Born out of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the gymnastics world and toppled the leadership at the USOPC, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act empowers Congress to decertify individual sports’ governing bodies and dissolve the USOPC’s board of directors. It also calls for better athlete representation in governing bodies and more funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit charged by Congress with policing sexual abuse in Olympic sports. Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of the House bill, called it a potential “sea change.”
“We know from the Larry Nassar scandal and other scandals that we have to make the entire Olympic system much more athlete-centered,” Lieu said in a telephone interview.
Lawmakers from both parties have said they hope Trump will quickly sign it into law. A White House spokesman this week declined to comment on the president’s plans.
The bill effectively means that Congress will keep close watch on Olympic organizations, receiving annual reports and audits, and will be poised to take further action, if needed.
“Laws are dead letter and worse than worthless if they are not effectively enforced,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor in the Senate, said in a phone interview. “So I want to make sure Congress continues its strong oversight. …If there’s a need for more reform, I will have no reluctance to advocate more measures. I have no illusions that this legislation is the end of the story or that it’s a perfect solution. We’ve done our best on this first set of reforms, and I think it’s designed to change the culture and character of these agencies, as well as the culture of sport.”
Some of the biggest potential changes might not be known for months or longer. The bill calls for the creation of a bipartisan commission that will conduct a top-to-to-bottom review of the USOPC and the complicated system of Olympic sports. The group will report its findings to Congress, which could result in a more substantial overhaul of the Olympic framework in the United States, scrutinizing everything from the economic model to the spiderweb of governance.
“It’s gonna send shockwaves through the system,” said Olympian Eli Bremer, a former pentathlete and outspoken critic of the USOPC. “I think there is going to be a lot of changes that come out of this, and some pieces will take a bit of time to understand their true impact.”
Bremer is part of the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC, an advocacy group that worked with lawmakers on the text of the bill, which marks Congress’s most significant Olympic-related undertaking in years. The Amateur Sports Act was originally passed in 1978, empowering the USOPC, and was updated and expanded in 1998.
“The entire system back then was around $1 million, not really big,” Bremer said of the 1978 legislation. “Now it’s probably half a billion to a billion with all the [national governing bodies]. It’s time to start rethinking the system.”
Congress would appoint the