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USOPC Leaders Acknowledge Team USA Spirit, Organizational Progress At Annual Assembly

By Karen Price | Oct. 08, 2020, 2:54 p.m. (ET)

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.”

The athlete voice is elevated to its rightful position — officially integrated into our organization — and that will make us stronger.

Susanne Lyons, USOPC Board Chair

Standouts In Team USA Family Acknowledged
The annual assembly also recognizes six award winners each year.

The Olympic & Paralympic Torch Award, which recognizes an individual or group for their positive impact on the Olympic and Paralympic movements, went to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team that was denied the opportunity to compete in the Moscow Games because of that year’s boycott. Gold medalist basketball player Maya Moore received the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award for postponing her career to focus on criminal justice reform and advocate for a wrongly convicted man, Jonathan Irons, who was released from prison in July.

The Rings of Gold Awards recognize an individual and a program dedicated to helping children develop their Olympic or Paralympic dreams and reach their highest personal potential. Dr. Tekemia Dorsey won the individual award for her work as founder of the International Association of Black Triathletes, and the George Pocock Rowing Foundation’s Erg Ed won the the program award for providing schools around the country with equipment, technology, curriculum and training that allows students access to indoor rowing.

The Advancing DEI Award goes to the NGB or high-performance management organization (HPMO) with the highest annual growth percentage of underrepresented individuals based on diversity data for women, and racial and ethnic minorities, and that went to USA Basketball for its 11.1 percent increase in its total diversity score in 2018-19. USA Volleyball won the DEI Choice Award, which recognizes an NGB or HPMO for best practices in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, as determined by a vote of NGB and HPMO peers, for providing a grant of $400,000 to six Historically Black College and Universities to help start Division I and II men’s volleyball programs.


Looking Forward
While there are a number of issues to address and demands in the years ahead, including future pipeline and youth sport development, financial stability, and two Olympic and two Paralympic Games in 18 months between Tokyo 2021 and the Winter Games Beijing 2022, both Lyons and Hirshland emphasized the Olympic and Paralympic community’s capacity to rise to the challenge.

“This pandemic has confirmed in all of us that we are willing and capable of taking on big issues, and that momentum is something we need to carry forward,” Hirshland said. “And when we needed an example to follow or inspiration to dig deeper or think bigger, none of us had to look very far. Because Team USA athletes continually raise the bar, serving as models of resiliency, optimism, persistence and excellence for all who are facing the unexpected. Sport introduces and develops those wonderful characteristics. And in those characteristics lies the great power and value of sport. Things all of us know well and believe in strongly.

“Today however — as much as ever in history — requires us — the USOPC, and the Olympic and Paralympic community — to stand up and share those values. To stand up for sport growth and sport access universally. The challenges ahead offer a daunting duty and awesome opportunity.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.