The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, under pressure in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex scandal that rocked USA Gymnastics, Friday announced major reforms to boost athlete representation and safety.
The reforms, which include increasing athlete representation on the USOPC Board of Directors from three to five members, are included in bylaw amendments approved by the current board after recommendations in August from a governance reform working group.
"We promised changes to our structure and our practices that are revolutionary and substantive, recognizing the importance of the athlete role in organizational decision-making, robust compliance and certification protocols, and reflective of the population that makes up the Olympic and Paralympic community in the United States –- and today we've delivered an important step toward that promise," said Susanne Lyons, who took over as chair of the Colorado-based USOPC on January 1, 2019.
"These outcomes are the result of hard work, cooperation and a sincere belief that the USOPC –- through clear definition of its purpose and modernized, robust governance –- can continue to be an incredible force for good in the lives of American athletes, and a source of great national pride."
The amended bylaws also include "clarification that the duty of the USOPC is to certify versus recognize" the National Governing Bodies of various Olympic sports and provide for the USOPC to require NGBs to meet specific compliance standards regarding athlete safety policies and procedures, financial standards and sport performance matters including selection procedures.
The USOPC board of directors unanimously approved the changes in a special meeting held on Thursday and the changes will go into effect on January 1, 2020.
"These reforms are a significant first step of many in our ongoing efforts to ensure our athletes are at the heart of what do we and who we are going forward," said USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland. "We have taken action and will continue to take action with members of the Olympic and Paralympic community to affirmatively place athlete well-being and strong, smart governance on an equal footing with sustained competitive excellence."
The proposals to rewrite the USOPC bylaws put forward in August came after US lawmakers introduced legislation to strengthen Congressional oversight of US Olympic officials, who they said failed to protect athletes from sexual abuse.
The proposed legislation would give Congress the ability to dissolve the USOPC board and decertify the NGBs. It also included increased funding for the US Center for SafeSport -- the organization tasked with policing abuse allegations -- and would ensure that the Center for SafeSport is independent from the USOPC and the NGBs.
A Senate investigation found that "multiple institutions" failed to adequately respond to credible allegations against Nassar, the former national gymnastics team doctor who was jailed for life for abusing more than 250 athletes -- including several stars of the United States' 2012 and 2016 gold medal-winning Olympic teams.
Photo: AFP/File / Jamie Schwaberow