U.S. Olympic Committee seeks to revoke USA Gymnastics as a national governing body
The U.S. Olympic Committee is moving to revoke USA Gymnastics' status as the governing body for the sport at the Olympic level, a move that comes in reaction to an organization that has botched its own restructuring in the wake of a sexual abuse case involving former team doctor Larry Nassar.
In an open letter to the gymnastics community Monday, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said "you deserve better" and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics are more than it is capable of overcoming as currently constructed.
Under its bylaws, the USOC has the power to review all matters related to the continued recognition of any national governing body and, in taking this first step, could force USA Gymnastics to clear the decks and rebuild its organization from scratch. There was also no immediate word on how this would affect the gymnasts' status or their participation in future competitions. But Hirshland addressed that concern in her open letter.
"You're no doubt wondering what this means for you and the gymnastics community," she wrote. "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."
In addition to supporting elite and Olympic athletes, USA Gymnastics serves more than 150,000 athletes in 3,000 clubs around the country.
Monday's move comes only weeks after USA Gymnastics interim CEO Mary Bono stepped down four days into the post. Bono's selection had been immediately criticized by several high-profile gymnasts, including Olympic gold-medal winners Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. Raisman questioned Bono's association with law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, which advised USA Gymnastics during the Nassar sexual abuse case.
Bono is the second short-lived interim leader for USA Gymnastics in the past two years. The organization has struggled to find leadership to move it forward after former president Steve Penny resigned in March 2017 amid the turmoil brought by revelations of Nassar's abuse. Penny was arrested last month on charges of felony evidence tampering related to the Nassar case.
He chose not to answer questions about his knowledge of Nassar's abuse when members of the U.S. Senate compelled him to attend a subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., this summer with a subpoena.
The entire USA Gymnastics board of directors resigned in January 2018 just days after a Michigan judge sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years in state prison for his crimes.
Their replacements released a statement Monday shortly after the USOC's announcement, saying, "We want you to know, we will continue to serve the thousands of young athletes, coaches, club owners, judges and administrators who make up our organization. Our commitment will always be to ensure the health and safety of our members while they pursue their love of the sport. We know this continues to be a difficult time for our organization, and we are so appreciative of all that you do to support our gymnastics community."
Hundreds of former gymnasts have filed civil lawsuits claiming USAG and USOC, among other defendants, failed to uphold their responsibility to the young athletes in their care. Multiple attempts at mediation have not produced a settlement in those suits, and ongoing discovery and discussion between the different parties have not been going well, according to attorney John Manly, who represents many of those women.
Manly said the USOC is "just as guilty" as the USAG for ignoring complaints about Nassar and that the organization's decision to start the decertification process for the USAG was long overdue.
"Any reasonable observer, or anybody who really cared about children, would have done this two years ago," Manly said Monday. "I'm very happy it's happening, but it's not because of the largesse or intelligence of the USOC. It's because hundreds of women -- some of them world famous and some whose names will never be known -- have been speaking the truth on social media, to the press and to members of the United States Senate."
Manly said the politicians and gymnasts who continued to apply public pressure to the national organizations deserve credit. He said Rachael Denhollander and Jamie Dantzscher, the first two women to publicly accuse Nassar of wrongdoing, deserve special mention.
"I'm very grateful," Denhollander said Monday evening when asked about the USOC's decision. "I wish they had taken this step two years ago when the USAG first made it clear they weren't going to acknowledge and deal with the problems that existed for decades in their organization.
"When you have an organization that has presided over the abuse of hundreds of children, and they refuse to admit it and they refuse to clean it up, decertification is what needs to happen. This is for every survivor and every other potential victim."
Dantzscher, the first gymnast to sue USAG, said she grew tired of USAG's "cynical PR statements about how much they care about athletes.''
"It is time for this organization to be replaced,'' she said. "My only regret is that it has taken the U.S. Olympic Committee so long to act.''
ESPN's Dan Murphy and information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.