The US Olympic Committee wants to revoke USA Gymnastics’ status as the sport’s governing body as the organization struggles to recover from the sex abuse scandal involving former team doctor Larry Nassar.
USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland has offered USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its status voluntarily.
In an open letter Monday to the United States gymnastics community, Hirshland wrote, “We believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form.”
USA Gymnastics, in a statement Monday evening, said it was “evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff.” It did not indicate whether it will challenge the USOC move.
Hirshland told gymnasts that the USOC was taking the first steps to decertify USA Gymnastics.
“While each of you has overcome adversity in different ways, some facing unimaginably terrible situations, everyone now faces the difficult reality of belonging to a national organization that continues to struggle to change its culture, to rebuild its leadership and to effectively serve its membership,” Hirshland wrote. “You deserve better.”
The announcement comes amid continuing turmoil for the current governing body over how it has handled sexual assault complaints, including dozens against Nassar. Critics of the organization have included three-time gold medalist Aly Raisman.
In her letter, Hirshland said the decertification process does not guarantee a particular outcome.
“You’re no doubt wondering what this means for you and the gymnastics community,” Hirshland wrote to athletes. “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.”
USA Gymnastics said its current board “inherited an organization in crisis” that had challenges that were years in the making. It said it has worked in the past four months to change leadership and regain the trust of the gymnastics community.
Last month, USA Gymnastics lost its second leader in two months when former US Rep. Mary Bono stepped down as interim president.
Bono had taken over just a month after embattled president and CEO Kerry Perry quit. Perry, who held the job for nine months, was criticized for what many people characterized as inadequate action during the Nassar abuse fallout.
Bono came under fire in her first few days. In one instance, a September tweet surfaced of Bono defacing a Nike logo after Nike featured former NFL quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick in its advertising campaign. (Nike is a major sponsor of Olympic champion Simone Biles, a megastar for USA Gymnastics.)
Biles was critical of Bono. She tweeted: “don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything,” Biles tweeted. Others also criticized Bono’s tweet as being tone-deaf, saying the suppression of athletes’ voices allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue.
Days after Bono’s resignation, former USA Gymnastics head Steve Penny was arrested in connection with accusations he removed documents linked to the Nassar sexual abuse case from the Karolyi Ranch gymnastics training facility in Texas, authorities said.
Nassar was already serving 40 to 175 years in Michigan for sexually abusing women and girls under the guise of performing medical treatment when he was indicted in June on charges linked to allegations at the Karolyi Ranch.
He faces six counts of sexual assault of a child. Meanwhile, former USA Gymnastics trainer Deborah Van Horn is facing one count of sexual assault of a child in Texas, prosecutors said.
The indictment came after an investigation by the Texas Rangers into possible misconduct at the ranch after victims’ attorneys said Nassar abused many women and girls at the training center for years.
Attorneys for former Olympic and Team USA gymnasts said it’s about time USA Gymnastics faced the decertification process.
“This is a direct result of all the survivors,” said attorney John Manly. “These women and girls wanted this to happen, not for money and retribution, they advocated for decertification in order to protect children that they will never meet from the USAG culture that coddled child molesters.”
Hours after the announcement, Raisman wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that she believes “this is a significant step forward that is necessary for the overall health and well-being of the sport and its athletes.”
“Change is not easy, and the unknown can be scary, but we need to do whatever it takes to ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” she wrote.