December 20, 2018 / 7:32 PM / 3 months ago

USOC prized winning over athlete safety: congressional report

(Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic community prioritized “medals and money” over the safety of its athletes, creating a culture that contributed to widespread instances of sexual abuse, according to a congressional report released on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

The report comes after more than 350 women testified that former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar abused them during his tenure, crimes for which he is now serving an effective life sentence.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s year-long investigation found a number of failures and breakdowns in the system to protect athletes including how allegations of sexual misconduct were handled by the USOC and its National Governing Bodies (NGBs), which run individual sports.

“The culture of the Olympic community must change,” the 132-page report concluded.

“The days of ‘medals and money’ must be pushed to the past. It is critical that the USOC, the NGBs, and all those involved in organized sport recognize that the protection of athletes - the vast majority of whom are minors - must be the top priority.”

Among other recommendations, the committee said the Olympic community should promote an open dialogue surrounding issues of sexual abuse and that the USOC should develop sanctions for NGBs that do not impact athletes.

Thursday’s report followed law firm Ropes & Gray’s finding earlier this month that top USOC officials failed to share information concerning accusations against Nassar when they were first brought to their attention.

A Senate subcommittee looking into the Nassar scandal last week said it would ask the FBI to determine whether former U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun had made false statements to the panel.

USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland expressed gratitude for the House committee’s report and said athlete safety was now the body’s No. 1 priority.

“Sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination have no place in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, and it’s on all of us – member organizations, institutions, and individuals alike – to foster a healthy culture for competitive excellence,” Hirshland said.

The USOC said it had strengthened its athlete safety programs, elevated the voices of athletes in shaping USOC and NGB policies and begun evaluating and reforming how the USOC engages with NGBs and athletes.

“We will continue to do the work necessary to develop a healthy culture that keeps athletes safe and allows them to be their very best,” it said.

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Tom Brown

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