(ATR) Legislation designed to increase the accountability of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee regarding the welfare of athletes now needs only U.S. President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act on Thursday by unanimous consent. The U.S. Senate had already approved it in early August.
The legislation 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.
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.
Among the provisions in the legislation is a requirement for 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.
It would also 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 if the provisions are not carried out. 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.
USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland calls Thursday’s vote "a big win" for Team USA athletes and adds that Congress doesn’t need to worry about her organization following the new rules.
"The USOPC board has already approved two of the most sweeping governance reform updates in recent history, and a third phase is before the board this fall," she said in a statement.
"This legislation codifies many of these reforms, with the USOPC now positioned to move quickly to address any outstanding provisions and support the work of the Commission."
Another provision will increase USOPC funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport from $11 million to $20 million each year.
Ju’Riese Colón, CEO of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, applauded the House passage of the bill on Thursday.
"This important legislation, among other things, prioritizes athlete safety and reinforces the Center’s independence, ensuring athletes can continue to have a centralized, safe, and confidential place to report abuse and misconduct. By providing consistent funding, this bill also will sustain the Center’s ongoing work to put athlete well-being at the center of the nation’s sport culture," Colón said in a statement.
The legislation was co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, and Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.
"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," they said in a joint statement.
Written by Gerard Farekand Ed Hula
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