USOPC Backs Changes by U.S. Congress

(ATR) USOPC leader downplays possible IOC conflict over legislation awaiting signature of President Donald Trump.

(ATR) USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland says she's not worried about trouble with the IOC over legislation passed in the US Congress.

Now awaiting the signature of President Trump, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act was drafted in response to the sexual abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics and other U.S. national governing bodies. The legislation requires the USOPC to regularly monitor the national governing bodies for Olympic sports to prevent athletes abuse. The U.S. Congress would have the power to unseat the USOPC board of directors if it is unhappy with the USOPC oversight.

That provision may put the U.S. in conflict with the Olympic Charter of the IOC which requires autonomy for national Olympic committees from government interference. The IOC suspended NOCs in the past for such entanglements, Kuwait for example.

Hirshland says she isn’t worried about the IOC taking action against the U.S. if the legislation is signed into law.

"Should congress take such an action, we do understand that the IOC may consider that a violation of the IOC charter," she acknowledged in an Oct. 9 briefing for reporters.

"But the bill itself as it’s written, without that action being taken, it’s not a violation of the charter," Hirshland says.

"We have had ample conversations between our organization, the IOC, and members of Congress on this topic as the bill was being drafted," she said. Regardless of the legislation, Hirshland observes that the Congress probably has thepower to disband the USOPC board even without specific language.

Hirshland spoke following the quarterly meeting of the USOPC board which approved another phase of governance reforms that comply with the requirements in the legislation. This latest change confirms athlete representation is required for one-third of all committees and similar groups formed by the USOPC, including the board of directors.

Athlete involvement is helping to shape recommendations on acceptable forms of protest and demonstrations by athletes at sports events. The Council on Racial and Social Justice, formed earlier this year, is at work on the recommendations.

"That council has four pillars of working groups. Perhaps the most urgent, and the most visible , at the moment, is the work they are doing around Rule 50 itself. The protests and demonstrations focus," she said.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits any political demonstrations within Olympic sport venues and during medal ceremonies. But athletes and sports leaders around the world have been lobbying for a relaxation of the protest ban. This week during a visit to Tokyo, World Athletics President and IOC member Sebastian Coe endorsed the right of athletes to speak out during the Olympics.

Hirshland says the USOPC will take action based on the recommendations by the council.

"That group is due to bring their recommendations forth to us by the end of the month. At which point, as we said, we have committed back in June it is our motivation, our intent, our desire to remove barriers. To change rules and empower black voices to be heard," says Hirshland.

Reported by Greer Wilson.