Sun, Sep 15, 2019 - Page 11 News List

US feds probe groups’ handling of abuse claims

Reuters and AP, COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) on Friday said it was cooperating with government inquires after it was reported that US agencies were conducting a widespread investigation into US Olympic sport organizations.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the investigations, said that the US Department of Justice is pursuing multiple criminal investigations into sexual abuse in US Olympic sports organizations and into potential financial and business misconduct throughout the US Olympic system.

The USOPC in a late afternoon teleconference declined to comment on the report beyond reading a prepared statement.

“Every instance related to potential or actual abuse of athletes warrants thorough investigation,” spokesman Mark Jones said. “We have cooperated with all government inquiries and will continue to do so.”

The Journal reported that federal prosecutors have spoken with potential witnesses about alleged abuse and misconduct in Olympic organizations, including USA Gymnastics and USA Taekwondo.

One focus of the investigation appeared to be on failures to respond to signs of widespread child abuse, the newspaper said.

Prosecutors have already spoken with some witnesses and have received documents from the US Center for SafeSport in response to a grand jury subpoena, it reported.

The newspaper also reported that USA Gymnastics said in bankruptcy filings that it has been responding to department subpoenas as recently as April.

At their annual address to the USOPC Assembly on Thursday, CEO Sarah Hirshland and chairwoman Susanne Lyons spent ample time acknowledging the shortcomings of the USOPC that were exposed by the federation’s handling of sex abuse cases.

“We don’t have to wait for anyone else to make rules for us. We can best do that for ourselves,” Lyons said, in what could be viewed as a thinly veiled dig at the US Congress, which has proposed a bill that would reset the law that created the USOPC and, among other things, give lawmakers the authority to fire Lyons and the rest of the board.

Hirshland addressed the crux of the movement’s troubles: “If our community is going to address the abuse crisis in this country, then we must start by believing those who tell us when it occurs,” she said, drawing loud applause.

In past years, the applause lines at these events were about gold medals and world records, but this presentation, in front of about 300 people in a packed conference room, had a different feel.

A question-and-answer session with board members that traditionally has been greeted by near silence instead produced 70 minutes of pointed questioning on a wide range of topics, from honoring the 1980 US Olympic team to the role of Paralympics in the movement to put athlete welfare, not athlete performance, at the center of its mission.

“I think we’re ‘woke,’ if you will,” Lyons said in response to a question about who at the USOPC has been replaced since the Larry Nassar scandal triggered reforms at the federation and governing bodies. “You peel back the onion and find places where things were a little uglier than they appeared on the surface.”

The federation recently proposed a number of changes to its bylaws that would add more athletes to the board and give athletes more say in how they choose their leaders.

Hirshland said that the changes are only one step, then previewed a five-year strategic plan to be rolled out by the end of the year.

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