Congress Closes In on New Rules for Olympic and Amateur Sports, Including USA Gymnastics

Source: Roll Call

By Niels Lesniewski

Congress is close to finalizing legislation that imposes new requirements on amateur and Olympic sports organizations to report suspected sexual abuse, something that would coincide with increased public pressure to address scandal within the Olympic community.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that the chamber planned to take up a final bill Monday.

“This week, the world witnessed firsthand the bravery of 156 women — so many of whom have represented our country at the highest levels of athletics in the Olympics — confronting a man they were told they could trust as Larry Nasser was sentenced to prison for sexually assaulting them,” the California Republican said. “For years, he operated without oversight as his victims lacked the ability to safely and effectively report their abuse. These women have endured too much, which is why we must do more to protect our amateur athletes so this never happens again.”

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the legislation “makes major reforms to our nation’s amateur athletic governing bodies — including mandatory training, required reporting, and a reformed system to deal with allegations of sexual abuse.”

“Our children must be protected from the heinous crime of sexual abuse,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement.

Two measures

Last year, the Senate and House passed different proposals, and a House leadership aide had said work was underway to reconcile differences in the bills led by Indiana GOP Rep. Susan W. Brooks and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Brooks bill passed the House last May with the support of 415 representatives. It would direct amateur sports organizations that fall under the umbrella of being recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee to report abuse allegations to law enforcement.

Feinstein’s broad Senate-passed bill would also require reporting. In a statement last week, the California Democrat called for the House to take up her legislation without further amendment.

“Our bill to protect young athletes by imposing strict reporting and training requirements on USA Gymnastics, other governing bodies and amateur sports organizations has the support of 270 groups and athletes. It passed the Senate unanimously,” Feinstein said. “The House must pass our bill as soon as possible to prevent the abuse of more athletes.”

Feinstein’s office said Thursday the senator had not seen any counterproposals from the House.

The potential path for an agreement between the House and Senate comes just after Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor, was sentenced this week to up to 175 years in prison for numerous sex crimes against many gymnasts.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, the first of Nassar’s victims to speak out publicly, is scheduled to join Feinstein and other gymnasts at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to call for action.

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon has resigned as part of the fallout, and the U.S. Olympic Committee was calling for mass resignations of the directors of the USA Gymnastics program.

Doing more

The leaders of a Senate Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S. participation in the Olympics pressed USA Gymnastics President Kerry Perry on Thursday for more information about protocols to stop abuse going forward, as well as background on any requirements that athletes sign nondisclosure agreements.

“Protecting athletes remains a key priority of this Committee. Its jurisdiction includes the Ted Stevens Act, which established USOC and the current National Governing Bodies (NGB) structure for individual sports. A key aim of that legislation is to protect the health and safety of athletes,” wrote Kansas Republican Jerry Moran and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. “In addition, the Committee exercises jurisdiction over amateur sports and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which itself serves as the governing body for 347 Division I member schools including MSU.”

Michigan State employed Nassar as a team doctor starting in 1997, and the university has been widely panned for its handling of allegations against him.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, a senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is calling for that panel to hold hearings on aspects of the sexual abuse scandal, citing the 2005 investigation of Major League Baseball’s steroid problem.

In addition to referring to the Stevens Act, Maloney noted in a statement that Michigan State is a public research university receiving federal funds.

“I have no confidence in the USOC or USA Gymnastics’ ability to protect our athletes from abuses even now. In her profound victim impact statement, six-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman said that USA Gymnastics is ‘rotting from the inside.’ In light of these reports, I cannot disagree,” Maloney wrote. “Congress must conduct a thorough investigation and bring both accountability and justice to this situation and to those who have been victims of it.”

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