Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 16 News List

USOC valued image over safety: House

MEDALS AND MONEY:Each sports body handles their banned lists differently, making it difficult for the US Center for SafeSport to publish a complete list, among other issues


A congressional review of the US Olympic Committee’s (USOC) handling of sex-abuse cases published on Thursday criticized a culture that sought to protect reputation and image over athlete safety.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce report outlined conclusions about the handling of cases involving Larry Nassar and others that have led to calls for change at the USOC and the sports organizations it oversees.

The report acknowledged the changes that have come since Nassar’s crimes were exposed, but criticizes the lack of conformity among the organizations, saying that some do not use background checks or publish banned lists.

Its recommendations include a review of the law that governs the USOC and the USOC using its authority to better protect athletes.

USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said that the federation formed the US Center for SafeSport and is reviewing how it engages with the national governing bodies (NGBs) and athletes.

A report commissioned by former WNBA president Lisa Borders is expected next year.

“We will continue to do the work necessary to develop a healthy culture that keeps athletes safe and allows them to be their very best,” Hirshland said.

In one of the most striking examples of the diffuse policies that exist in the US Olympic system, the report included a table detailing each NGB’s policy on how it handles banned lists. Each response was different and 18 of the NGBs do not publish lists.

Those differences are part of what has made it difficult for the US Center for SafeSport to publish a comprehensive list of all banned people — among the many tasks it was given when it was established in March last year.

One of its most troubling findings was a culture that prioritized image over safety, the report said.

It included instructions to panels that deliver sanctions that included “the effect on the USOC’s reputation” as one of the factors to consider when deciding on penalties. That bullet point has since been removed.

Also in the report was a deposition from a USOC attorney that shows the general state of confusion about the relationship between the USOC, NGBs and athletes.

On a day-to-day basis, NGBs have more direct contact with athletes than the USOC. Meanwhile, the USOC provides funding to NGBs, but does not have much say in their operations.

In a 2016 deposition related to sex abuse, USOC attorney Gary Johansen was asked: “You want to protect your athletes from being sexually abused. That’s a top priority, right sir?”

“The USOC does not have athletes,” Johansen responded.

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