Olympic law rewrite calls for public funding for SafeSport and federal grassroots sports office

FILE - U.S. Center for SafeSport CEO Ju'Riese Colón testifies during The Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday, March 20, 2024, titled “Promoting a Safe Environment in U.S. Athletics.” SafeSport CEO Ju'Riese Colon and commission co-chair, Dionne Koller, are among those scheduled to testify.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

FILE – U.S. Center for SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colón testifies during The Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday, March 20, 2024, titled “Promoting a Safe Environment in U.S. Athletics.” SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon and commission co-chair, Dionne Koller, are among those scheduled to testify.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

DENVER (AP) — A proposed rewrite of the law governing the Olympics in the United States calls on public funding for the embattled U.S. Center for SafeSport while also forming a new government office to oversee grassroots sports that have long been attached to the Olympics themselves.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the legislation, which is proposed to rework the 1978 law that put the current Olympic structure in place. The word “amateur” would be stripped from the law’s title and would also be removed throughout the legislation in a nod to the reality that professional athletes have been integral to the modern-day Olympics for at least four decades.

Another key change would be to untether the Athletes Advisory Commission from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. That arrangement is intended to eliminate conflicts of interest inherent in housing an athlete’s group under the same umbrella as the organization with which it sometimes comes into conflict.

The rewrite of the law, which would be called the “Ted Stevens Olympic, Paralympic, and Grassroots Sports Act,” is proposed by the Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics, a panel established by Congress in 2020 in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex-abuse scandal.

A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday titled “Promoting a Safe Environment in U.S. Athletics.” SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon and commission co-chair, Dionne Koller, are among those scheduled to testify.

The commission released a 277-page report last month filled with findings and suggestions for change. Some of the most pointed criticism was directed at the SafeSport center, which was formed in 2017 to oversee sex-abuse cases in Olympic sports.

“As we engaged in our study, it became clearer with each new piece of evidence that SafeSport has lost the trust of many athletes,” the commission wrote in the report.

That led to a discussion about SafeSport’s funding model; it receives $20 million a year from the USOPC, which recoups some of that money by charging individual sports organizations a “high-use contribution fee” that itself can discourage those agencies from bringing cases to the center.

Though the commission recognized serious questions about the center’s overall operation, it also agreed with Colon’s long-running contention that the center is underfunded. The rewrite of the law calls for returning the $20 million to the USOPC for it to, for instance, fund the newly independent athletes’ commission, while placing the center on a year-to-year public funding model somewhat similar to that of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Unlike most other countries, the U.S. government does not provide funding for its Olympic teams. The rewritten bill wouldn’t change the core of that philosophy, but it does seek government funding — for the SafeSport Center and for a new Office of Grassroots Sports and Fitness within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Getting politicians to fund a new bureaucracy, even under the guise of growing grassroots sports, figures to be one of the toughest sells in the proposed legislation. In its report, the commission suggested taxes from legal sports betting, a voluntary donation box placed on IRS forms or new lotteries as possible ways of funding such an entity.

The commission also suggested the new office establish an inspector general to oversee the entire Olympic movement. It’s a move that could remedy what the commission saw as a general lack of oversight and poor reporting guidelines — of everything from abuse to financial reports — across the entire landscape.

“One of the key findings of this study has been a lack of transparency, accountability, and due process by USOPC, governing bodies, and SafeSport,” the report read. “This is detrimental both to the movement and to the millions of Americans who participate in it.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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