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Resignation of USOC Chief comes following pressure over sex abus - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Resignation of USOC Chief comes following pressure over sex abuse scandals

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When it announced Wednesday that CEO Scott Blackmun will resign, the United State Olympic Committee also declared that it will launch new initiatives to better protect athletes from abuse and respond more quickly and effectively when allegations surface.

The first reform proposed is to have the USOC pay for counseling and support of victims sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and any other athletes recovering from similar abuse. The committee will also double the funding for the Center for SafeSport so that more investigators can be hired, and they plan to begin a review of SafeSport procedures to ensure that allegations of abuse are reported.

The USOC also said it will launch a review of the governance structure of both the USOC and its member sports National Governing Bodies under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. 

"As the leader of the US Olympic and Paralympic community, the USOC must ensure that its governance structure unequivocally provides the ability to oversee and act when necessary to protect athletes," the statement reads.

News 5 first reported Tuesday that members of the Athletes Advisory Council sent a letter to the USOC Board of Directors calling for a review of that same federal law.

"Our preference is that a congressional commission with broad authority to recommend changes to the Sports Act be headed by an independent individual agreeable to both the USOC and the AAC with knowledge of non-profits, government, the Olympic and Paralympic movement, and business practices," the letter reads.

Olympian and AAC member Eli Bremer told News 5 many of the member athletes feel like the balance of power in the Olympic movement is tilted too far toward the executives.

"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 and that that's really the cultural problem that exists in the Olympics," Bremer said.

The USOC stated that Blackmun resigned due to ongoing health issues resulting from prostate cancer. However, many Olympians and even members of Congress have called for Blackmun to resign over his handling of the Larry Nassar scandal.

On February 2, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) called for Blackmun to step down over news reports that he knew of the abuse back a year before an investigative story by the Indy Star first publicized the crimes.

"Just as Mr. Blackmun called on accountability from USA Gymnastics, so must he accept his share of responsibility," the Senators wrote.

On February 7, members of the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC issued a news release calling for Blackmun to resign.  Some 46 members of the group are Olympians. They also submitted a 13-page memorandum to US House Committee on Energy and Commerce which cataloged a 30-year history of sexual abuse across various Olympic sports and provided detailed examples of how the USOC worked to defend its National Governing Bodies rather than support the victimized athletes.

Gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is also civil rights attorney and CEO of the advocacy group Champion Women, told News 5 that she pushed Blackmun for years to put in place stronger protections for athletes.

"We've been telling him about the risk of sexual abuse and the legal stances that he takes and how harmful they are to children and the lack of child protection policies and his response, is it's not my job, that belongs to the national governing bodies," Hogshead-Makar said.

In January, Congress passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sports Authorization Act, which implements mandatory reporting requirements for anyone working for an amateur sports organization. Hogshead-Maker said it shouldn't have taken an act of Congress to implement such a common sense policy.

"Unfortunately, there are just too many examples where the athletes reported it and the Olympic Committee just sat on the sidelines and said sorry, isn't that awful, and they didn't help the athletes," she said.

Lawyers from Boston based law firm Ropes and Gray are currently conducting an independent investigation, "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."

The USOC promised to work with USA Gymnastics to address governance issues, implement a culture change and act on the results of that independent investigation once it is complete.

However, the Athletes Advisory Council told the USOC Board they believe the scope of that investigation too narrow.

"Although it is important to thoroughly understand the circumstances surrounding the Nassar case, it is equally important to determine if there is systemic athlete abuse throughout the Olympic and Paralympic movement and address the numerous other sports where athlete abuse allegations have surfaced in recent years," the AAC wrote.

"Our question is, what else is going on? Are we going to look into this and take a really deep look in and say is this happening elsewhere," AAC member Bremer told News 5. "We know that there are 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."

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