As USA Gymnastics faces a headline-making sex abuse scandal, a report has surfaced highlighting pleas from USA Swimming officials for the U.S. Olympic Committee to implement policies that would protect young athletes from abuse — warnings the USOC allegedly failed to heed.
By 2010, dozens of swimming coaches had been banned for life by USA Swimming for sexual misconduct, ABC News reported. Now, two letters obtained by USA Today show that USA Swimming urged the USOC in late 2004 and early 2005 to take steps to ensure the safety of athletes in numerous sports.
In those letters, then USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus asked that the USOC create programs across all national governing bodies at a local level to protect young athletes from abuse, according to USA Today.
“When we look at other national youth organizations (YMCA, Boy Scouts., etc.) with grassroots constituencies we see national policies that help to guide the locally-based programs … and we think this overarching approach is something that the USOC should seriously consider,” Wieglus wrote in the second letter, per the newspaper.
However, rather than address the organization’s recommendations, the USOC referred the officials to a company that performed background checks.
Now, more than 100 names are on the USA Swimming banned list, most for sexual misconduct, according to USA Today, and the governing body has been named in at least eight lawsuits for its alleged mishandling of abuse allegations. Wieglus has since apologized for its handling of sex abuse complaints, and withdrew his name from consideration for the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2014, the newspaper reports.
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun offered this statement to USA Today: “One thing that has been made clear as we learn more and more about the past is that the Olympic community failed to protect its athletes. We are profoundly sorry and wish we had acted sooner and more aggressively.”
Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu, bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and three-time national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard all testified and expressed their support for a bill that would make it a crime for national governing sports bodies to fail to report child sexual abuse allegations promptly.
FROM COINAGE: This Is How Much It Would Cost to Paint the White House (And More Crazy Facts)
Dantzscher and Howard also spoke out in February, alleging that former team doctor Larry Nassar began abusing them in the 1990s.
Nassar served as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2015. USA Gymnastics has since fired Nassar and the FBI launched its own investigation into the sexual abuse allegations.
Nassar, 53, has been charged with 25 counts of criminal sexual conduct and multiple counts of child pornography, ESPN reports. He has pleaded not guilty to three sexual assault charges in Michigan, and has been incarcerated without bond, the Associated Press reports.