Overhaul would give Congress power to fire USOPC board

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A bill spurred by Larry Nassar’s sex crimes and other mishandled abuse cases would allow Congress to fire the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s entire board and would quadruple the money the federation provides to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The bill, to be introduced Tuesday, is the most far-reaching response to 18 months of outrage, investigations and recriminations in the wake of the USOPC’s handling of the cases involving Nassar and others who combined to victimize dozens of Olympic athletes.

“The best way for the USOC and the national governing (bodies) to show they’re serious about stopping abuse is to support this legislation,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. “It’ll be a test to their commitment to turning a new page and bringing in a new era.”

The bill would increase athlete representation on the USOPC board and boards of other Olympic sports organizations (NGBs) from 20 to 33 percent.

It would make the USOPC and NGBs legally responsible for not reporting sexual abuse or failing to take measures to prevent it.

The law calls for the USOPC to provide $20 million a year to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, but offers no specifics as to how the additional $15 million will be funded.

The USOPC, which receives no federal funding, gave $3.1 million in 2018 and NGBs doubled their pledge to a total of $2 million.

Last year, Congress provided a $2.2 million grant to the center that was spread over three years and could not be used for investigations.

Blumenthal said having a concrete number that’s separate from the Congressional appropriations process is a better way of ensuring the success of the center and the USOC’s responsibility for funding it. The USOC brings in around $500 million over a typical two-year period.

But as much as the money, this bill is a virtual top-to-bottom reset of the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, passed in 1978 during a time when the biggest concern was corralling the amateurism and cronyism that festered throughout Olympic governance in the United States.

The law was hazy, at best, regarding the USOC’s power to dictate to the NGBs it oversees. It said even less about athlete welfare and what, if any, legal repercussions existed for failing to protect them.

Those flaws created an environment that allowed Nassar to abuse dozens of gymnasts while volunteering for USA Gymnastics, and for his crimes to go unchecked for more than a year after the concerns were first presented to the USOPC.

This bill, called the “Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019,” would attempt to change that, in part by leaving little gray area about the USOPC’s oversight responsibilities of NGBs, especially in regard to sex abuse.

It calls for the USOPC to renew an NGB’s standing every four years, subject to a review that would include how the organization is complying with safe-sports rules. It gives Congress the right to decertify an NGB.

It would also eliminate the tactic currently being used by USA Gymnastics, as it faces decertification: filing bankruptcy to forestall the proceedings.

And though the USOPC has always had to answer to Congress, the stakes would be much higher — and written in plain black and white.

The 14-person board, which has gone largely — and, in many minds, inappropriately — unscathed in a series of damning reports that detailed the failings of the federation, could be dismissed by a simple majority vote in Congress.

The bill includes language that would expedite the vote, while also giving lawmakers the tricky task of figuring out how the board would be replaced.

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said that while the bill complements the federation’s push for reforms, it “could result in unintended consequences and disruption for athletes in operational reality.”

For instance, the $20 million to SafeSport, along with the increased oversight and added audits and compliance measures, could impact funding available for training. Luring board members for a volunteer position (but one with perks) could be more difficult with the threat of Congressional pink slips hanging over their heads.

Adding athletes to those boards, and eliminating a requirement that they be no more than 10 years removed from elite competition, will create various challenges for the USOPC and the NGBs — most related in some way to finding enough functional business and current-day sports experience to run these confusing operations.

The bill, and the process that led to it, involved lawmakers digging into far more detail than they usually care to know regarding the day-to-day operation of the byzantine Olympic sports world — a world that has provided them an easy platform for flag waving without having to sweat the small stuff.

But given the bipartisan nature of this bill — and similar bipartisan outrage displayed during hearings on the House side — there appears to be more will to dig deep and push for change in the wake of the abuse scandal, the victims of which have captured as many headlines as any gold-medal winner since Nassar’s crimes became widely known.

“The simple stark fact is that the USOC has taken some baby steps, but they’re nowhere near the kind of major reforms that need to be done,” Blumenthal said.

Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, announced their retirement late Tuesday. They’re done competing in ice dance, and their upcoming Canadian tour will be their last together.

“After 22 years, it feels like the right time to step away from the sport,” Virtue said in a video. “This is so personal and emotional for both of us. … We still can’t believe people care.”

“It just feels for us like it’s the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have been,” Moir said. “This is my first selfie video, and I’m not going to cry. What a beautiful ride it’s been.”

The news was expected.

Virtue and Moir last competed in PyeongChang, earning golds in ice dance and the team event to bring their total to five medals (three golds) and break the record for most Olympic medals in the sport (buoyed by the addition of the team event in 2014).

“It definitely feels like [this is our last Olympics],” Moir said on TODAY in PyeongChang, hours after their ice dance gold. “If it is, this is a great way for us to go out. … It feels right. It feels like a good end.”

Virtue, 30, and Moir 32, teamed up in elementary school. Moir, a childhood hockey player, followed brother Danny into dance, pairing with his first partner at 8 and then with Virtue and 9.

Virtue hit the ice at age 6 because she didn’t want to be the only one in her class who couldn’t skate during a field trip. When she was 7, she was paired with Moir through Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both as singles skaters. Two years in, Virtue attended Canada’s National Ballet School for a summer before choosing to stick with skating.

That decision ultimately led to one of the greatest careers in Canadian sports history.

They earned a junior world title in 2006, the first of eight Canadian titles in 2008 and, in 2010, the biggest of all — home gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games despite Moir messing up the steps at the end of their free dance. They faced the wrong way in their final pose.

“Scott just said thank you to me and just said look around us, take this in,” Virtue said on NBC as the final couples skated.

“I had to be positive because I messed up,” Moir later joked.

Virtue and Moir developed a rivalry with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with whom they traded world titles in the Sochi Olympic cycle. In Russia, the Americans edged the Canadians for the title by 4.53 points.

Moir waited until the arena emptied, returned to the rink and kissed the ice. Many thought it was a goodbye to the Olympics.

Two years later, they announced a comeback, saying they still had the fire and wanted to take advantage of one more chance to go to the Games. They won all but one of their competitions in those last two seasons, including the Olympics by a slim .79 of a point over French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Now they join the other Canadian champions of their generation — Patrick ChanKaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — in leaving the competitive arena for good.

“We spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experiences,” Virtue said. “We still can’t believe people care.”

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MORE: Keegan Messing explains decision to hold up Japanese flag

Keegan Messing ‘glad’ to have held Japanese flag for Yuzuru Hanyu

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Yuzuru Hanyu heard Japan’s national anthem at the medal ceremony for his season-debut event on Saturday. But didn’t see a flag.

That’s when the bronze medalist, Keegan Messing of Canada, “took initiative” and unfurled the Japanese flag so Hanyu could honor it at the Autumn Classic in Ontario.

While there were plenty of fans of the Japanese skater in the crowd holding their own flags, none were hoisted above the ice like in some competitions.

Messing took it upon himself to hold up the Japanese flag that was hanging from a flagpole behind the medal podium.

Messing explained his decision following the interaction:

That was just actually instinct, honestly. When they said that we’re gonna play the anthem for the winner, I looked out and I realized there was no flag ready. A couple of the spectators had a flag but so I decided to hold up a flag because if I were in that place, I would’ve liked to have a flag presented at that time. That’s why I did it. I felt like that’s what I would’ve wanted so I went ahead and took initiative and I did it. I’m very happy I did. It felt good to do. I’m glad.

Hanyu is next expected to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, again in Canada in October and at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

Messing’s assignments are Skate America in October and Cup of China in November.

The next time Hanyu’s and Messing’s paths could cross is at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they both qualify.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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