Congress Passes Gardner And DeGette Backed Olympic Oversight Bill

Diana DeGette, Cory Gardner, r m
David Zalubowski/AP
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., right, speaks as U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., looks on during a news conference to announce a plan to introduce legislation aimed at reforming the U.S. Olympic Committee Monday, June 17, 2019, in Denver.

Congress passed a bill Thursday that aims to protect Olympic athletes from abuse. 

The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020 gives Congress the power to decertify both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the governing bodies for individual sports. It calls for more funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the nonprofit that polices sexual abuse in Olympic Sports; confidentiality for whistleblowers that come forward to report abuse; and for more athletes on governing bodies. 

The bill also sets up a bipartisan blue-ribbon committee to do a top to bottom review of the USOPC. This idea was championed by Republican Sen. Cory Garnder and Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette.

“Establishing this 16-member commission, at least half of whom will be Olympians or Paralympians, will give athletes a seat at the table and ensure the U.S. Olympic Committee’s presence in Colorado grows even stronger,” Gardner said in a statement.

The USOPC had been working on reforms, even before Congress got involved. But DeGette said the bill was about “making good on our promise to protect [Olympic athletes].”

“When the organization that was created to care for our nation’s top athletes becomes more concerned with winning and protecting its brand, it’s time for change — and this legislation will ensure our athletes have a say in the process,” she said.

At least half the members of the commission would be current or former athletes and it would have subpoena powers. It would start meeting within 30 days of the last member’s appointment and conduct a complete review, from the USOPC structure to licensing and funding arrangements. The commission would have nine months to submit its report to Congress, including any policy changes.

The bill stems from a number of high-profile sexual abuse cases that shined a spotlight on the Colorado Springs-based USOPC’s failure to protect its athletes.

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced the bill after an 18-month bipartisan investigation into systemic abuse within the U.S. Olympic system. The bill passed the Senate in August. 

“We are grateful to our colleagues in the House who advocated for this bill, and we look forward to the president signing this legislation into law to institute and enforce these reforms so all athletes can participate in the sport they love without fear of abuse,” they said in a joint statement.

The bill now heads to the president's desk.