(Errata: Some readers of Sunday’s story on USA Fencing saw the
new Board Chair listed as Donald Arias. It is David Arias.)
“Today, we write to respectfully request that Congress act on November 1, 2021 to adopt a joint resolution dissolving the USOPC Board of Directors (the ‘Board’) pursuant to ‘The
Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athlete Act of 2020.’”
That request from a letter to U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) by current and former U.S. women’s gymnastics stars Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman last Wednesday, asks for actions which will be available to the U.S. Congress as of 30 October, one year after the EOPAAA was passed in 2020. It further states:
● ”High-ranking USOPC Officials who presided over the USOPC while Nassar was abusing gymnasts remain in positions of influence and power at the USOPC and the USOPC’s Foundation.”
● “We believe it is time for Congress to exercise its authority over the organization it
created by replacing the current USOPC Board with leadership willing and able to do what
should have been done long ago: Responsibly investigate the systemic problem of sexual abuse within Olympic organizations-including the USOPC-and all efforts to conceal it. Unless and until this happens, nothing will change, excuses will continue, and athletes will remain at-risk.”
This is in line with the testimony of these four women at the 15 September Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but some of the positions taken in the letter raise more questions:
(1) The letter asks only for the replacement of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Board of Directors and does not mention – at all – USA Gymnastics, the national federation directly responsible for the administration of the sport in the U.S. and which maintained serial abuser Larry Nassar as its women’s team medical officer for many years.
USA Gymnastics did remove and replace its entire Board in the aftermath of the exposure of the Nassar affair and has recently – in cooperation with the USOPC, the Survivors Committee and most of its insurers – proposed in mediation a $425 million fund to compensate hundreds of claimants against USA Gymnastics and/or the USOPC.
(2) The USOPC Board lambasted in the gymnasts letter has mostly been replaced since Nassar’s departure from USA Gymnastics in 2015. In fact, of the 13 U.S.-elected or appointed members of the current USOPC Board, only four were involved by the time the Indianapolis Star exploded the story on 4 August 2016 (timeline):
● Susanne Lyons, who joined the Board in in December 2010, was chief executive from March to August 2018 and became Board Chair on 1 January 2019;
● Steve Mesler, an Athletes Advisory Council member (bobsledder), who joined the Board in March 2015;
● Kevin White, the athletics director at Duke University, who joined the Board in March 2015;
● Robert L. Wood, who joined the Board in July 2015, having previously served as a member of the USA Gymnastics Board from 1994-2008.
That’s it. The nine others on the current Board all came later:
● January 2017: Cheri Blauwet (independent member);
● January 2019: Rich Bender (NGB Council member);
● January 2019: Beth Brooke (independent member);
● January 2019: Brad Snyder (Athletes Advisory Council member);
● January 2021: Donna de Varona (at-large member);
● January 2021: John Naber (at-large member);
● January 2021: Dexter Paine (NGB Council member);
● January 2021: Daria Schneider (Athletes Advisory Council member);
● June 2021: James Higa (independent member)
Three other Board members are required to be included by their status as members of the International Olympic Committee or International Paralympic Committee Governing Board:
Anita DeFrantz (since 1986 as an IOC member), David Haggerty (head of the International Tennis Federation; since January 2020 as an IOC member) and Muffy Davis (since January 2021 as an IPC Governing Board member).
Gordy Crawford, the head of the fund-raising USOPC Foundation, joined the Board as a non-voting member in January 2021.
Current chief executive Sarah Hirshland joined the Board as a non-voting member in August of 2018.
The gymnasts are requesting that everyone be removed; does this include Hirshland, DeFrantz, Haggerty and Davis?
As for the USOPC Foundation, a check of its Board roster does not show any past USOPC senior staff members or Board officers. In fact, the only Foundation executive with any specific role within the USOPC is Christine Walshe, the USOPC’s Chief Development Officer (a staff position) and head of the Foundation. She joined in 2008 and helped create the Foundation in 2013.
(3) The letter demands that the USOPC Board “Responsibly investigate the systemic problem of sexual abuse within Olympic organizations-including the USOPC-and all efforts to conceal it,” but two paragraphs earlier trashed the December 2018 report by the Ropes & Gray law firm “which promoted the notion that culpability did not extend beyond that which had already become known.”
Since that report, developed by a former federal prosecutor and a former Assistant United States Attorney, is insufficient for the gymnasts, how can any report commissioned or funded by the USOPC be trusted?
Then there is the question of the collateral damage that a Congressional removal of the USOPC Board would entail. It’s no secret: removal by a government of officials of a National Olympic Committee is a violation of Rule 27 of the Olympic Charter, which insists on the independence of the NOC from the government.
The International Olympic Committee has suspended multiple NOCs for government interference in the past and will take action against the USOPC seriously. While the current members of the IOC Executive Board will not say so publicly, senior IOC member (and former longtime Executive Board member) Richard W. Pound of Canada told Reuters in January of the EOPAAA provisions:
● “The Congressional legislation focusing on the U.S. Olympic Committee gives Congress the power to rule over the board of directors is on the statute books and is clearly a violation of the Olympic Charter, kind of like it is in Italy at the moment.”
● “All these things are not just going to go away just because it is the U.S.”
● “We will have to wait and see but at some point if the U.S. becomes a rogue state I think we will start looking at whether the  Games in Los Angeles should proceed.”
There is a widespread disbelief in the U.S. that the IOC would take such drastic action against the world’s leading Olympic nation. Oh yes, it certainly would. And the gymnasts’ requested timing would be perfect, with the Beijing 2022 Winter Games coming up, an excellent time to send a signal to every National Olympic Committee in the world that even the U.S. is subject to sanctions.
The U.S. team for Beijing might or might not be impacted, but the American flag and anthem might not be available to the team and they could be marching into the Opening Ceremony behind the Olympic Flag instead of the Stars and Stripes.
The Congress could then pass a law – a resolution won’t do – to prohibit U.S.-based NBCUniversal and Discovery, Inc. from making payments on its television rights agreement or companies like Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble and others from paying on their TOP sponsorship agreements.
Which will then open the door for China to humiliate the U.S. by picking up most or all of the payments and allowing the Olympic Movement to carry on unaffected. How about Beijing for the 2028 Games? They have the venues, after all.
Chatter among some members of the EOPAAA-created, but yet-to-meet (or be funded) Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics has recognized the danger of this section – 36 USC 220551-220552 – to the U.S. Olympic Movement and want to see it changed. But if the gymnasts have their way, they will be too late.
Aesop’s Fables, originally compiled around 260 B.C.E., is usually identified as the source of famed maxim “Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true.” He was right then and right now.
For our 743-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!