The U.S. Olympic Committee took the radical step Monday of moving to revoke scandal-rocked USA Gymnastics’ status as the national body that governs the sport.
In a letter to the gymnastics community, the Olympic Committee’s chief executive, Sarah Hirshland, said that as recently as several weeks ago she believed there was hope of reforming the organization. But, she added, “we believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form.
“We have worked closely with the new USAG board over recent months to support them, but despite diligent effort, the NGB continues to struggle. And that’s not fair to gymnasts around the country,” Hirshland wrote.
USA Gymnastics has been bleeding from mostly self-inflicted wounds for nearly two years, largely over its handling of sexual abuse allegations against its former team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving what is effectively a life sentence.
Top officials were accused of trying to cover up the accusations against Nassar, allowing him to continue molesting patients under the guise of medical procedures, and of failing to ensure gymnasts were properly nurtured at the Texas training camp run by famed coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi.
Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, who was recently arrested on charges he removed Nassar-related documents, stepped down until fire in March 2017.
He was succeeded by Kerry Perry, who resigned after just nine months, following what was widely seen as a disastrous appearance before a congressional committee investigating the mess.
Former congresswoman Mary Bono was then tapped to serve as interim president but withdrew within days amid an uproar over an old tweet that appeared to criticize Nike for its deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Some of gymnastics’ biggest stars, from Aly Raisman to Simone Biles, have been among the loudest critics of the organization, which selects the national and Olympic teams and certifies gymnastics clubs around the country.
John Manly, a lawyer for many of Nassar’s accusers, tweeted that the U.S. Olympic Committee’s action is the “direct result of the work of the survivors.”
The Olympic Committee’s first step toward cutting ties with USA Gymnastics was the filing of a complaint. The process will end with a vote on whether or not to revoke its status as a national governing board.
Hirshland made clear in her letter that Olympic Committee bigwigs had not mapped out the future.
“You’re no doubt wondering what this means for you and the gymnastics community. Until the process is completed and a final determination on USAG’s status is made, we will work to ensure that gymnastics training and competitions will continue as usual. I do not know how long the process will take, and we will make every effort to proceed quickly,” she wrote.
“So I don’t have a perfect answer today. This is a situation in which there are no perfect solutions. Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that we have come to easily, but I believe it is the right action.”
In a statement, USA Gymnastics defended the steps it has taken since the Nassar scandal exploded and said it is “evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.”
The upheaval comes at a sensitive time with the next Summer Games just 18 months away. The U.S. just competed at the World Championships last week, with Biles, considered by many to be the best gymnast ever, giving a dominating performance.