THE BIG PICTURE: U.S. House passes S. 2330 in eight minutes; bill that could suspend U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee heads to White House

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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With all the drama of checking out a book from a library, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. 2330, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for signature or veto by 13 October.

The bill potentially places the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee on a path to suspension by the International Olympic Committee, but that was never mentioned in the perfunctory remarks on the bill by Democratic Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pennsylvania). Said Bass:

“This comes in the wake of Larry Nassar‘s sexual abuse scandal. Bi-partisan investigations launched in the House and Senate revealed systemic failures within the Olympic Committee that contributed to widespread instances of sexual abuse of athletes, including minors. These include a lack of effective oversight of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and National Governing Bodies, the failure of these organizations to uphold their duty to protect athletes from abuse by failing to report allegations of wrongdoings to appropriate law enforcement authorities, and concealing these failures and neglecting to enact serious reforms.

“S. 2330 addresses these issues through a series of governance and oversight reforms, including increasing the liability of the USOPC and NGBs, providing Congressional authority to decertify NGBs, increasing the level of amateur athlete representations on the USOPC board and NGB governing structures and requiring the USOPC to establish clear procedures and reporting requirements to protect athletes. It strengthens the work of the nonprofit organization that is responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse against athletes.

“The bill requires $20 million in funding for the Center for SafeSport each year to cover its operating costs. The bill also prevents potential conflicts of interest by prohibiting individuals who are employed by the USOPC or an NGB from serving the Center for SafeSport and limiting the ability of former employers and Board members from serving.

“S. 2330 is supported by the USOPC, the Center for SafeSport and a coalition of hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, sports leaders and sexual abuse survivors. The bill was passed by the Senate by unanimous consent on August 4, 2020, and its companion bill has bi-partisan support here in the House as well.”

Reschenthaler added:

“In 2016, we were shaken by the revelations of abuse that permeated USA Gymnastics in the Olympic community. While the blame for this abuse falls squarely at the feet of the predator, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee also failed the victims. …

“S. 2330 supports the work that [the U.S. Center for SafeSport] is doing. It helps address the shortcomings in the Committee that allowed the abuse to occur. One of the most important reforms in this bill is a requirement that athletes serve on the governing bodies that oversee their sports, ensuring that athletes finally get a seat at the table.”

The entire process of approving the bill – under suspension of the House rules – and the accompanying S.Con.Res. 46, took eight minutes, ending at 2:35 p.m. Eastern time.

The bill requires multiple reforms within the USOPC and the U.S. NGBs which have either already taken place, or are in process within the USOPC’s own structure. However, it also alters the current operating scenario for the USOPC and the NGBs:

● If signed into law by President Trump, a 16-member Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics would have to be formed almost immediately, with a report due back to the Congress as early as 9 July 2021.

● As Bass noted, the USOPC will be required to fund the U.S. Center for SafeSport with $20 million annually, to be delivered each year by 4 January, with daily penalties for any delay. It’s a remarkable requirement for the U.S. Government to require a private corporation which receives no government funding to be required to pay a specified amount to another entity!

● The most controversial part of the bill is sec. 220552, which allows the Congress, by joint resolution, to dissolve the USOPC Board of Directors, or to de-certify a U.S. National Governing Body.

The latter provision “shall take effect on the date that is 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act,” which could be as soon as 13 October 2021. That’s after the close of the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games and before the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.

The International Olympic Committee has already voiced its concerns over sec. 220552 as in violation of the Olympic Charter (Rule 27) and has the potential to lead to a suspension of the USOPC. That could mean that the size of the American team for Beijing 2022 could be limited and that it would not be allowed to use the U.S. flag in any ceremonies and any victory ceremonies would use the Olympic Hymm instead of the American national anthem.

In the meantime, the bill now moves to the White House. President Trump has 10 days – excepting Sundays – to sign it, veto it or do nothing, in which case the bill will become law. That means the fate of the bill should be known by Tuesday, 13 October (Monday is Columbus Day, a Federal holiday).

Lausanne is watching, with interest. It’s worth noting that the IOC Executive Board will meet remotely on 7 October; this could be a new item on the agenda.

Another bill of importance to the U.S. Olympic Movement also was approved in the House with little fanfare on Tuesday (29 September): H.R. 5373, the United States Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Act of 2019.

Similarly whisked through on a suspension of the rules, the bill approves U.S. government funding totaling $178.1 million for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from fiscal 2021 through 2029, with increasing amounts each year:

“(1) for fiscal year 2021, $15,500,000;
“(2) for fiscal year 2022, $16,200,000;
“(3) for fiscal year 2023, $16,900,000;
“(4) for fiscal year 2024, $17,700,000;
“(5) for fiscal year 2025, $18,500,000;
“(6) for fiscal year 2026, $21,900,000;
“(7) for fiscal year 2027, $22,800,000;
“(8) for fiscal year 2028, $24,900,000; and
“(9) for fiscal year 2029, $23,700,000.”

This bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.