Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Aimed at Reforming U.S. Olympics Committee
Washington D.C. - A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, led by U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Susan W. Brooks (R-IN), Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Ben McAdams (D-UT), introduced legislation today to create an independent, blue-ribbon commission to begin the process of reforming the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The move comes in the wake of a bipartisan congressional report released in December 2018 that found at least two senior-level Olympic committee officials knew about the allegations against former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar for more than a year before they were made public, but failed to act because they were more worried about protecting the committee's reputation and finances than athletes' safety.
"No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk," said DeGette, who serves as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel that's investigating the USOC's handling of sexual abuse cases. "When the very body that Congress created to care for our athletes becomes more concerned about winning, and protecting a brand, than the athletes themselves, it's time for change."
"In 2016, an IndyStar investigation exposed what is now known as the worst sexual abuse scandal in athletics to date," said Brooks. "Amateur athletic government bodies can and should do more to protect the safety and health of all of our nation's athletes so they can perform their sport without fear of abuse. That is why I led a bill in the House to reform a broken system that has failed too many victims, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, which was signed into law last year. Today, I am proud to continue to work towards protecting our athletes by joining my colleagues to introduce a bipartisan bill, the Strengthening U.S. Olympics Act, so that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will be better able to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault."
"It is vital that we protect our athletes so that the Olympic movement can be healthy and successful," said Lamborn, whose district encompasses the Olympic Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "This bill will strengthen the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Committee by ensuring that athletes are better protected. Our bipartisan proposal provides a framework for Congress to investigate the true sources of these problems and how to fix them."
"New generations of potential Olympians are coming along," McAdams said. "We owe it to the athletes and their supporters to have a plan to strengthen and modernize America's participation in future Olympic competition. My state has been chosen as a contender for a future Winter Olympic Games and I'm pleased to support this forward-thinking measure."
The legislation, known as the Strengthening U.S. Olympics Act, would require Congress to appoint a 16-member commission - that includes at least eight Olympic or Paralympic athletes - to study how the USOC currently operates and provide Congress a list of recommendations aimed at reforming its governing structure to better protect the nation's top athletes.
Specifically, the panel would be asked to evaluate, among other things, how responsive the national governing bodies of each Olympic sports are to its athletes, and whether the U.S. Center for SafeSport has the funding and staff it needs to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault. It would also be asked to review the diversity of the USOC's board members, its finances and whether it's achieving its own stated goals.
Under the terms of the bill, the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate, would each appoint four members to serve on the commission. Each commission member would be required to have extensive experience as a coach, athlete or sports-related advocate.
The panel would be given nine months to review how the USOC operates and provide Congress a written report detailing specific changes that it believes should be made to better protect athletes going forward. Once established, the commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses and information from federal agencies as part of its review.
Congress gave the USOC exclusive power to govern all Olympic-related athletic activity in the U.S. in 1978. Since the Nassar scandal first broke, and in light of the more recent revelations that USOC officials knew about the allegations but failed to act, dozens of former Olympic athletes and USOC officials have been calling on Congress to step in and take action to reform the organization.
Text of the legislation introduced today is available here.
Ryan Brown (Rep. DeGette): (202) 226-7837
Rebecca Card (Rep. Brooks): (202) 225-2276
Alyson Heyrend (Rep. McAdams): (801) 960-6873