May 23, 2018 / 10:02 AM / a month ago

U.S. Congress panel to grill Olympic officials on preventing sex abuse

WASHINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) - A congressional panel on Wednesday will grill top executives from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the governing bodies of four sports on whether they have done enough to protect athletes from sexual abuse.

The hearing before the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce subcommittee follows allegations that officials ignored widespread sexual abuse of athletes by coaches and trainers.

In the case with the highest profile, Michigan State University last week agreed to pay $500 million to 332 women who were sexually abused by disgraced trainer Larry Nassar, who had also been a doctor for USA Gymnastics.

Susanne Lyons, the acting chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in prepared testimony that reforms have included rebuilding USA Gymnastics, where the board and chief executive resigned, and doubling spending on the independent Center for SafeSport, which opened last year to prevent abuse.

“I know that we can do better. We will do better,” said Lyons, who took the post in February when her predecessor stepped down amid the sex abuse scandal, citing health problems.

Executives from SafeSport and the national governing bodies for swimming, gymnastics, taekwondo and volleyball will join Lyons at the oversight subcommittee hearing.

A background document posted on the subcommittee’s website said that SafeSport had received almost 500 complaints or reports of sexual abuse from its launch to mid-April, and resolved 156 cases.

Of those, 120 people have been permanently barred from taking part in U.S. Olympic Committee sports.

An outside 2017 audit contracted by the U.S. Olympic Committee found that 43 of the 48 national governing bodies for sports had deficiencies in reporting abuses, such as inconsistent enforcement of criminal background checks, the document said.

The hearing comes two days after former Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith sued USA Swimming in California. She alleged that officials governing the sport knew her coach, Sean Hutchison, was sexually abusing her and failed to investigate or stop him.

USA Swimming said in a statement, “We have been in regular contact with her legal team over the last several months and will continue to work with them and Ariana through this process.”

The office of Hutchison’s Seattle attorney, Brad Meryhew, said he had no comment.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker

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