DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is taking steps designed to help athletes in the wake of Olympic sex-abuse scandals, proposing an increase in their numbers on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting their well-being.
These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws. The proposal comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal — rolled out their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.
The USOPC portrayed its proposal as merely a first step and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals, which included a quadrupling of funds for the U.S. Center for SafeSport and a provision that gave Congress authority to fire the entire USOPC board.
And while the USOPC did mention the Borders Report — a detailed examination of the troubled federation released earlier this summer — it fell far short of implementing all the recommendations in that report, either.
It did heed athletes’ calls for more representation, proposing an increase of their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%. But under this proposal, the extra 13% could come not from the Athletes’ Advisory Council but from the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association, an alumni group that had gone largely unmentioned in much of the reform talk to this point.
The USOPC would change the top line of its mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being.” Previously, the well-being part was not mentioned.
The USOPC will hear comments on the proposal for 60 days before the board votes on it.
Its leaders say athletes are at the center of the overhaul they are trying to execute in the wake of Nassar and other sex-abuse scandals, though critics say the process is taking too long and not going far enough.
In reality, there is no quick way to overhaul an 87-page document that is filled with legalese and tiptoes through the confusing nature of the relationship involving the USOPC, the national governing bodies (NGBs) that run the individual sports and the athletes.
The USOPC proposal would give athletes more say in the way they govern themselves and in the running of the federation itself. It doesn’t delve into the difficulties of finding active and recently retired athletes who can devote the time and brain power to running these complex organizations.
Some of the most drastic rewriting would come in the area of the USOPC-NGB relationship.
NGBs are responsible for the day-to-day running of the sports they oversee. They get money from the USOPC and need the federation’s blessing to be part of the Olympic pipeline, though the direct lines between NGBs and the USOPC has always been murky.
Under new rules — which are very much like what Congress proposes — the USOPC would take greater control over NGBs, calling for annual audits and a more formalized compliance mechanism.
That would, in theory, leave no doubt that the USOPC is ultimately responsible for an athlete’s welfare — a status that was left dangerously hazy, as has been revealed in numerous legal filings and congressional hearings, to say nothing of the testimony of dozens of gymnasts who spoke during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.