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California Supreme Court rules USA Taekwondo must protect athletes from abuse

California Supreme Court rules USA Taekwondo must protect athletes from abuse
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The California Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that USA Taekwondo and other national sports governing bodies could be held legally responsible for protecting their athletes from abuse. 

The decision came over a lawsuit brought by three aspiring female Olympic taekwondo athletes who accused their coach of sexually abusing them for years while they were minors. 

On Thursday, the California high court upheld a lower court ruling that found that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee did not necessarily have an inherent legal responsibility to protect athletes because they were not close enough to them or their coaches. 

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However, in the case of USA Taekwondo, the court unanimously ruled that the “closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered,” demonstrated that the sports governing body had a “special relationship” with the plaintiffs, which places a greater responsibility on the organization to directly be aware of potential threats to athletes. 

The athletes, Yasmin Brown, Kendra Gatt and Brianna Bordon, who each agreed to be identified by name, had won $60 million in a 2017 lawsuit against convicted coach Marc Gitelman, according to The Associated Press

However, the trial court at the time threw out claims that USA Taekwondo and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee should also be held responsible for the abuse. 

According to the AP, all three of the women competed at U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee-sanctioned events, as well as those held by USA Taekwondo. 

Brown and Bordon said they were assaulted by Gitelman, a top-ranked instructor popularly known as “Master G,” in Olympic Training Center dorms, according to court records. 

Thursday’s lawsuit also said that the former coach repeatedly abused the girls from 2007 to 2014, including after providing them with alcohol in hotel rooms at competitions, the AP noted. 

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Gitelman was sentenced to more than four years in prison in connection with the abuse. 

The Orange County Register reported that attorney John Manly, who represents more than 100 women with allegations of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics coaches and doctors, said that Thursday’s ruling “sends a message to perpetrators in California: if you’re going to [sexually abuse athletes] don’t come to California because the Supreme Court just ruled that survivors do have the right to hold you accountable.”

The ruling comes after others have called on other national sports governing bodies, particularly USA Gymnastics, to be held accountable for alleged sexual, physical and emotional abuse faced by young athletes at the hands of coaches and doctors. 

Former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar is set to live the remainder of his life in prison after being accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of former athletes. 

Former U.S. Olympics Gymnastics coach John Geddert died by suicide in February hours after the Michigan attorney general’s office filed 24 criminal charges against him, including human trafficking and sexual assault.