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U.S. Olympic reform bill approved by Congress, awaits Trump signature

FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

(Reuters) - Legislation that will trigger a massive overhaul of the U.S. Olympic system offering athletes greater protection and more input into decision making was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday and sent to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

Arising from the Larry Nassar gymnastics sex abuse scandal, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act calls for increased funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport and more athlete representation on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) board and sport National Governing Bodies (NGB).

If both fail to follow up on reforms, new mechanisms would be in place to allow Congress to dissolve the USOPC board and decertify NGBs.

The bill, introduced by Republican senator Jerry Moran and Democrat senator Richard Blumenthal, followed an 18-month investigation that found Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics, was able to assault hundreds of girls and women because of a lack of transparency and accountability among U.S. Olympic officials, coaches and trainers.

“The very institutions charged with protecting these athletes failed countless times, choosing to ignore or cover up abuse rather than defend and protect athletes and survivors,” Moran and Blumenthal said in a joint statement.

“Today, the House passed our Olympic reform legislation advancing critical changes and effective safeguards to protect our Olympic, Paralympic and amateur athletes.”

The Nassar scandal, which triggered lawsuits and mass resignations within the USOPC and USA Gymnastics over the organizational failures to adequately respond to the abuse, has now led to Congressional oversight, which will receive regular reports and audits.

The bill also calls for the creation of a commission to study broader issues within the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

Following recommendations from an independent report, the USOPC begun last year to introduce the first wave of reforms including increased athlete representation.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond