Safe Sport Number One Task Says New USOC Chief

(ATR)  CEO Susanne Lyons says Scott Blackmun "a casualty" of the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal.

(ATR) Scott Blackmun bids farewell to staff at the U.S. Olympic Committee as a new CEO takes charge in the aftermath of the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal.

Blackmun, 60, announced his resignation Wednesday after eight years on the job. He is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer at the same time the USOC is dealing with the USA Gymnastics problems. In a mutual decision, Blackmun and the USOC have agreed to part ways, given the pressure faced by the USOC to solve the safe sport crisis in gymnastics as well as swimming and perhaps other Olympic sports governing bodies in the U.S.

Thursday afternoon in Colorado Springs, USOC headquarters staff convened for a town hall style meeting where Blackmun said his goodbye. His successor Susanne Lyons, USOC board member now interim CEO, flew in for the meeting along with chairman Larry Probst. Lyons, a former executive at Visa, will take over March 5.

"Scott is a good human being with a high level of integrity," Probst tells Around the Rings.

"He worked his butt off for eight years and accomplished a lot, did a lot of great things. And I can tell you one of the things he cared about was Safe Sport. In 25 of the past 28 board meetings we’ve talked about Safe Sport and Scott has been the driving force behind it. It’s something he’s always taken seriously."

Blackmun has been under attack by advocacy groups and members of Congress as well as victims of Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Now sentenced to 150 years in prison, he perpetrated hundreds, if not thousands of assaults against young female athletes in the guise of treatment over two decades.

Lyons tells ATR she believes Blackmun was an easy target for critics

"I think the Nassar situation was, so extreme, so horrendous that there is this general rage in the public that’s out there in the public and has to go somewhere. And it tends to go to the headsof organizations perceived to have had anything to do with the situation. Scott is an unfortunate casualty of the general rage that has accompanied the horrendous nature of Nassar’s crimes," says Lyons.

While there is an independent inquiry underway that may determine culpability and the need for change, Lyons tells ATR that she will not wait for the months to pass before the report is finished.

"We’re taking immediate action now. We do want to look at our role in the accountability of the NGBs. It’s a difficult topic because we have to balance the autonomy of the NGBs with the desire for us to go in there with some teeth ifsomething is wrong and take action if we believe athletes are not safe.

"It could be we have to look at the Amateur Sports Act because it’s not clear how those roles, how that oversight should happen," says Lyons.

Probst promises that the USOC is open to meet with any congressional inquiry, a necessary move if changes to the federal sports act that governs the USOC are required.

"We will wait to see what findings they report and we will proceed appropriately from that point. We have indicated a willingness to speak to any of the Senators or any commissions or hearings," says Probst.

Also an IOC member, Probst is in regular communication with IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking with him Wednesday when Blackmun resigned. Probst says that the IOC leader considers Safe Sport an important issue for the Olympic Movement.

Last year the USOC devoted significant resources to securing Los Angeles as the host of the 2028 Olympics as well as preparing the US team for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Lyons notes that there are no similar events to deal with right now, making Safe Sport job number one for her and colleagues at the USOC in 2018.

"Yes, that will be our top priority. Perhaps this is fortuitous that we have this opportunity where we can re-examine what exactly we should be spending our time on. We can use this as a positive impetus for change," Lyons says.

Reported by Ed Hula.

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