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Senator suggests possible end of USOC’s tax-exempt status

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A senator floated the idea of revoking the U.S. Olympic Committee’s tax-exempt status if it fails to effectively combat the sex-abuse problem in Olympic sports.

At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said the USOC’s tax-exempt status and antitrust exemption could be at risk when Congress revisits the law that governs the federation.

Blumenthal also suggested the position of athlete advocate and inspector general be added to the USOC. The federation has an athletes’ ombudsman position and recently revealed plans to give athletes more-accessible avenues to report abuse and other wrongdoing.

Leaders of four Olympic sports federations — figure skating, bobsled, weightlifting and swimming — appeared in front of a Senate subcommittee in the latest in a series of hearings to discuss their response to the sex-abuse crisis.

Blumenthal suggested Congress would make revisions in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to “make sure the USOC is held to a higher standard of accountability.”

The USOC does not receive government funding and is a nonprofit, which makes it exempt from taxes. Judges also have ruled that the Ted Stevens Act has given the USOC antitrust immunity. Revoking the USOC’s tax-exempt status could potentially take a huge chunk out of an operation that brought in $336 million during the last Olympic year (2016) and uses much of that to provide assistance to athletes, either directly or through sports federations that train them.

As part of her first address to the U.S. Olympic family, new USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said last month that athletes needed to be better represented in the decision-making process in Olympic sports.

Blumenthal grasped on that idea and asked the sports leaders if they’d be willing to increase athlete representation on boards and committees to 50 percent or more; the general standard is about 20 percent. But he was met with resistance.

“It comes down to the competence of the board,” said USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele. “A competing athlete is looking at four-year increments, and it’s difficult to think about long-term strategy when you’re actually in midst of the competition.”

US Figure Skating president Anne Cammett agreed.

“Part of what you have to look at is the learning and life experiences that come with developing from a young person to an adult,” she said. “I think you need a good balance of life experience and knowledge.”

Cammett piggybacked on Blumenthal’s calls for change, saying the U.S. Center for SafeSport, established to investigate abuse cases in Olympic sports, needs more funding and would also benefit from subpoena power to conduct its investigations.

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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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