand to identify solutions and recommendations for change.”
Lyons highlighted some of the changes made over the past year, including the independent commission led by Lisa Borders, the former CEO of Time’s Up, to make recommendations for USOPC and NGB reform in light of the gymnastics abuse crisis. The one-year report card, issued in August, “showed that we are listening, and we are acting,” Lyons said, noting that they’ve completed 24 of 30 recommendations thus far and the other six are in progress.
She also provided an update on sweeping governance reforms implemented over the past year, which include expanding athlete representation on the board and direct election of representatives from the Athletes’ Advisory Council, National Governing Bodies Council and US Olympians & Paralympians Association, as well as specific provisions for athlete representation and NGB certification.
“The athlete voice is elevated to its rightful position — officially integrated into our organization — and that will make us stronger,” she said. “It also puts the burden of responsibility on our partner organizations to be thoughtful about who they place in these critical leadership roles to ensure that this opportunity for impact is not wasted. And through enhanced audit standards and NGB certification, we will increase the effectiveness of all of the NGBs and raise the bar for sport administration in this country and globally.”