The House cleared by voice vote sweeping legislation Thursday designed to strengthen oversight of U.S. participation in the Olympics.
The bipartisan, bicameral package was the outgrowth of an investigation by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over sports policy.
“Today, the House passed our Olympic reform legislation advancing critical changes and effective safeguards to protect our Olympic, Paralympic and amateur athletes. Through the input and guidance of the courageous survivors — athletes who traveled to Washington, shared their stories and demanded change — we were able to advance this legislation through Congress," Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and ranking member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a joint statement.
The panel investigated the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s handling of well-documented allegations of abuse against athletes, as well as the response from governing bodies for individual sports like gymnastics.
The resulting legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent shortly before the August recess. It will now be on the way to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Blumenthal recalled years of hearings and meetings and news conferences with athletes from a variety of sports.
That included a 2018 event in the Kennedy Caucus Room on Capitol Hill featuring dozens of athletes from a variety of sports who had faced abuse.
“It’s a testament to the athletes who came forward with such courage and persistence,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said he was aware of the pressures the Olympic and Paralympic Committee will be under given the scheduling of summer and winter games in back-to-back years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said that would be no excuse for not fully implementing the new legislation.
“The failure in the past has been to put medals and money before the athletes, which is how the culture has to change,” Blumenthal said in an interview. “No matter how busy they are, the athletes should come first. And if there’s one overriding message to USOPC and to the[national governing bodies], it is: You better change your culture, and your practices, no matter how busy, or pressured you may feel by finances or other secondary considerations. You better get your priorities straight and protect the athletes.”
Among other features, the bill would create an expedited process for Congress to consider joint resolutions that would discontinue recognition of governing bodies for individual Olympic sports, or even dissolve the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s board of directors.
Congress has longstanding oversight powers when it comes to the Olympic movement, including through the landmark Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.
In the House, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., was among the leaders of the effort, which really first got under way after the Indianapolis Star broke open the scandal of abuse by USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar.
“Several years have passed since Dr. Nassar went to prison, but Congress has continued to work to make sure this kind of abuse never happens again,” Brooks said on the floor Thursday.
Brooks cited past legislation that set up the federally authorized nonprofit group that responds to allegations of sexual misconduct against athletes.
“When it was originally conceived, the Center was not provided a steady revenue stream, but today, with Senate bill 2330, it will require the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to provide direct funding to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.”
Specifically, the bill would require the committee to pay $20 million annually for operating costs of the center, and it would require the center to publish a list of adults barred from governing bodies and perform annual audits of the committee and each governing body. The legislation would also require the Olympic organization to implement policies and procedures for immediately reporting child abuse allegations to law enforcement.
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who has led the legislation on the majority side in the House, highlighted new accountability mechanisms in the legislation passed Thursday.
“My hope is that we’ll bring lasting, positive change to the sports world. I am grateful for the broad bipartisan support for this bill and I look forward to seeing the President sign this valuable bill into law,” Lieu said in a statement.