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USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

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USA Gymnastics is overhauling its Safe Sport policy in hopes of providing better protection for athletes and clearer guidelines for coaches, parents, trainers and club owners on what constitutes abuse.

The organization released the new policy on Wednesday after consulting with a wide spectrum of people inside and outside the sport. The group included child welfare advocates and survivors of emotional and sexual abuse, including one athlete abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar.

USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung called the update the foundation of the embattled organization’s efforts to foster a safe and healthy environment for all stakeholders.

“From this point forward, we are pledging to become a community of education, prevention and care,” Leung said. “We need to and can do better for our athletes and our community as a whole.”

The update is designed to clear up what the organization described as “gray areas,” including what the boundaries are for one-to-one contact between a coach and/or a trainer and an athlete. The new policy states that all one-to-one interactions should be “observable and interruptible,” including massages, icing and taping, stretching and any other physical contact.

Other guidelines prohibit electronic and social media communication between a coach and an athlete without a second adult being included in the exchange and banning personal gifts and other “grooming” activities. Background checks for employees at member clubs will now fall in line with those required by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The new regulations cover male and female athletes across all USA Gymnastics disciplines and mark the latest in a series of moves by the organization to better police itself in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Nassar. The longtime doctor at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University is now serving an effective life prison for child porn possession and molesting young women — many of them female gymnasts — and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

The policy also provides explicit courses of action when it comes to reporting various types of abuse, including what behavior dictates mandatory reporting. It states that “any adult under the jurisdiction of USA Gymnastics who becomes aware of an incident of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving a minor must immediately report the incident to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.”

The U.S. Center for SafeSport will handle claims of child abuse, sexual misconduct and any criminal charges involving a minor. USA Gymnastics will handle nonsexual misconduct complaints and any violations of the preventative policies. Leung stressed that “every athlete will be believed” when coming forward, meaning the organization will take each complaint seriously.

“When we say every athlete is believed, we will take the report and investigate it to best of our abilities,” said Shelba Waldron, USA Gymnastics’ director of safe sport education and training. “That means talking to witnesses, talking to club owners. The person who has case (filed) on them is notified and do have opportunity to speak to that.”

USA Gymnastics has beefed up its Safe Sport center in an effort to deal with the volume of claims. The organization is looking for a vice president of Safe Sport to work with its five Safe Sport staff members and uses three outside independent investigators.

Leung said the update brings the organization further in line with the recommendations put forward by a former federal investigator in the summer of 2017. USA Gymnastics has now implemented 48 of the more than 70 recommendations made by Deborah Daniels.

The organization is putting an emphasis on education. It will hold seminars at both regional and national congresses that will detail the new guidelines. USA Gymnastics also plans to host webinars focused on what constitutes emotional abuse.

Waldron said the organization used “national standards” when it came to defining emotional misconduct, which it describes as “repeated and severe non-contact behavior that includes any act or conduct described as emotional abuse under federal or state law. There are three forms of emotional misconduct: verbal, physical, and acts that deny support.”

USA Gymnastics is fighting for its survival as it tries to escape the shadow the Nassar case has cast over a program considered the gold standard of the U.S. Olympic movement. It filed for bankruptcy last fall in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to avoid its potential demise at the hands of the USOC.

Leung, who took over in March, hopes the new policies will serve as an important step in rebuilding trust in the organization while helping fulfill her pledge to making USA Gymnastics more “athlete-centric.”

MORE: Nassar judge, Olympians back USOC oversight push in Congress

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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