Olympics Legislation Nears Passage in Congress

(ATR) The bills says Congress could kick out the leaders of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

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(ATR) The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to move quickly to pass legislation meant to increase the accountability of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee regarding the welfare of athletes.

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill this week. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by a bipartisan group. Congress has been examining the USOPC for more than two years now in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics, as well as other sports under the watch of the Olympic committee.

The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act would amend the so-called Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act which provides the legal underpinnings of the USOPC. The changes called for are the most significant since the Ted Stevens Act became law in 1978.

The new legislation would give Congress the ability to order the dissolution of the USOPC board of directors as well as the boards of the national governing bodies for Olympic sports. That power may cause the USOPC to run afoul of the Olympic Charter of the IOC which calls for the autonomy of National Olympic Committees from government interference.

The power of the government to veto leadership of an NOC led to years of dispute between the IOC and Kuwait, for example.

Another provision in the legislation would require an annual report to Congress and the White House on the activities of the USOPC. The bill calls for a commission be formed to review how the USOPC conducts its business, particularly in regards to athlete welfare.

The legislation also requires greater athlete involvement in the decision-making of the Olympic committee.

Another provision will increase USOPC funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport from $11 million-$20 million each year.

The USOPC has already adopted some of the provisions inthe legislation. For example, over the next five years, athletes will increase their numbers on the USOPC board to one-third the membership.

Speaking on the Senate floor August 4, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican applauded his colleagues for endorsing the legislation which he co-sponsored with Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

"Despite the Olympics being postponed and everything that is going on around the world today, I’m grateful that we’re able to deliver good news and take this step today. We are not done. We intend to keep that promise and get this bill across the finish line," Moran said.

Blumenthal says the legislation provides accountability to prevent lapses such as the scandal involving USA Gymnastics.

"The bill that we passed today provides for enforcement and deterrence, and it gives Congress essential oversight tools to ensure that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and [national governing bodies] will comply with the heightened statute," said Blumenthal. "No one in these organizations can possibly claim ignorance now of the duty to report these heinous crimes. And if they try, Congress has the ability and responsibility to intervene.

"The bill that we passed today provides for enforcement and deterrence, and it gives Congress essential oversight tools to ensure that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and NGBs will comply with the heightened statute," said Blumenthal.

In a statement following passage in the Senate, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said she welcomed the attention from Congress.

"It will cement increases in athlete representation in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements, improvements in athlete safety protections, and increases in transparency and accountability in our system. The USOPC board recently approved the second phase of the most sweeping governance reforms in recent history. Building on that commitment and this legislation, we will move rapidly to implement reforms to address any outstanding provisions from this bill," she said.

Reported by Ed Hula.