February 6, 2019 / 7:13 PM / 9 days ago

Olympics: USOC doubles funding to $6.2 million to aid sex abuse investigations

(Reuters) - The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will double its annual funding to $6.2 million for the entity which investigates sexual abuse complaints raised by Olympic athletes, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks during a news conference to discuss the FBI background investigation into the assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked the USOC in a letter two weeks ago to outline the steps being taken to support athletes affected by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal and prevent future abuse of athletes.

Among the reforms and initiatives listed in a nine-page reply sent by Covington, a law firm which represents the USOC, was more funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened in 2017 with the aim of preventing all forms of abuse in sport.

Grassley said in a statement the USOC’s plan to provide additional resources to the Center for SafeSport demonstrates that it is taking claims of abuse and misconduct more seriously.

“Fostering a culture that respects athletes of all ages and abilities will require continued oversight and support from the Olympic Committee,” Grassley said in a statement.

“I’ll continue to work with the Olympic Committee, athlete advocates and other stakeholders to ensure that the world’s most coveted sports institution continues to inspire athletes, promote safety and make all Americans proud.”

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, which calls itself the first and only national organization of its kind, is an independent nonprofit committed to ending all forms of abuse in sport.

Larry Nassar, who was a team doctor for USA Gymnastics, was sentenced to up to 300 years in prison in two different trials in Michigan last year after more than 350 women testified about abuse at his hands, including Olympic champions Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber.

A report commissioned by the USOC said the organization failed to protect athletes from the threat of sexual abuse and that some former top executives took no action as the Nassar scandal was unfolding.

The USOC, which has already implemented reforms and initiatives, including instituting new leadership and stronger accountability measures, said it is creating a culture free from abuse that can be an example for all other organizations. 

“From changing governance and personnel, policies and procedures – and, most importantly, culture – the USOC is a very different organization today than it was just a few months ago,” USOC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland said in a statement.

“We’re committed to helping create an elite sports ecosystem where athletes feel supported, can raise issues without fear, and can thrive both personally and professionally.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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