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  • USOC Blamed for Deceit and Silence in Gymnastics Abuse


    (ATR) An independent report says top executives with the U.S. Olympic Committee failed to report allegations of sexual abuse against members of the national gymnastics team for nearly one year.

    That’s a key conclusion of the 233-page report from Ropes & Gray, a law firm that specializes in independent reviews for corporations or other organizations. 

    Alan Ashley, fired Dec 10 from the USOC. (ATR)
    The report, ordered earlier this year by the USOC Board of Directors, is supposed to set the record straight on any culpability involving the horrific abuse suffered for years by US gymnasts.

    Interviewing hundreds of witnesses plus reviewing a mountain of telephone records, emails and other documents, the two investigators document the most contentious issue facing the USOC in the aftermath of the scandal.

    Did USOC officials know about the looming scandal over former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar?

    The report makes it clear for the first time that USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley did know about the allegations against Nassar. The report says the two failed to act after they received word of the potential trouble. Now in prison for the rest of his life, the report says Nassar carried out thousands of abuses against hundreds of victims until he stopped in 2015.

    The report says then USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny informed the two men about Nassar in September 2015.

    “During the roughly year-long period thereafter, from September 2015 to September 2016, neither Mr. Blackmun nor Mr. Ashley engaged with USAG on the reported concerns, shared the information with others at the USOC, or took any other action in response to the information from Mr. Penny to ensure that responsible steps were being taken by USAG and the USOC to protect athletes,” the report says in what may be its most damning passage.

    That finding led to the sacking of Ashley effective December 10. USOC CEO Sara Hirshland tells Around the Rings that she took that action after she received an advance copy of the report from the Boston firm. With the report about to be made public, Hirshland says she consulted with Probst and incoming chair Susanne Lyons on Sunday. On Monday morning she said Ashley was terminated as an employee.

    Ashley joined the USOC in 2006. Chief of sport performance since 2010, he has directed a successful program for winning medals at both summer and winter
    USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland and Chair Susanne Lyons at the ANOC General Assembly last month in Tokyo (ATR)
    Olympics. Ashley received a salary in the range of $500,000.

    Scott Blackmun, who has been succeeded by Hirshland, left the employment of the USOC in February. At the time he cited health issues involving prostate cancer as the reason. Blackmun, who was paid about $1 million a year when he left, received a proportionate severance package.

    USOC chair Larry Probst tells ATR that all payments are complete to Blackmun.

    Hirshland says no other personnel moves are planned at this moment in the wake of the report that’s been in the works for the past 10 months.

    USOC officials would not disclose the exact cost of the work by Ropes & Gray. Chief of External Relations Patrick Sandusky said it would exceed six figures.

    Hirshland says she could not comment on the impact the report might have on the lawsuits that have been filed by abuse victims against the USOC and USA Gymnastics. The national governing body for the sport is based in Indianapolis. It filed for bankruptcy protection a week ago. USA Gymnastics is taking a charge against its books of $75 million; it could face double or more that figure as it settles the cases.

    Hirshland assures that the USOC will not need bankruptcy protection as a result of any exposure it faces from lawsuits.

    The report comes just days ahead of the final USOC Board of Directors meeting for the year. Probst says the report will be a significant topic for the meeting, the last he will conduct as chair. He steps down at the end of the month for Lyons to take over for the next four years.

    Lyons, who has been on the board since 2010, says she is dismayed by the findings of the report and says it does not reflect the culture of the USOC.

    “It is important to reiterate to you we are discouraged by what happened. The report is sobering for us. We maintain the position that there simply is no place in the Olympic or Paralympic movement for this type of abuse or any type of abuse,” Lyons told ATR in a call with Probst and Hirshland.

    Hirshland, who took her job in August, vows to make this scandal a turning point for the USOC.

    “I think we all have to acknowledge that there may always be bad guys and girls out there, if you will. But we are doing absolutely everything we can - and we will continue to make improvements to ensure we have both the preventative systems in place as well as the reporting structures, to ensure athletes have the voice they need,” says Hirshland.

    Reported by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.

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