Gymnasts ask Congress to dissolve U.S. Olympic Committee over Nassar scandal

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Four world-class gymnasts are asking Congress to dissolve the the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee over the organization's mishandling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. 

In a letter to two U.S. senators, Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney and NCAA gymnast Maggie Nichols said they are making the request after "years of patience, deliberation and unrequited commitment to learn from our suffering and make amateur sports safe for future generations."

"We believe the board's past actions demonstrate an unwillingness to confront the endemic problems with abuse that athletes like us have faced and a continued refusal to pursue true and necessary reform of the broken Olympic system," they wrote. 

U.S. Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and NCAA and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols leave after testifying during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General's report on the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar investigation of sexual abuse of U.S. gymnasts, on Capitol Hill, September 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The gymnasts said high-ranking USOC officials who presided over the organization while Nassar was abusing young athletes remain in positions of influence at the committee and its foundation. 

They also noted that leaders took no action to investigate Nassar after learning of the allegations against Nassar in 2015 and didn't discuss the need to investigate until February 2018, despite learning of the abuse in 2015.

"Respectfully, we believe it is time for Congress to exercise its authority over the organization it created by replacing the current USOPC Board with leadership willing and able to do what should have been done long ago: Responsibly investigate the systemic problem of sexual abuse within Olympic organizations — including the USOPC — and all efforts to conceal it," the gymnasts wrote. 

"Unless and until this happens, nothing will change, excuses will continue, and athletes will remain at-risk."

More:'I blame entire system': Biles, star gymnasts blast FBI, Olympic officials over Nassar

Biles, Raisman, Maroney and Nichols all testified last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about the FBI's failed initial response to the allegations against Nassar, who was a sports doctor at Michigan State University and team doctor for USA Gymnastics. 

They told lawmakers they blamed FBI and Olympic officials for covering up Nassar’s abuse, demanding accountability after he was allowed to continue molesting girls for over a year after the FBI was first alerted to his crimes.

In response to the gymnasts' letter, the U.S. Olympic Committee issued a statement that it has "deep respect and empathy for survivors of abuse" and that it remains "fully committed to addressing sexual abuse at every level of sport and implementing the necessary safeguards to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our athletes."

The committee said over the last two years it has implemented the "most sweeping governance reforms in nearly two decades." It also pointed to the report produced by the law firm Ropes and Gray, which was commissioned by the USOC to investigate the Nassar allegations and pointed out the group has cooperated with congressional investigations.

"All of this has led to significant widespread changes to prevent such reprehensible acts from ever occurring again," the statement said. "Additionally, the USOPC supports the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a congressionally authorized, safe and confidential entity to report abuse and other misconduct."

Under a bill passed by Congress last year, Congress does have the power to dissolve the Olympic Committee or individual sports governing bodies in the face of clear evidence that they are unable to hold themselves accountable. That power becomes effective Nov. 1.

Such a resolution would have to pass both chambers and be signed by the president, according to Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who sponsored the legislation last term.

“We’re grateful to these athletes for their continued demand for justice and accountability — a goal we share," Blumenthal and Moran said in a statement in response to the gymnasts' letter.

"We look forward to continuing our work together to ensure that USOPC is held responsible for past failures.”

Nassar is serving an effective life sentence. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017 on child porn charges and to decades more in state prison in 2018 for multiple counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Ingham and Eaton counties. More than 500 people have reported they were abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment.

mburke@detroitnews.com