The U.S. Olympic Committee began taking steps to revoke USA Gymnastics’ status as a national governing body Nov. 5, a rare move in Olympic history. The news comes in the wake of two years of near-constant turmoil within USAG following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
In a statement published Nov. 5, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland offered USAG the option of revoking its status voluntarily. Hirshland said that the decision to try to revoke USAG’s recognition was not an easy one and that the USOC is committed to building a community where gymnasts can succeed. In the statement, Hirshland said the USOC made this decision due to the USAG’s failure to sufficiently change its culture or address the issues that allowed Nassar to continually abuse athletes.
In an open letter also published Nov. 5, Hirshland addressed the gymnasts currently active in the USAG. In the letter, she said the USOC is committed to making gymnastics a safe sport in which athletes can pursue their passions without fear of abuse.
“While each of you has overcome adversity in different ways, some facing unimaginably terrible situations, everyone now faces the difficult reality of belonging to a national organization that continues to struggle to change its culture, to rebuild its leadership and to effectively serve its membership,” Hirshland said. “You deserve better.”
In the letter, Hirshland also said this decision came after attempting to improve USAG and USOC’s efforts being met with little change.
“We believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form,” Hirshland said. “We have worked closely with the new USAG board over recent months to support them, but despite diligent effort, the [National Governing Body] continues to struggle.”
Following the Nassar sexual abuse scandal in 2016, during which it was exposed that the former doctor abused over 100 gymnasts under the guise of treatment, USAG has undergone extensive changes to try to eradicate its culture of abuse and cover-up. In trying to make these necessary changes, the organization has gone through multiple leaders in a short period of time.
Just five days after her appointment, former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono stepped down as interim president and CEO of USAG on Oct. 16. Her predecessor was Kerry Perry, former USAG president and CEO, who resigned after nine months following criticism that she was not transparent or active enough in her position. Bono came under fire one day into her presidency for defacing a Nike logo after Nike featured Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback and civil rights activist, in an advertising campaign. The defacing, revealed via a now-deleted Tweet, provoked widespread criticism that Bono was not suited for the role. One of the critics was Simone Biles, the face of the USAG team.
Days after Bono’s resignation, former USAG president Steve Penny was arrested in connection to accusations that he tampered with evidence for Nassar’s case. Additionally, former USAG trainer Deborah Van Horn is facing one count of sexual assault of a child in Texas, a charge she was given around the same time as Nassar’s six counts of sexual assault of a child.
John Manly, an attorney who defends many of the women filing civil lawsuits against USAG and USOC for not upholding their responsibility to the young athletes in their care, said the USOC is also responsible for the culture of abuse.
“Any reasonable observer, or anyone who really cared about children, would have done this two years ago,” Manly said. “I’m very happy it’s happening, but it’s not because of the largesse or intelligence of the USOC. It’s because hundreds of women — some of them world–famous and some whose names will never be known — have been speaking the truth on social media, to the press and to members of the United States Senate.”