Olympic and Paralympic Athletes need Colorado’s elected officials to help them reform the U.S. Olympic Committee and keep it in the Springs.
This month, Colorado Springs celebrated the 40th anniversary of being the home of the US Olympic Committee. Since 1978, Colorado Springs has attracted countless athletes to live and train in hopes of representing the United States in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The future of the Olympic Committee’s home in Colorado Springs is in jeopardy. As athlete programs continue to be cut at the Olympic Training Center, the OTC will no longer primarily serve our Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. In addition, the need for reform of the Olympic and Paralympic system is leading some public officials to question whether the Olympic Committee needs to be restarted from scratch.
To address these problems, the athletes need Colorado’s elected officials to step up in support of America’s Olympic and Paralympic movement, and the Springs as the epicenter of that movement.
First, the OTC is arguably the greatest Olympic and Paralympic training venue in the world, and in survey after survey, Olympians have stated that the OTC is the number one benefit they get from the USOC. Yet, under former CEO Scott Blackmun’s administration, “resident athlete” programs at the OTC were significantly reduced, as fewer athletes qualified for the benefit.
Meanwhile, excess capacity at the OTC is being used to host athletes and programs that can pay for the privilege, including junior camps and international athletes. Still more resident athlete programs are being cut, and I’ve heard privately that the USOC might be planning to eliminate all resident athlete programs.
In my written testimony to the Senate last week, I called for a reversal of this USOC policy. Our athletes need housing, good nutrition, training partners, and medical care and would greatly benefit from being a resident-athlete. Because the OTC has high fixed costs and a low variable cost structure, I suggested that the OTC should house more of America’s Olympic and Paralympic teams and hopefuls to make the center more cost-effective while providing athletes with valuable support.
Second, my Senate testimony begged for more federal oversight of Olympic Committee. It is an inevitable monopoly; there can only be one organization that names our athletes onto the Olympic and Paralympic Teams. Thousands of sexually abused athletes have demonstrated beyond doubt that the USOC, like any monopoly, cannot effectively regulate itself. The administrators and coaches hold ultimate power over an athlete’s future, requiring compliance and obedience. Their power abuses aren’t limited to sexual abuse; competing athletes cannot complain about financial mismanagement or advocate for governance reforms without risking retaliation.
During the recent hearings, the Senate made clear it was unconvinced the USOC could self-remedy. I reminded them that while the scale of Larry Nassar’s abuse might be new, the issue of athlete powerlessness is not. Every decade, the athletes have petitioned Congress for help as the USOC refused to act in athletes’ interests. During a previous hearing, two U.S. senators publicly suggested revoking the charter of the USOC. Should this happen, there is no guarantee that a reconstituted Olympic and Paralympic Committee would remain in Colorado Springs.
Athletes and the USOC have had staunch Congressional representation in the past. Former Colorado Senator and Olympian Ben Nighthorse Campbell stood watch over the Olympic movement, assuring it stayed in Colorado. He often said the Olympic Committee “would leave Colorado over his dead body.” It was Sen. Campbell’s close friend, the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who wrote the current law that governs the USOC, in support of athletes’ rights.
Unfortunately for Colorado and the Olympic and Paralympic movement, things have changed since these two giants of the Olympic movement left the Senate. I have been unable to engage Sen. Gardner’s office to help fix the clear governance and operational problems of the USOC and the declining state of the OTC for well over a year.
With rampant power abuses against our Olympic hopefuls, the OTC a shadow of its former self, and Colorado’s office holders standing idly by as Senate leaders reform the Olympic and Paralympic system’s flaws, the title of “Olympic City USA” could be in jeopardy.
Han Xiao is elected chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Advisory Council; Table Tennis AAC, 2013-2016, Board Member, USA Table Tennis, 2008-2016.