The U.S. Olympic Committee is moving to revoke USA Gymnastics’ status as the governing body for the sport at the Olympic level, meting out the nuclear option to an organization that has botched its own reorganization in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal involving former team doctor Larry Nassar.
In an open letter to the gymnastics community Monday, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said “you deserve better,” and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics are more than it is capable of overcoming as currently constructed.
The organization, even with a newly constituted board of directors, made repeated mistakes after the revelations Nassar molested Olympians while working as a volunteer.
Those included the botched hiring of a program coordinator and an interim CEO to replace Kerry Perry, who lasted barely nine months on the job after replacing Steve Penny.
“This is a situation where there are no perfect solutions,” Hirshland said.
The announcement comes only days after the U.S. team brought home nine medals from the World Championships in the first major meet on the lead-up to the Tokyo Games in 2020. Five of those were individual medals won by Olympic champion Simone Biles, who is among the athletes who have not hesitated to criticize the organization.
By decertifying USA Gymnastics, the USOC is taking major action against an organization that couldn’t grasp its own rebuilding. But the move also leaves a void that cannot be easily filled. In addition to supporting elite and Olympic athletes, USA Gymnastics serves more than 150,000 athletes in 3,000 clubs around the country. There is no other organization standing by to fill that need.
The federal law that governs the USOC gives the federation final say on which organizations represent each sport at the Olympics, and also establishes a process to decertify the organizations. Hirshland said she has given USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its recognition voluntarily.
USAG issued a statement saying it was looking at the USOC letter “and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.”
The statement detailed the challenges the new board has faced since taking over in June.
It is in search of its fourth president and CEO in the last 19 months thanks to a series of resignations, all of them under pressure from the USOC or the gymnastics’ community at large.
Penny — named as a co-defendant in several civil lawsuits filed by former elite gymnasts— stepped down in March 2017. He was arrested last month and charged with destroying or hiding documents related to Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch, the ex-national training center near Huntsville, Texas, where a number of gymnasts said Nassar abused them.
The organization named Perry as Penny’s replacement but her ineffectual tenure lasted barely nine months. She came under fire from several high-profile gymnasts, Biles included, for failing to offer a clear vision on the way forward and quit in September. Her resignation came shortly after the hiring, then quick removal, of Mary Lee Tracy as elite development coordinator; Tracy had been supportive of Nassar when the allegations first surfaced.
USA Gymnastics brought on former U.S. Representative Mary Bono to serve as interim president and CEO last month. Bono didn’t even make it a week, stepping away after drawing widespread criticism for an Instagram post she made shortly before she was hired that showed her coloring over the Nike logo on her golf cleats in response to the company putting former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the forefront of a marketing campaign.