The Sports Examiner

LANE ONE: U.S. Olympic Committee drops the hammer on USA Gymnastics, but also on itself?

The FIG World Championships in Artistic Gymnastics finished in Doha (QAT) on Saturday. On Monday, new U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive, Sarah Hirshland, announced that the organization would begin the process of revoking the membership of USA Gymnastics as the National Governing Body for Gymnastics.

Hirshland’s comment was significant in the details, including:

“In the long-term, it will be the critically important responsibility of the recognized Gymnastics NGB, whether the existing organization or a new one, to lead gymnastics in the United States and build on the supportive community of athletes and clubs that can carry the sport forward for decades to come.”

So USA Gymnastics may yet survive. The next question is what happens next?

As Hirshland’s letter outlined, the legal process for de-certifying a National Governing Body is detailed in Section 8 of the USOC’s By-Laws, the current version of which was updated on 21 September 2018:

§ 8.20.1: Hirshland must issue a complaint “setting forth the legal and factual basis of non-compliance or other deficiency, and … the remedy requested.”

Hirshland will then appoint a three-person panel consisting of one member of the USOC Board, one member of the “NGB Council” – a president or chief executive of another National Governing Body – and one member of the Athletes Advisory Council. Those will be interesting choices.

§ 8.20.2: The panel will conduct a hearing, where USA Gymnastics will be able to respond to the complaint. After that,“the hearing panel shall prepare a report to the Board on the Organization’s noncompliance or deficiency. The report shall also include a recommendation as to the action to be taken by the Board.”

§ 8.20.3: After the panel’s report is provided to Hirshland and USA Gymnastics, the latter will be able to file a reply to it and both documents will be sent to the USOC’s Board of Directors.

§ 8.20.4: “The Board shall consider the matter relating to the Olympic, Pan American or Paralympic Sport Organizations membership and recognition as soon as is practicable.” This means that the USOC’s Board could act by a conference call and not wait for a scheduled meeting on the subject. The decision of the Board is final.

OK, let’s assume that USAG is de-certified and is no longer the National Governing Body for Gymnastics. That may be emotionally satisfying to some, but the appointment of a new NGB is not quick or easy. The Ted Stevens Olympic Amateur Sports Act of 1978 – as amended (36 U.S.C. §2205 et seq.) – requires that the selection of a new NGB for any sport:

(1) Must be of “an amateur sports organization which files an application and is eligible for such recognition in accordance with the provisions of subsection (a) or (b) of section 220522.” That section includes a long list of requirements for any potential NGB, in line with the USOC’s current requirements for all existing NGBs regarding elections, freedom from outside influence and so on.

(2) Prior to selecting an organization as the NGB, the USOC is required to hold not less than two public hearings, with notice given at least 30 days prior to each hearing. The USOC is required to “send written notice, which shall include a copy of the application, at least 30 days prior to the date of any such public hearing to all amateur sports organizations known to the [USOC] in that sport.”

So the process is not going to be quick, even if USA Gymnastics, as currently constituted, were to – as Hirshland put it – surrender “its recognition voluntarily.” But the USA Gymnastics Board put out its own statement on Monday which simply acknowledged the USOC’s action and added:

USA Gymnastics’ board was seated in June 2018 and inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making. … We immediately took steps to change the leadership and are currently conducting a search to find a CEO who can rebuild the organization and, most importantly, regain the trust of the gymnastics community. Substantial work remains — in particular, working with the plaintiffs and USA Gymnastics’ insurers to resolve the ongoing litigation as quickly as possible. (Emphasis added.)

Don’t underestimate the importance of that last sentence. The USOC Board is well aware that its organization is also named in many of the same suits as USA Gymnastics and the two are tied together in the mind of the public (although there will be a great difference legally).

Moreover, the USOC’s own work in this process will be closely watched by those in the Congress demanding amendments in the Ted Stevens Act to change the way the USOC does business. The blowback could be epic, so don’t be surprised if the progress is slow, steady and methodical.

And it could mean that the USOC might hollow out USA Gymnastics – change the name and excuse many of its 69 employees – and then re-animate the shell to minimize the chaos among athletes, coaches and clubs … and minimize the legal liabilities of both organizations.

Rich Perelman

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