Congress will have more oversight over the leaders of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee after President Donald Trump on Saturday signed a new law aimed at providing more accountability in cases of abuse in Olympic sports.
The law gives Congress the power to dissolve the board of the USOPC and decertify any of the national governing bodies that oversee individual sports in the Olympic Movement. It imposes greater legal responsibility on the USOPC to protect its athletes from abuse as well as its responsibility to monitor the national governing bodies of individual sports. In addition, the law seeks to increase the funding and independence of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an organization tasked with investigating allegations of abuse in Olympic sports and sanctioning abusers.
The law was co-authored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) after those two spearheaded a series of hearings to learn more about the failures that led to the high-profile sexual abuse case of former Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar, as well as other cases of abuse in Olympic sports. The USOPC has argued in federal lawsuits related to abuse that the organization owes no legal duty of care to its athletes, which would include a responsibility to protect them from sexual or child abuse.
"This law would not be possible were it not for the athletes and courageous survivors who traveled to Washington, shared their stories and demanded change so that future generations of athletes can train, compete and succeed without fear of abuse," Moran and Blumenthal said in a joint statement Saturday. "We are grateful to our colleagues, athlete advocates and the many survivors who helped create and advocate for this law to bring about change in the Olympic movement and allowed us to keep our promise to the survivors to get this bill across the finished line."
Several survivors of abuse, athletes and coaches, told legislators during hearings over the past several years that athletes did not have a large enough voice in a decision-making process and leadership structure that failed to protect them. The new law mandates that athletes fill one-third of the seats on USOPC's board moving forward. It also requires USOPC and the national governing bodies to establish clear protocols for reporting abuse, and gives more power to the Office of Ombuds, which is designed to give athletes a safer option to report.
The USOPC is now required to provide $20 million of funding to the U.S. Center for SafeSport every year -- nearly three times what it is currently providing to the investigative group. The USOPC board members were previously responsible for determining on an annual basis how much money SafeSport would receive from the organization.
SafeSport leaders and supporters have consistently said the organization, which opened its doors in March 2017, is drastically underfunded. According to a financial report released this summer, the USOPC contributed $7.5 million to SafeSport in the past year. That money amounts to more than half of SafeSport's annual operating budget. The organization also receives money from individual national governing bodies and a federal grant, among other sources.
The $20 million annual payment equates to less than 10% of the money USOPC brings in during an Olympic year. In 2018, the USOPC reported $323 million in revenue. That number drops significantly during years in which no Olympic Games are played. In a financial report released earlier this week, the USOPC said it brought in $193 million in 2019 and spent nearly $250 million.
Blumenthal said in August that the proposed law will help SafeSport do its work in a way that fortifies its independence.
"The USOPC should play no role in determining how much money the group in charge of investigating the organization's worst crime receives," Blumenthal said.
Some prominent sexual abuse attorneys and survivors of abuse have criticized SafeSport, claiming the organization is not truly independent and separate from the USOPC organizations it is tasked with policing. The new legislation would put in place new rules that attempt to codify more independence for the organization. For example, no previous employee or board member of the USOPC or any of the national governing bodies would be allowed to work for SafeSport for at least two years after working for one of those organizations. The bill also would make it illegal for any governing body to interfere with a SafeSport investigation and would require the USOPC to report any type of interference to Congress within three days of the incident.
SafeSport CEO Ju'Riese Colon has said her group supports the new law and believes it will help them to achieve its goals of eradicating abuse from Olympic sports.
"Seeing legislators on both sides of the aisle wholeheartedly support this measure is proof positive that athlete safety is a universal and undeniable priority," Colon said in a statement provided to ESPN Saturday afternoon. ""Above all else, we at the Center are grateful to and inspired by the athletes who courageously shared their experiences with the world and brought the need for our work into clear focus. Every day, we wake up driven by our desire to ensure that no athlete should ever again endure what they endured."
The USOPC also showed support for the bill as it made its way through the legislative process. A statement from the organization this summer said the new legislation will "cement increases in athlete representation in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements, improvements in athlete safety protections, and increases in transparency and accountability in our system."