Abuse scandal drives US Olympic Committee President to resign

Team USA. Photo: US Army/Flickr. 

02.03.2018

By Mads A. Wickstrøm
Scott Blackmun has stepped down as U.S. Olympic Committee President following criticism in the wake of the US Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal.

Scott Blackmun has stepped down as President of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the latest sport official to tumble under pressure from the sexual abuse scandal involving Dr. Larry Nassar.

Two United States senators along with a group of about 30 former Olympians, athletes’ representatives and child-advocacy experts called for Blackmun to resign following criticism of the USOC’s handling of the abuse scandal involving Nassar, doctor for the US gymnastics team.  

“The senators called for Mr. Blackmun to leave his post after The Wall Street Journal reported that the committee did not intervene despite learning in 2015 from U.S.A. Gymnastics that gymnasts were victims of possible sexual misconduct by Dr. Nassar, a year before accusations became public,” writes the New York Times.

USOC believed it took appropriate measures. However, in February the New York Times identified at least 40 young girls and women who claimed that Nassar molested them between July 2015, when he was first investigated by the FBI, and September 2016, when he was exposed.

“All of us in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community have an obligation to find out how this happened and take whatever steps are necessary to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again,” writes newly appointed USOC President, Susanne Lyons in a statement on the organisations website.

“We must honor the courage and bravery of those who have come forward and recognize the pain of those who have not. We must oversee the system in which victims, peer athletes and adults have a safe and clear path to report abuses. We must have the tools, personnel and resources to detect abuses and respond swiftly and decisively to stop them,” Lyons adds.

Action needed to strengthen athlete safety

USOC as well as US Swimming has come under fire for the way the abuse cases were handled. As such, Susanne Lyons further recognises that the USOC needs to do more to address abuse and harassment in the U.S Olympic Movement.

“To uncover and understand any past failings in the Nassar case, a special committee of the USOC board of directors has retained Ropes & Gray LLP, one of the nation’s leading law firms with expertise in such investigations, to conduct a fully independent investigation into Nassar’s abuse – who knew what about Nassar’s abuse of athletes and when, and what they did or did not do with this information,” Lyons says.

“The investigation will have access to USOC and USA Gymnastics personnel, documents and data, and the investigator’s report will be made public,” notes Lyons in her statement.

USOC has announced a series of steps to address and fortify efforts to ensure a safe sports environment and effectively handle abuse cases. Among the measures announced by the organisation are:

  • Additional funding and resources for support for gymnasts affected by Nassar's wrongdoings and for athletes from other Olympic sports recovering from similar abuse.
  • The forming of an advisory group to bring together survivors, child psychologists and other medical professionals to guide USOC on robust safety measures against abuse. 
  • Ensuring a stronger athlete voice within the USOC to seek input on decision making from currently competing athletes and athletes who have competed in the past.
  • Continuing to work with US Gymnastics to address governance issues, implement a culture change, and act on the results of the independent investigation once it is complete.

“[…] our collective efforts to improve athlete safety must never cease. We must honor the strong voices who have stood up against abuse and bring real and lasting change to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family’s ability to detect, report, investigate, resolve and end abuse,” Lyons asserts.

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