The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) took the first step Monday that could lead to decertifying USA Gymnastics and revoking the organization’s status as America’s representative for gymnasts in national and international competition.
Gymnasts – including Olympian Aly Raisman – have called on the USOC to take action against USA Gymnastics in the wake of repeated scandals following revelations that it failed to act on initial reports of sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar. TIME reported last week on what it would take to decertify USA Gymnastics.
Sarah Hirshland, chief executive officer of the USOC, filed a complaint about USA Gymnastics to the USOC board. Once a complaint is brought to the USOC board, a hearing will be held including, in this case, members of USA Gymnastics and the athletes’ advisory council. The panel would then make a recommendation about whether to revoke recognition as gymnastics’ governing body. If another organization were to come forward to be recognized by the USOC, it would need a different name and would have to adhere to the bylaws of the USOC and start to gain membership of local gyms. If an alternate organization is not available to take over for USA Gymnastics, then gymnasts would temporarily compete under the umbrella of the USOC.
“I believe this is a significant step forward that is necessary for the overall health and well-being of the sport and its athletes,” Raisman tweeted in response to USOC’s action. “There are so many amazing, talented and kind-hearted people in this sport, and it’s time for them to lead us into the future!”
In an open letter to the gymnastics community, Hirshland did not provide a timeline for how long the process would take, but the current gymnastics season is on hiatus after the world championships last week in Doho, Qatar. The U.S. women won the team title and Simone Biles earned a record fourth world championship gold in the individual all-around event.
Hirshland’s decision was prompted by an ongoing sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics involving Nassar, who is serving up to 175 years in prison on sexual abuse charges. According to documents obtained by the Indianapolis Star, USA Gymnastics was alerted to Nassar’s abuse, which gymnasts say occurred at national training camps and at international competitions, but did not act in a timely manner to remove Nassar from his position.
There is also evidence that members of USA Gymnastics worked to devise a cover story to explain Nassar’s absence when he was finally asked not to attend competitions in 2015.
USA Gymnastics said it was “carefully reviewing” the complaint made by the USOC – and said the current board “inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making.”
“The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued a letter today to USA Gymnastics initiating actions pursuant to Article 8 of its bylaws, which could ultimately result in the de-recognition of USA Gymnastics as a National Governing Body (NGB). This action is in accordance with their bylaws, which grant the USOC the power to review all matters relating to the continued recognition of an NGB. USA Gymnastics is carefully reviewing the contents of this letter and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.
USA Gymnastics’ board was seated in June 2018 and inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making. In the four months since, the Board has done everything it could to move this organization towards a better future. We immediately took steps to change the leadership and are currently conducting a search to find a CEO who can rebuild the organization and, most importantly, regain the trust of the gymnastics community. Substantial work remains — in particular, working with the plaintiffs and USA Gymnastics’ insurers to resolve the ongoing litigation as quickly as possible. We will continue to prioritize our athletes’ health and safety and focus on acting in the best interests of the greater gymnastics community.”
Read USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland’s letter to the gymnastics community in its entirety:
To all USAG gymnasts and the gymnastics community in the United States:
You began your journey in the sport of gymnastics for dozens of different reasons, but all of them trace back to gymnastics, and sport, being a positive influence in your life. It is supposed to be fun, to challenge you, and to teach you lessons about dedication, teamwork, excellence and overcoming adversity.
And while each of you has overcome adversity in different ways, some facing unimaginably terrible situations, everyone now faces the difficult reality of belonging to a national organization that continues to struggle to change its culture, to rebuild its leadership and to effectively serve its membership.
You deserve better.
So today I’m writing to let you know that the United States Olympic Committee has taken the first steps to revoke USA Gymnastics’ recognition as the National Governing Body for gymnastics in the United States and offered USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its recognition voluntarily.
You might be asking why now? The short answer is that we believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form. We have worked closely with the new USAG board over recent months to support them, but despite diligent effort, the NGB continues to struggle. And that’s not fair to gymnasts around the country. Even weeks ago, I hoped there was a different way forward. But we now believe that is no longer possible.
You should know that revocation is subject to a process clearly outlined in the USOC Bylaws, and that process does not guarantee a particular outcome.
You’re no doubt wondering what this means for you and the gymnastics community. Until the process is completed and a final determination on USAG’s status is made, we will work to ensure that gymnastics training and competitions will continue as usual. I do not know how long the process will take, and we will make every effort to proceed quickly.
So I don’t have a perfect answer today. This is a situation in which there are no perfect solutions. Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that we have come to easily, but I believe it is the right action. In the short-term, we will work to ensure that America’s gymnasts have the support necessary to excel on and off the field of play. We are building plans to do just that no matter the outcome of the revocation process.
In the long-term, it will be the critically important responsibility of the recognized Gymnastics NGB, whether the existing organization or a new one, to lead gymnastics in the United States and rebuild a supportive community of athletes and clubs that can carry the sport forward for decades to come. We are prepared to identify and help build such an organization.
So, what’s next?
Strictly speaking, there is a process that must be followed based on the USOC Bylaws that lay out how we recognize, and revoke recognition, for an NGB. We have filed a complaint. A review panel will be identified, a hearing will be held, a report will be issued and a recommendation will be made. Then the USOC board will vote to continue to recognize USAG, or to revoke that status.
But that doesn’t really answer the meat of the question. You need to know what happens to gymnasts and your clubs if USA Gymnastics’ membership is revoked by the USOC. We are developing both a short- and longer-term plan and will communicate it as soon as we can.
The clearest answer I can provide is that gymnastics as a sport will remain a bedrock for the Olympic community in the United States. Young people will continue to participate, refine their techniques and have fun. Our Team USA athletes will continue to inspire us through their incredible accomplishments. We will ensure support for the Olympic hopefuls who may represent us in Tokyo in 2020.
And, over time, gymnastics clubs around the country may become members of a new organization that lives up to the expectations of the athletes and those that support them, their parents included. This would take time and a lot of hard work from many of us, and many of you. I know that collectively, we are up to the task should that assignment be given at the outcome of this process.
Today is only the beginning of an important process for gymnastics in the United States. The path is not crystal clear, but our motives are. So, we move forward, committed to ensuring the type of organization each gymnast and the coaches, trainers and club owners who support them, deserves.
Thank you for your support, and your contributions, as we collectively chart our path forward. And please don’t hesitate to contact me directly with your ideas and suggestions. I have set up an email address where you can reach me and my team. It is email@example.com.
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