'Without fear': U.S. bill aims to protect athletes after Nassar
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[July 30, 2019]
By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - Two U.S. senators introduced
legislation on Tuesday to prevent sexual assaults against athletes by
increasing oversight and legal liability for U.S. Olympic and sports
officials following the Larry Nassar scandal.
The legislation was welcomed by former gymnasts and abuse survivors such
as Jordyn Wieber but drew a mixed response from the U.S. Olympic and
Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which said it could cause operational
"disruption" for athletes.
The bill followed an 18-month bipartisan investigation that found Nassar,
the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics, was able to assault hundreds
of girls and women because of a lack of transparency and accountability
among U.S. Olympic officials, coaches and trainers.
"This needs to empower and embolden the athletes who should feel they
can come forward without fear of retaliation, and without intimidation,"
Democrat Richard Blumenthal said in a conference call about the bill he
co-sponsored with Republican Jerry Moran.
The bill gives Congress authority to dissolve the board of the U.S.
Olympic Committee and decertify national governing bodies should they
fail to protect athletes.
The Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act would also impose
greater legal liability on both the USOPC and national governing bodies
that oversee amateur sports for acts such as sexual abuse by coaches and
Nassar was sentenced to up to 300 years in prison in 2017 after more
than 350 women testified about abuse at his hands, including Olympic
champions Aly Raisman and Wieber.
The scandal prompted the resignation of the board and other officials at
USA Gymnastics (USAG), the sport's governing body, after victims accused
them of being slow to investigate abuse allegations.
Former USAG officials said the national Olympic committee was informed
of sexual abuse in gymnastics more than two decades ago but did little
to address the issue.
[to top of second column]
Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty
in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during
his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte,
Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo
To raise oversight, the Senate bill would increase the level of
athletes' representation on the USOPC board. It would also require
the committee to pay the Center for SafeSport $20 million a year to
raise the independence of the organization set up to investigate
allegations of sexual abuse in sports.
“Stronger oversight by Congress and a truly independent Center for
SafeSport is necessary to restore public confidence in our Olympic
organizations,” Wieber said in a statement.
USOPC Chief Executive Officer Sarah Hirshland supported the
senators' bid to improve safety but said she looked forward to
working with Congress to address certain areas of the bill.
The legislation does not spell out, for example, how a sports
governing body would be replaced should it be dissolved by Congress,
"There are sections in the proposed legislation that, while
conceptually appropriate, could result in unintended consequences
and disruption for athletes in operational reality," Hirshland said
in a statement.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Peter
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