THE BIG PICTURE: USA Gymnastics hires a new chief executive (again)

New USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung (Photo: USAG/Wendy Barrows)

USA Gymnastics has been targeted by the United States Olympic Committee for de-certification as the National Governing Body for the sport, but it isn’t acting like it.

On Tuesday, the organization announced that Li Li Leung, a Vice President of the National Basketball Association (NBA), has agreed to become the next USAG President and Chief Executive Officer.

On paper, you couldn’t ask for a better fit. Leung was a gymnast herself, and was good enough at a young age to be a member of a U.S. junior national training team and competed for the U.S. in the 1988 Pan American Junior Championships. She was a scholarship gymnast at Michigan before starting a career in sports management with Helios Partners and then USA Basketball before moving to the NBA.

She has two Master’s degrees from the Massachusetts-Amherst and is currently a senior member of the NBA’s global partnerships team. Translation: she sells sponsorships, which is exactly what gymnasts want to hear.

Leung’s statement noted that “Like everyone, I was upset and angry to learn about the abuse and the institutions that let the athletes down. I admire the courage and strength of the survivors, and I will make it a priority to see that their claims are resolved.

“I look forward to collaborating with the entire gymnastics community to create further change going forward, which requires that we implement important initiatives to strengthen athlete health and safety and build a clear and inclusive plan for the future. For me, this is much more than a job: it is a personal calling, for which I stand ready to answer.”

In a direct message to the gymnastics community, Leung stated “I have the experience, commitment, determination, and perspective to do what it takes to rebuild the organization and I want to help lead this transformation, to rebuild the community’s trust in and credibility of USA Gymnastics.”

Because of her existing commitments, Leung will start on 8 March.

Her first hurdle is going to be the ongoing dispute between USAG, the victims of Larry Nassar’s abuse who have sued the organization and USAG’s myriad insurance carriers during the years that Nassar committed crimes against hundreds of gymnasts. The USAG Board has been clear that the recovery of damages by these plaintiffs will come from its insurance coverage, and at least some of the carriers have been reluctant to commit to coverage.

How expeditiously these claims can be settled and whether Leung can show some activity on the revenue side will go a long way in tipping the scales in favor of, or against USAG in its de-certification process with the USOC.

For now, at least on paper, this appears to be a good hire for USA Gymnastics, but it gets harder from here.