House to call U.S. Olympic chief to testify on sexual abuse of athletes

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives plans to call top U.S. Olympic and sporting officials to a May 23 hearing on sexual abuse amid reports that hundreds of American athletes have been victims of it.

FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

The hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will include Susanne Lyons, acting chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and Kerry Perry, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, and focus on whether the groups have adequate safeguards against abuse, a committee spokeswoman confirmed.

In February, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun resigned following the sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to two 40-year prison terms after pleading guilty to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment.

“We are concerned about the potentially pervasive and systemic problem of sexual abuse across the U.S. Olympic community,” said Representative Greg Walden, who chairs the committee and subcommittee chairman Gregg Harper in a joint statement. “The institutions we’ve called to testify have long been entrusted with the safety and well-being of America’s athletes.

Others testifying, after the emergence of the #MeToo movement and a national shift in sentiment toward sexual assault victims, include the CEOs of USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo, USA Volleyball and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the committee said.

Several U.S. sports organizations have been criticized for not acting on complaints of abuse by Nassar and others.

President Donald Trump signed legislation in February that includes making child abuse reporting mandatory for the USOC and other amateur sports organizations. It also sets up a new body in the USOC that responds to sexual misconduct reports.

USA Gymnastics said in a statement after a Senate hearing last month it was “committed to doing everything it can to prevent abuse from happening again by making bold decisions and holding ourselves to the highest standards of care.”

USA Gymnastics did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the May 23 hearing.

A USOC spokesman said: “We have been cooperating with Congress on the important issue of athlete safety for more than a year and we welcome the opportunity to continue the dialogue at the upcoming hearings and beyond. We share a common goal of better protecting and empowering the athletes who are at the center of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”

In the aftermath of the Nassar scandal, the USOC has outlined reforms aimed at protecting its athletes from abuse. The scandal prompted the board of directors at USA Gymnastics to resign, along with top officials at Michigan State.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown

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