The U.S. Olympic Committee has begun proceedings to decertify USA Gymnastics, officials announced Monday, signaling an intention to revoke the organization’s association with Olympic sports.
The move by the USOC — a rarely invoked bureaucratic procedure long regarded as a “nuclear option” among Olympic sports insiders — comes in response to USA Gymnastics’s continued struggles to move past the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal and regain the trust of America’s top gymnasts.
USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland announced the news in an open letter to the American gymnastics community Monday afternoon.
“You deserve better. . . . We believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form. . . . And that’s not fair to gymnasts around the country,” wrote Hirshland, whose predecessor, Scott Blackmun, resigned earlier this year under rising criticism for his perceived inaction during the Nassar scandal.
“Even weeks ago, I hoped there was a different way forward. But we now believe that is no longer possible,” Hirshland wrote.
The USOC said it gave USA Gymnastics the option to surrender its certification as the Olympic national governing body for the sport, but it was unclear Monday evening whether USA Gymnastics would agree to a move that could lead to its closure.
In a statement Monday evening, USA Gymnastics did not indicate whether it would contest the decertification. USA Gymnastics is “evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff,” the statement said.
Headquartered in Indianapolis, USA Gymnastics oversees a network of thousands of affiliated member clubs across the country and also trains and selects Team USA gymnasts for international competitions, including the Olympics. USA Gymnastics had revenue of $34.5 million and about 69 employees in 2016, according to its most recent financial disclosure form filed with the IRS.
The Nassar scandal, which began in late 2016, has prompted more than two years of turmoil for USA Gymnastics, with the forced resignations of three chief executives — one of whom faces criminal charges for allegations of tampering with evidence potentially relating to Nassar’s abuse — and a wholesale resignation of the organization’s board of directors earlier this year.
Nassar, a former longtime team physician for USA Gymnastics women, has been accused by more than 265 girls and women of sexual abuse, often under the guise of medical treatment, sometimes with coaches or parents in the room. Several Olympic gymnasts, including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, have accused Nassar of abusing them at the former national team training center in Texas, as well as at international competitions, including the Olympics.
Nassar also abused patients at a campus clinic at Michigan State University, where he was a longtime employee of the university’s medical school and team physician for several sports. He is serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty to abusing nine girls and women in Michigan, in addition to several federal child pornography convictions.
John Manly, attorney for more than 100 Nassar victims, including Raisman, called the USOC’s move “long overdue.”
“Clearly the USOC didn’t do this because they wanted to; they did this because of the persistent goading by survivors to do the right thing,” Manly said in a telephone interview Monday night. Manly also hailed the U.S. Senate Commerce committee that held a series of hearings on the issue of U.S. Olympic sexual abuse, singling out chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) for their persistence in “getting to the bottom of what happened.”
“The one concern that we have is, if this had been done long ago, when it should have been done, it wouldn’t put the currently competing athletes in a difficult spot,” Manly added. “The Olympics are less than a year and a half away, and our clients are concerned about it. But getting rid of the USAG and its current leadership team means that children will be safer.”