Some things are broken beyond repair, and should simply be scrapped and replaced. But making bold decisions like that is hard. In organizations, things like inertia created by years of operation and success, relationships and short-term effects on “customers” need to be considered. Such is the case with USA Gymnastics, the organization that governs and oversees training of our country’s Olympic gymnasts.
So accolades are due Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee — the Colorado Springs-based organization that charters the country’s 50 Olympic team sport governing bodies.
Hirshland filed paperwork Monday to revoke the charter of USA Gymnastics, dismantling the organization and disassociating it from the USOC.
Hirshland took over leadership of the USOC in August, replacing CEO Scott Blackmun who resigned for health reasons.
Neither Blackmun nor Hirshland have any direct culpability for a sexual abuse scandal that has destroyed all confidence in USA Gymnastics, an organization that has the professional capability and moral authority to oversee gymnasts.
Revelations of sexual abuse led to conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar, sentenced to 60 years for convictions of molesting up to 250 gymnasts while serving as the team’s physician. Blackmun tried to address the growing concerns over sexual abuse first by creating an independent body, SafeSport, to monitor and investigate claims and then by notifying the FBI of the Nasser reports.
SafeSport took years to fund and launch and the FBI may have dropped the ball on its investigation. Hirshland has chosen to take a much more direct approach with USA Gymnastics.
Other allegations of sexual abuse — arising from athletes in Taekwondo, swimming and diving — have created unprecedented challenges for the USOC.
Scandal in the gymnastics organization was so pervasive Hirshland probably had no better option than to decertify the governing body and start over. In the meantime, the USOC will directly govern gymnastic training and other activities.
Just as Hirshland wasted no time in giving up on USA Gymnastics, she and the USOC board of directors should quickly rebuild a governing organization for gymnasts with new personnel and no ties to the old organization.
We don’t question the USOC’s ability to govern in the meantime, but gymnasts need a governing board of their own to focus entirely on their sport.
All of America’s Olympic athletes deserve support and guidance from the finest and safest professionals available. Tragic scandals have historically rocked human organizations of all types.
Just as we rebuild communities flattened by tornados and hurricanes, we must rebuild organizations devastated by the worst of human behavior.
As Olympic City USA, Colorado Springs cherishes its role as host city for the USOC and 28 of 50 governing bodies that comprise America’s Olympic sports. As such, USOC executives and board members can count on this community to assist them, however possible, in righting the ship.
Olympic teams should be governed in such manner that American athletes have no safer environment in which to train and excel. The USOC has much work to do going forward, but Hirshland and other USOC officials are showing they want serious progress and they want it fast. That’s good for athletes, Colorado Springs, and the Olympic reputation of the United States.
The Gazette Editorial Board