USOC signals push for more control over all governing bodies for Olympic sports

The United States Olympic Committee, under mounting legal challenges and Congressional and public pressure to enact reforms in the wake of the Larry Nassar and USA Swimming sex abuse scandals, is directing national governing bodies to select their board members from lists of candidates cleared by the USOC.

USA Gymnastics and other NGBs have recently added members to their boards of directors from USOC lists, Rick Adams, USOC chief of NGB and athlete services, told USA Track & Field’s board of directors last Saturday, according to a transcript of the presentation obtained by the Southern California News Group.

“I can tell you again, there are NGBs, this is USA Shooting as an example, was a board where reform was not only requested, it was required,” Adams told the USATF board. “They were provided a list of eight independent directors, from whom they chose four. One ended up being the chair and they shrunk the board from 15 to 10. And that happened. That is not the U.S. Olympic Committee pontificating about what might happen at an NGB. That happened.

“And there are more of those in the queue.”

Rick Adams (USOC photo)

While former and current athletes and Safe Sport advocates said they are open to discussing the USOC’s reforms, welcoming several of them, they also point out the USOC’s own tainted record in dealing with sexual abuse and question its motives especially in regards to the board selection requirement.

“The USOC is taking advantage of the crisis surrounding athlete abuse and using it to gain more control of the NGBs” said Becca Gillespy Peter, an influential activist within U.S. track and field.

The USOC forced USA Gymnastics’ entire board of directors to resign last January. USA Gymnastics then implemented with the new board its requirement that a majority of the members be independent.

“You know one of the things you notice with USA Gymnastics was that the requirement we put into place was to have a majority of independent directors [board members]. That’s the first time that has happened,” Adams told the USATF board. “So that board is 15 individuals, 8 of whom are independent. And those 8 were a slate of candidates provided by us.

“I have three other NGBs where we have provided the nominating and governance committee names from a firm that we are using, or names from us. So you are picking from this list. It is not a list that’s generated by people that know people. And that’s actually happening. And so I think it is really important, I am not here to preach percentages necessarily around independence, but I am here to tell you that we view independence very highly and I mean credible real independence.”

In reshaping the NGB boards, the USOC is not only trying to address issues raised by the sex abuse scandals but calls from current and former athletes and Capitol Hill for greater diversity in positions of power within the American Olympic movement. The USOC has put together a list of around 100 potential candidates for NGBs to consider.

“The goal… is to make sure that across 50 National Governing Bodies, we get both an understanding of what the current landscape is, and then more importantly, how do we help boards see this, not as a threat, but as an opportunity,” Adams said. “That’s the part that I am kind of trying to talk to people, that the opportunity to have diverse views in the room, and diverse expertise, we think is a positive thing.”

The USOC reduced its board of directors from 120 to 11 in 2003. It expanded its board to 15 members in 2010.

But some critics question whether the USOC’s board requirements are creating a one-size-fits-all plan that might not work in all sports. Gillespy Peter pointed out that USATF took major steps in addressing athlete safety years before the Nassar scandal.

“I don’t think the USOC should be pushing governance reform on NGBs that are not in crisis,” she said. “USATF has been a model NGB in terms of being proactive about athlete safety.”

About halfway through his USATF presentation outlining the sweeping USOC reforms the 47 national governing bodies that make up the USOC will be required to adhere to, Adams seemed to detect the sense of skepticism in the room.

“I am not unmindful, particularly in this room, that the resolve of the USOC has at times been questioned about what it is that we are willing to do, what it is that we are prepared to do,” Adams said.

“I can tell you unequivocally that the philosophy and the leadership and the focus that we have now is very much that standards need to be met, and that failing meeting those standards, failing doing the reform, will result in some affirmative action on the part of the USOC.”

In the last year the USOC has set up a commission to evaluate the structure of organizations within the USOC umbrella and doubled its audit division.

“That audit, which isn’t just a financial audit,” Adams said “that’s an audit about your grievance procedures, your policies, your elections, how are things managed.”

Those audits or board assessments will have a compliance check list with dozens of items ranging from governance, financial capability, and anti-doping to Safe Sport. The audits will be conducted on every NGB and will be made public. So far, the audits for USA Judo and USA Weightlifting have been released. USA Weightlifting was “compliant” in every area. USA Judo was “deficient” in anti-doping because it failed to provide the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a list of potential Olympic team members six months prior to the 2016 Olympics Games as required.

SCNG has also obtained the audit of USA Badminton. The USOC’s internal audit division found four areas of “high risk” in USA Badminton’s Athlete Safety program including failing to conduct required criminal background checks on members, not following Safe Sport training requirements, not verifying Safe Sport course completion in a timely manner and not requiring background checks or Safe Sport training for individuals in “frequent contact with athletes” including medical personnel.

“What does that mean for us?” Adams said last Saturday. “I think it means that the relationship we have with the NGBs still needs to continue in a partnership format, but that partnership has changed. If you look at what has happened with USA Gymnastics in particular, in terms of the reform that was requested of them, I think that those kinds of requests are what the future will hold in most cases.

“I would share with you that there are other National Governing Bodies that we are currently working with, and around reform, and that is very much in the space of, ‘Here are the things that are required, here are the things we want you to do.’”

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