Story at a glance
- Congress passed a bill that installs federal oversight into Olympic, Paralympic and amateur sporting organizations, specifically targeting the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
- Advocates praise the legislation, but troubling economic conditions could spell trouble for the organization.
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed broad oversight legislation aimed at providing safeguards and regulation that protect Olympic and amateur athletes from all forms of abuse by U.S. Olympic and Paralympic coaches and staff.
The bill, titled the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020, has had an unusually easy journey through Congress, passed in the Senate with unanimous consent in early August.
It stems from the fallout of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal that revealed the pervasive negligence within the U.S.A. Gymnastics organization after multiple complaints against the disgraced doctor went uninvestigated and obfuscated.
Introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in July 2019, signature characteristics of the bill include giving Congress the power to dissolve the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), as well as terminate the recognition of sports’ national governing bodies, enhanced power to oversee governing bodies’ implementation of safeguards and procedures required by each corporation, and the establishment of the Athletes’ Advisory Council to improve athlete representation.
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Any allegation of child abuse is also mandated to be reported to law enforcement immediately following notification. The bill also establishes greater protections for abuse victims from corporate retaliation.
New regulations for sports’ board of directors must also include enhanced representation. The bill requires that one-third of the membership of all athletic boards of directors be composed of amateur athletes who either represent the U.S. in competition regularly or have in the past decade.
An annual financial audit of sport corporations will be sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the House Committee on the Judiciary, and the chair of the Athlete’s Advisory Council for review as a means of extended Congressional oversight into sport governing bodies.
As part of this increased oversight, a new commission will be enacted in Congress, called the Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics. It will be made up of 16 congressional members, with eight from the House and eight from the Senate, with at least half having some experience in amateur, Olympic, Paralympic or professional athletics.
The commission will review membership of the boards of directors, recruitment efforts and financial statements, among other corporate affairs.
With broad bipartisan support, lawmakers anticipate strong positive change as a result of the bill’s passage into law.
“We know from the Larry Nassar scandal and other scandals that we have to make the entire Olympic system much more athlete-centered,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the House bill, told The Washington Post over the phone.
Given the plethora of changes the bill intends to enact, insiders anticipate a long series of systemic overhauls.
“It’s going to send shock waves through the system,” Eli Bremer, an Olympic modern pentathlete and member of the advocacy group Team Integrity, told the Post. “I think there is going to be a lot of changes that come out of this, and some pieces will take a bit of time to understand their true impact.”
Bremer, a member of the advocacy group Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC, worked with Congress to write the bill. He, along with other USOPC critics, hope the bill will protect and support athletes physically and economically.
Former Olympian Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a fellow Team Integrity member, notes that most money in the USOPC goes toward executive salaries.
“All the new money flowing into the USOPC went to the staff, while most athletes currently live in abject poverty,” Hogshead-Makar told reporters.
While the USOPC board has made multiple changes following the Nassar scandal and public fallout, including replacing the chief executive and board chair, the bill adds increased athlete representation and financial oversight.
The Post points out that one of the bill’s requirements is raising the USOPC’s contribution to SafeSport, a nonprofit organization that helps protect young athletes from sexual abuse, to $20 million from its current $11.5 million 2020 contribution.
Funding for this and other new requirements will be a struggle; the COVID-19 pandemic has pinched incoming revenue from the now-rescheduled 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which has already prompted layoffs and other budget cuts within the organization.
“This is the beginning,” Bremer told the Post. “This will set us on a path where hopefully in the next two years we have a thorough, thoughtful process and a system that we’re proud of in every way, that treats athletes ethically, leads to strong performance on the field and does right by everyone involved.”
The bill now heads to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
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