Report finds USA Gymnastics inept at stopping sexual abuse

Photo: Erin Costa/Flickr

Photo: Erin Costa/Flickr

03.07.2017

By Mads A. Wickstrøm
USA Gymnastics needs a complete cultural change to put athletes’ safety ahead of winning medals, concludes a recent report on the protection of young athletes.

USA Gymnastics must put athletes’ safety first, concludes Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor assigned as head of an independent review investigating the organisation’s handling of sexual abuse incidents. The review was commissioned by USA Gymnastics last fall following criticism of its handling of sexual abuse complaints.

In the report released on June 27, Daniels calls for an extensive overhaul of procedures and culture within USA Gymnastics. The organisation has not done enough to educate its staff, athletes and members about protecting children from sexual abuse, the report states. Furthermore, USA Gymnastics failed to ensure that safeguards were being followed.

“The report indicates that at least there is an external perception that the primary focus of the organisation is on winning medals,” Daniels said, according Reuters.

“That wouldn't be surprising. It is the national governing body of the Olympic committee, and the Olympic committee wants to win medals. But what we are saying is there needs to be a clearer articulation that the culture is athlete safety first, not just success on the field of play. That needs to start with the board and permeate through the entire organisation,” Daniels explained.

Sexual abuse has been a long-time problem within US gymnastics. Over the past 20 years, US paper Indianapolis Star has reported more than 360 cases of gymnasts accusing coaches of sexual abuse. There are cases of gymnastics coaches who have been accused of several instances of sexual transgressions without facing charges – one such case is Larry Nassar, who was the national team physician from 1996 to 2015. Nassar faces allegations of having abused at least 95 gymnasts.

Two weeks ago, Nassar was ordered to stand trial on 12 accounts of criminal sexual conduct. He has denied any wrongdoing. Deborah Daniels found that the USA Gymnastics waited five weeks after receiving a complaint before alerting the FBI in July 2015 of the allegations against Nassar, writes USA Today.

In the report, Daniels recommends that adults affiliated with USA Gymnastics should be prohibited from being alone with minor gymnasts. Additionally, adults affiliated with USA Gymnastics should be prohibited from having out-of-program contact via email, text or social media.

Furthermore, Daniels points to a lack of oversight by USA Gymnastics in monitoring member clubs and recommends the governing body to use its leverage to enforce standards, including sanctions, in cases of failure to report child abuse.

The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors apologized in a letter to the gymnastics community, following the release of the report.

“USA Gymnastics is very sorry that anyone has been harmed during his or her gymnastics career, and we offer our deepest regrets to any athlete who suffered abuse or mistreatment while participating in the sport,” the Board of Directors wrote.

To address the shortcomings of USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual abuse allegations, Daniels makes 70 recommendations in areas of:

  • Board Structure and Duties
  • Administrative Management
  • Member Requirements and Enforcement
  • Screening and Selection of Coaches, Volunteers and Other Adults with Access to Athletes
  • Process for Filing Reports of Misconduct
  • Education, Training and Athlete Support
  • Encouraging Reporting of Suspected Violations
  • National Team Training Center
  • National Team Selection Process

The USA Gymnastics board was unanimous in accepting the 70 recommendations Daniels made, chairman Paul Parilla said in a USA Gymnastics statement.

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