Senators Introduce Bill to Mandate Reporting of Sex Abuse in Olympic Sports

The bill would specifically apply to the 47 national Olympic governing bodies.

by Joseph Flynn
Mar 7 2017, 8:38pm

A group of 16 U.S. senators introduced a bill on Monday that would force Olympic national governing bodies to disclose allegations of child sexual abuse to authorities. Under the bill, entitled the "Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017," any adult working for an Olympic committee could face a fine and up to three years in prison for failure to come forward with allegations "as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible" is pretty vague, but what's curious is that all 50 states already have similar laws requiring adults to report child sex abuse. This bill would apply specifically to the 47 national Olympic governing bodies, but it's unclear how this bill would interact with the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. The Stevens Act, passed in 1978, guarantees a hearing to all members, including athletes, officials, and coaches, before banning them from the sport. In a 1999 letter recently unsealed from a Georgia lawsuit filed against USA Gymnastics alleging the federation improperly handled allegations against a coach, former USAG CEO Bob Colarossi said that the USOC would not let USAG ban coaches convicted of sex crimes without such a hearing.

Colarossi's letter and testimony depict the USOC taking issue with child protection measures that were commonplace outside the world of Olympic sports. In 1999, USA Gymnastics was banning coaches convicted of sex crimes. A volunteer USOC committee said it couldn't do so without first offering hearings to the convicted coaches and threatened to revoke USA Gymnastics' status as a national governing body.

The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the law that governs Olympic sports organizations, guarantees all athletes, officials, and coaches a hearing before they can be banned for misconduct.

While this could easily be one bureaucracy passing the buck along to another, there is obvious confusion about how the current federal law is to be applied that appears unresolved by this newest bill. For his part, USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said this newest legislation, "...seems consistent with our current policies and procedures," while cautioning that the committee has not yet had time to review the entire bill.

The bill would also require national governing bodies to create policies to ensure athletes would not be left alone with an adult who is not a parent, and make it easier for member gyms to report and share allegations of abuse amongst themselves.

USA Gymnastics has been under fire for some time now, after a lengthy investigation by the Indianapolis Star revealed widespread sexual abuse by coaches in the federation. This specific bill was inspired last month when it was revealed that they delayed reporting a sex abuse allegation against team doctor Larry Nassar for five weeks while they conducted their own internal investigation.

Jeannette Antolin, USA Gymnastics National Team member and an abuse survivor, applauded the government's efforts on behalf of her fellow athletes: "I appreciate Sen. [Diane] Feinstein and her colleagues taking a horrendous tragedy and creating crucial change to protect future athletes, By implementing such change, I feel like my pain can finally have a voice."

[Indy Star]