CHICAGO (Reuters) - Of all the issues facing the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the one that gives chief executive officer Scott Blackmun the greatest concern is making sure sport is free from domestic abuse and other violence.
Domestic violence has become the hot-button issue in American sport following a rash of high-profile incidents involving National Football League players and another case that has landed close to home for the USOC involving Hope Solo, the decorated goalkeeper of the U.S. national women’s soccer team.
Sexual abuse and domestic violence is not unfamiliar territory for the USOC.
Last year U.S. Speedskating reached a settlement with a group of skaters who claimed they were physically and emotionally abused by a coach while USA Swimming has for years been rocked by child and sexual abuse scandals.
Solo, an Olympic double gold medalist, faces a November trial on domestic violence charges but has remained in the national squad, a decision that has pulled her sport into the domestic abuse storm that has engulfed the NFL where players have been suspended until their cases are heard.
In June, the USOC announced the formation of SafeSport, an independent agency that would provide athletes a place to report misconduct without fear of reprisal.
“SafeSport gives me pause,” admitted Blackmun during a press briefing following the USOC’s general assembly on Friday. “Everything that we have seen in recent weeks is really just a microcosm of what is happening out in society generally.
“There is an issue with abuse in society and there is an issue of abuse in sport and in many cases the opportunities for abuse in sport exists because of that coach-athlete relationship
“We want to make sure we do what we can. It’s not just domestic violence we look at this from the standpoint of bullying, hazing, harassment, sexual abuse all the things we see in society we see in sport.
“Our initiative in Safesport is important to us.”
The USOC and national governing bodies have committed $5 million each to the five-year pilot project while another $5 million is still needed to set up the agency.
“This is going to be an independent organization and I think that is an important part of this,” said Blackmun.
“A lot of our athletes are afraid to report incidents of abuse because the people they have to report them to are also the ones who are the coaches or hire or control coaches.
“So having an independent organization like this that the athletes are comfortable coming to is important.
“We took this on because nobody else was stepping up. It is not easy to raise money but hopefully this concept will resonate with enough companies, enough philanthropists, enough foundations that we can get this done.”
Editing by Ian Ransom