Colorado lawmakers look to better protect Olympic athletes


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Olympic mural at the Colorado Springs Airport. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Olympic mural at the Colorado Springs Airport.
The U.S. Olympic Committee appears headed for a a microscopic analysis by a blue-ribbon commission, if legislation introduced on June 18 finds its way into law.

Four Congress members, including two from Colorado, said in a release the House bill begins the process of reforming the Colorado Springs-based USOC in the wake of a cavalcade of allegations of sexual assault of young athletes by trainers and others and the revelation last year that senior-level Olympic committee officials had knowledge of those activities but failed to act to protect the athletes. (Former CEO Scott Blackmun resigned in February 2018.)

The most notorious case involved USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who was convicted of multiple counts in 2018 and sentenced to prison.

The Colorado Congressional members — Diana DeGette, a Democrat, and Doug Lamborn, a Republican — joined Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, in calling for an overhaul of the organization.

"No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk," said DeGette in a news release. She chairs the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel that's looking into the USOC's handling of sexual abuse cases. "When the very body that Congress created to care for our athletes becomes more concerned about winning, and protecting a brand, than the athletes themselves, it's time for change."

Likewise, Lamborn, whose district includes the USOC headquarters, said in the release, "It is vital that we protect our athletes so that the Olympic movement can be healthy and successful. This bill will strengthen the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Committee by ensuring that athletes are better protected. Our bipartisan proposal provides a framework for Congress to investigate the true sources of these problems and how to fix them."

The bill, called the Strengthening U.S. Olympics Act, would require Congress to appoint a 16-member commission that includes at least eight Olympic or Paralympic athletes to study how the USOC currently operates and provide recommendations aimed at reforming its governing structure to better protect the nation's top athletes, the release said.

The panel would evaluate:

• How responsive the national governing bodies of each Olympic sports are to its athletes.

• Whether the U.S. Center for SafeSport has the funding and staff it needs to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault.

• The diversity of the USOC's board members, its finances and whether it's achieving its own stated goals.

• Participation in amateur athletics by women, disabled individuals and minorities.

• The ongoing efforts by the USOC to recruit Olympics and Paralympics to be held in the U.S.

The panel would have nine months to conduct its work, including public hearings, and provide a written report.

Congress gave the USOC authority to govern all Olympic-related athletic activity in the U.S. in 1978. Since the Nassar scandal first broke, and in light of the more recent revelations that USOC officials knew about the allegations but failed to act, dozens of former Olympic athletes and USOC officials have been calling on Congress to step in and take action to reform the organization, the release said.


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