Legislation to reform U.S. Olympic Committee advances in Congress
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan effort, led by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), to begin the process of reforming the U.S. Olympic Committee in the wake of several high-profile sexual-abuse scandals that have raised doubts about the USOC’s ability to properly care for our nation’s athletes, gained traction in Congress today when a key U.S. Senate committee voted to advance legislation that seeks to create an independent, blue-ribbon commission to study and reform the nation’s top sports governing body.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved the Senate-version of a bill the Colorado lawmakers introduced in their respective chambers earlier this year to appoint a 16-member independent commission – that would be made up of, at least, eight Olympic or Paralympic athletes – to study how the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee currently operates and provide Congress a list of recommendations to better protect the nation’s top athletes.
“No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk,” said DeGette, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel, which oversees the nation’s Olympic-related activities. “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.”
The legislation comes in the wake of a bipartisan congressional committee report that found at least two senior-level USOPC 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.
According to that report, USOPC officials at the time were more worried about the Olympic committee’s reputation and finances, than they were about athletes’ safety.
If approved, the panel that would be created as a result of the legislation would have nine months to review how the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee operates and provide Congress a written report detailing specific changes that should be made to better protect athletes going forward.
Specifically, the panel would be asked to evaluate, among other things, how responsive the national governing bodies for each Olympic sport are to its athletes, and how athletes can be better represented in a system that only functions because of them.
The panel would also be asked to review the diversity of the USOPC’s board members, its finances and whether it’s effectively achieving its own stated goals.
Under the terms of the bill, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, 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. And the commission would be given the power to subpoena witnesses and information from the USOPC and federal agencies as part of its review.
Congress gave the USOPC 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 USOPC officials knew about the allegations but failed to act, dozens of former Olympic athletes and USOPC officials have called on Congress to step in and reform the organization.