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Athletes push for systemic reforms at US Olympic Committee - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Athletes push for systemic reforms at US Olympic Committee

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America's Olympic athletes are pushing for reforms within US Olympic Committee in the wake of the gymnastics sex abuse scandal. The Athlete Advisory Council believes the USOC hasn't done enough to protect athlete safety and they want to see changes in the system.

The council sent a letter to the USOC Board of Directors last week asking for support in getting Congress to update the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which organizes the structure of Team USA. 

"Does the USOC Board of Directors believe that the USOC has an ethical responsibility to protect the well-being of elite athletes, especially in terms of protecting them from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse," the letter asks.

Three-time Olympian and AAC member Keith Sanderson said part of the structural problem is that the USOC holds all the power in deciding who will compete in Olympic Games.

"The USOC that's the only avenue to the Olympics for an American. There's no free enterprise, there's no competition there," Sanderson said. "They have a total monopoly on who the Olympians are."

That monopoly power can leave athletes fearful to speak out, even if they're abused because an Olympic dream can be dashed so easily.

"I, speaking for myself and many of the other athletes who are on the committee, feel like there's a huge power imbalance now and that the staff and the board have all the power," said former Olympian and AAC member Eli Bremer. "That's really the cultural problem that exists in the Olympics."

Changing that balance of power is the goal of the letter which openly questions the USOC's commitment to self-reform. Earlier this month, the USOC announced that it hired the Boston based law firm Ropes and Gray to conduct an independent investigation into the decades-long sex abuse committed by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

A news release announcing the third-party probe states that the investigators will work, "to determine when individuals affiliated with USA Gymnastics or the USOC first became aware of any evidence of Nassar's abuse of athletes, what that evidence was and what they did with it."

In their letter, the athletes say they believe the scope of the Ropes and Gray investigation is too limited.

"They limited it very narrowly to just Larry Nassar," Bremer said.  "Our question is, what else is going on? Are we going to look into this and take a really deep look and say is this happening elsewhere? We know that there is probably 4 or 5 other sports already where there has been systematic athlete abuse, mostly sexual but in some cases physical and many times demonstrable emotional abuse as well."

Other requests include reforming the role of the Ombudsman's Office so that they are answerable to the athletes, rather than the current arrangement where the Ombudsman serves under CEO Scott Blackmun. The athletes have proposed a Congressional Commission made up of major stakeholders from the USOC, the AAC, the National Governing Boards Council and the Ombudsman's Office to review the Amateur Sports Act and suggest changes in the law to better protect athletes in the future.

The athletes also raise concerns over executive pay and ask the USOC for an independent audit of the organization for compliance with generally accepted best practices for non-profit organizations.

The AAC letter requests a response by midnight Tuesday. They've drafted a memo to Congress if the USOC does not meet their deadline.

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