The U.S. Olympic Committee has taken preliminary steps to revoke USA Gymnastics’ status as the governing body for the sport, after it fumbled attempts to reorganize after a sexual abuse scandal.
In an open letter to the U.S. gymnastics community, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote, “You deserve better.” Invoking the decertification process would usher in new leadership, she added, acknowledging that the interim period could be rocky: “I do not know how long the process will take, and we will make every effort to proceed quickly.”
This dramatic step can be traced to the scandal that rocked the sport last year, when it came to light that a former team doctor, Larry Nassar, had abused hundreds of athletes under the guise of medical treatment. He is now serving the equivalent of a life sentence in prison.
The organization has cycled through three leaders in less than two years. Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, who presided over the organization during Nassar’s tenure, resigned in early 2017. Last month Penny was arrested for allegedly tampering with evidence related to the Nassar case. Penny pleaded not guilty.
Penny’s two successors were also pressured to step down. Mary Bono, a former member of the U.S. House, lasted less than a week as interim CEO before resigning last month. On social media, Bono had criticized Nike for featuring football quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign. Kaepernick has knelt at NFL games to protest police brutality and discrimination against African-Americans.
Simone Biles, the biggest star in gymnastics and a Nike-sponsored athlete, took to Twitter to register her disapproval of Bono’s since-deleted tweet.
Bono resigned shortly afterwards. Before her, the job was held for less than a year by Kerry Perry.
Despite the USOC’s move, the USA Gymnastics board said it would continue to serve the gymnastics community: “Our commitment will always be to ensure the health and safety of our members while they pursue their love of the sport.”
Despite the disarray at USA Gymnastics, the female team has triumphed in international competitions. They dominated at the World Championships this week, and Biles took home a record four gold medals.