03/01 13:47 CST Olympic commission suggests wide-ranging changes to SafeSport
Olympic commission suggests wide-ranging changes to SafeSport and USOPC
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
A commission charged with reviewing the Olympic structure in the U.S. is
calling for Congress to consider wide-ranging changes, including government
funding of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, severing grassroots from the elite
sports system and even removing the word "amateur" in a potential rewrite of
the 1978 law that created the modern-day Olympic structure.
The commission, established by Congress in 2020, released its 275-page report
Friday, concluding in part that "we need a better long-term vision for how we
organize Olympic- and Paralympic-movement sports in America."
The tension between grassroots and elite sports is a common theme throughout
the document. Untethering the two, the report argued, could benefit its two
main targets for reform --- the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the
A big focus of the report was on the Denver-based center, which was established
in 2017 to oversee sex-abuse cases in Olympic sports. It receives around $20
million annually from the USOPC and its sports affiliates, though the report
called for a rethinking of the revenue stream, including having the government
fund it. The center has long been dealing with an overload of cases and has
been criticized for taking too long to resolve them.
Center CEO Ju'Riese Colon said the current funding level "is insufficient to
meet the growing demands on the Center."
"Regardless of whether the additional funding continues to come through the
USOPC as required by federal law, or directly from Congressional
appropriations, it needs to increase substantially to allow the Center to
better fulfill our mission of keeping America's athletes safe," she said.
But some data embedded in the report suggested the center has bigger issues
than mere funding. The report published polling information, previously
reported by The Associated Press, that found 25.4% of 1,752 respondents to a
commission survey found the SafeSport Center to be "not so effective" or "not
effective at all." Another 41.4% said it was only "somewhat effective."
The report suggested the center "reimagine" the way it operates at the youth
and grassroots level --- a move that could significantly decrease its workload.
While the center took a big portion of the heat, the USOPC also was criticized
for being an unwieldy, not-too-transparent organization that would benefit from
increased oversight and a streamlining of its mission. It seized on a
long-running complaint about the committee --- executive compensation.
"The stark difference ... between incomes for executives and support for
athletes was alarming," the report read.
It called for complete independence of the Team USA Athletes Commission, which
now runs under the umbrella of the USOPC; an overhaul of governance processes;
better access for Paralympic athletes; and a rethinking of the U.S. bid process
for Olympic Games. Los Angeles will host the Summer Games in 2028 and Salt Lake
City is all but assured to host the Winter Games in 2034.
USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland sounded largely receptive to working with those who
created the report, but also expressed frustration in a letter she sent to
Olympic insiders that was obtained by AP.
"A significant aspect that was not acknowledged is the profound evolution that
has taken place throughout the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Movement since the
Commission's inception," she said.
Prodded by Congress, the USOPC has, in fact, rewritten key portions of its
bylaws to try to ensure better oversight of the more than four dozen sports
organizations that fall under its umbrella and more rights and representation
The commission suggested some changes might be easier if a new federal office
was created to oversee grassroots sports that are now largely under the
auspices of the USOPC. It would presumably free up the USOPC to focus solely on
its central objective of supporting high-performance athletes and Olympic teams.
All of that suggests a possible overhaul of the 1978 "Ted Stevens Olympic and
Amateur Sports Act," which set the template for the modern-day Olympic movement
in the United States. Among its key tenets is that the government not fund
Olympic athletes, which makes the U.S. an outlier among the 200-plus countries
that field Olympic teams. Another was that Olympic athletes were, by their very
nature, amateurs --- a reality that has long since passed.
One recommendation is that any rewrite of the law exclude the word "amateur,"
so as to remove any inference that athletes aren't the key cogs of the
multibillion-dollar business the Olympics have become.
"Words matter, but actions matter more," the report said in commenting on this
proposal. "That is why Congress should use this opportunity to recognize under
law that American athletes ... have certain fundamental rights, including a
safe and abuse-free environment, name-image-likeness (NIL) rights, freedom from
retaliation, an affordable fee structure for national-team-selection
competition events, and a timely dispute-resolution process as it relates to
competition and team selection."
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