GUEST COLUMN: Olympians deserve a say in the USOPC structure
During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, the United States cheered as American athletes brought home 121 medals, nearly double the closest country behind us. Shortly after, we were horrified to learn that Olympic athletes representing our country suffered abuse and sexual assault for years. We were left with questions and outrage — and a desire to ensure our Olympics and Paralympics institutions never allowed something like this to happen again. Together we’ve introduced the bipartisan Strengthening U.S. Olympics Act, to give Olympians and Paralympians a say in how the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee is structured and help strengthen the USOPC for the long-term.
In February, reports surfaced that detailed two Olympic Committee officials knew about the allegations against Larry Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics, more than a year before they were made public, but failed to take action to ensure he was no longer part of the Olympic community or around young athletes and children. This is unacceptable. Institutional reforms are needed, and who better to listen to than the athletes who understand the system?
The Strengthening U.S. Olympics Act, which we introduced in the Senate in January and the House of Representatives in June, is designed to bring together the best minds in the country to ensure we’re looking out for our athletes’ futures. It establishes a commission of 16 professionals with experience in athletics, advocacy, or coaching, at least half of whom would be Olympic or Paralympic athletes.
The commission would be tasked with examining the USOPC, proposing reforms, and submitting a report to Congress with their findings, recommendations, and suggested policy changes. The Olympic Games are about more than simply business decisions or medal counts; they’re about the integrity of our nation and showcasing our country’s values to the world.
At a news conference in Denver this summer, we were joined by Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the sentencing of Nassar. Surrounded by Olympic athletes who gathered in support of our legislation, Judge Aquilina said, “This commission brings the voices who have been ignored to the table. Athletes cannot thrive in a broken system that values money and medals over the safety of athletes.” The Senate Commerce Committee, of which Sen. Gardner is a member, recently moved this legislation forward — a critical step to protecting Olympians and reforming the USOPC.
Our state is proud to be home to the Olympic City, Colorado Springs. When an American takes the podium draped in the stars and stripes, we know that the Centennial state was there to support their journey.
But we also know U.S. Olympics and Paralympics can do a better job supporting our athletes, and we can do a better job ensuring a stronger USOPC for the future. American Olympians and Paralympians inspire the world with their dedication and work ethic. We introduced the Strengthening the U.S. Olympics Act so we can apply the same level of Olympic dedication to improving the USOPC and the state of U.S. Olympics.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
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