IOC Conflict Possible Over US Olympic Reforms

(ATR) Legislation in the U.S. Congress is aimed at accountability when athletes face abuse.

(ATR) Legislation in the U.S. Congress aimed at preventing sexual abuse against athletes under the umbrella of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee may put the U.S. on a collision course with the IOC.

The bill would give Congress unprecedented power over the USOPC, including the ability to dissolve the organization and order the resignation of its board of directors. The power of Congress to suspend would also extend to national governing bodies, such as USA Gymnastics.

Such a provision, if it becomes law, would seem to be at odds with the IOC requirements that National Olympic Committees and sports federations must be protected from government interference. Contained in the Olympic Charter, the requirement of autonomy has led to numerous disputes around the world between the IOC and NOCs. Last month the IOC announced the end of a decade-long conflict in Kuwait rooted in the legal ability of the national government to control the leadership of the NOC and governing bodies for Olympic sports.

Around the Rings is told by sources that the USOPC is concerned about the potential for conflict with the IOC should the legislation in its present state become law.

A statement from USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland doesn’t mention any specific concern with the legislation. She says the intent of the bill is in line with the changes being carried out by the USOPC, but does warn of possible complications.

"Improving athlete safety and voice in our country’s Olympic and Paralympic community, and increasing accountability for the organizations that make up that community, are central to the initiatives and reform that we began in February 2018 – these are ongoing today. This legislation is consistent with that approach and we applaud Congress for their continued work on this critically important issue.

"There are sections in the proposed legislation that, while conceptually appropriate, could result in unintended consequences and disruption for athletes in operational reality," says Hirshland.

The IOC says it is following the lead of the USOPC on the legislation and willnot comment further.

"We understand that the USOPC is in contact with the legislators and has already commented on the projected bill. The IOC has no further comment at this stage," says a spokesman at IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

The bill introduced in the Senate is titled the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019. The legislation is the result of an 18 month inquiry by the Senate. It has bipartisan support, sponsored by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas.

The legislation faces hearings in both the Senate and House of Representatives before coming to a vote in both chambers of Congress. The signature of President Trump will also be needed.

The current session of Congress lasts until the end of 2020, after which the legislation would die if it does not become law.

The bill represents the biggest proposed change to the so-called Ted Stevens Act, the 1978 law that governs the USOPC named after the late Senator from Alaska who championed the bill.

Attorney Mike Harrigan, who worked on the Ted Stevens Act as a staff member, offers some perspective on the proposed changes.

He recalls briefing IOC members and federation leaders at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 about the legislation, describing some of the options Congress was considering. While the legislation ended up favoring autonomy for the USOPC, Harrigan says another option would have given control to a government body named by Congress.

He says Prince Phillip, then president of equestrian federation FEI, as well as Marc Hodler, head of ski federation FIS and an IOC member, were among those sports leaders who expressed "total surprise" that the U.S. would actually consider such an option.

Reported by Ed Hula.