A new sexual abuse lawsuit against USA Diving claims leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs “tolerate and often facilitate the sexual abuse of children by coaches and other adults.”
The Olympic Committee isn’t named as a defendant in the case brought by one named and 49 unnamed plaintiffs. But the suit, filed in federal court in Indiana, says the USOC and USA Diving “have reached for commercial success at all costs by ignoring, denying, obstructing, or covering up complaints of sexual abuse, deferring and diverting investigations, and suppressing all questions about sexual exploitation by its coaches.”
Furthermore, it says, “coaches and officials who were the subject of these complaints are still coaching children in USA Diving.”
Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Jones said he had no comment.
The case focuses on the conduct of Johel Ramirez Suarez, a diving coach facing 32 counts of sexual misconduct in Indiana. Suarez worked through USA Diving at Indiana Diving Academy, where he helped lead a residential school for would-be Olympians.
Court papers claim Suarez engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct against female divers that didn’t stop until his arrest last November. The suit says several divers and others complained to leaders of the Diving Academy and USA Diving, without result.
The suit would allow the divers to proceed in a class-action against the defendants, making it one of the largest lawsuits in the ongoing sexual assault scandal surrounding Olympic sports.
Other sports governing bodies that fall under the Olympic Committee’s authority also are facing suits, notably USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo.
The gymnastics cases focus largely on the conduct of Larry Nassar, a team doctor serving 60 years in prison for molesting as many as 250 gymnasts.
The diving suit goes into depth about how the USOC allegedly failed athletes by not responding to sexual assault concerns.
The suit says the committee “could have long ago stopped and helped prevent much of this sexual misconduct, which has been rampant in USA Diving and other sports for decades.”
The suit comes two weeks after the USOC and the governing bodies of 50 sports met in Colorado Springs for a two-day gathering that featured repeated apologies for past actions that led to the sex assault scandal.
“Survivors have shared stories, one after another, of seeking help from people in the Olympic community and finding the system unresponsive, needlessly complex or fraught with risks to their Olympic or Paralympic dreams,” USOC boss Sarah Hirshland said. “This is appalling and unacceptable.”
Hirshland took the job in August, replacing former CEO Scott Blackmun, who resigned in April. The Olympic Committee also has announced a shake-up in its board of directors that will put women in the top two spots overseeing the organization.
The committee’s most visible response to the sexual assault claims has been the creation of the Denver-based Center for SafeSport. The independent nonprofit is charged with investigating abuse claims, banning outlaw coaches and athletes, and helping victims.
But the center, which had revenues of $1.5 million in 2016, saw more than 1,000 reports during its first 15 months, the most recent statistics available.
The Olympic Committee, which brought in more than $300 million in 2016 from sponsorships, merchandising, gifts, grants and other fees, has pledged to double its financial commitment to the SafeSport center, but the suit says that’s too little, too late.
“Despite the USOC’s knowledge of rampant sexual abuse in its ranks, including in USA Diving, it continues to leave SafeSport radically underfunded and unsupported,” the suit says.
The allegations against SafeSport likely will be a key question in an internal review of how the USOC handled sexual assault allegations. That report, due out late this year, was conducted by an outside firm.
The Olympic Committee also has launched a blue-ribbon committee led by WNBA chief Lisa Borders that is examining how the USOC governs the sports organizations it charters.
A third review of the committee is underway in Washington, D.C., where House Energy and Commerce Committee investigators are digging through more than 100,000 pages of documents it has requested on sexual assault in sports.