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SafeSport: Olympic sports sex abuse, misconduct claims rise sharply in 2019

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Center for SafeSport is fielding 55 percent more reports of sex abuse and other misconduct in 2019 than it did last year, leading to an increasingly urgent debate over who should provide the lion’s share of money to an organization struggling to manage its caseload.

This week, the 2 ½-year-old center, tasked with investigating sex-abuse claims in Olympic sports, received a $1.3 million infusion from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee that brings the USOPC’s overall contribution to $7.4 million in 2019.

The country’s national governing bodies, which oversee the individual Olympic sports, have contributed $2.05 million for this year, and including a small government grant and other donations, the center will operate on $10.5 million in 2019.

Officials at the center worry that’s an untenable amount for an organization that is now receiving an average of 239 reports a month, compared to 154 during a typical month last year.

Out of those, the SafeSport Center has 1,290 open cases, with another 2,237 that have been closed. It has 18 investigators and lawyers (with four vacancies) on a staff of 37 (with six vacancies) to handle them. The center projects it will need to double its staff next year and triple it by 2023 to keep up with the work.

The stark numbers lend urgency to a fight over who should fund the center in the long term. The USOPC, which founded the center, is pushing the federal government to provide more than what it currently allots — a $2.2 million grant spread over three years, none of which can be used for investigations.

“I think it’s an ‘And’ question, not an ‘Or’ question,” said USOCP CEO Sarah Hirshland, who has been lobbying lawmakers to provide government money to help.

A pair of senators, meanwhile, have proposed a bill that, in addition to adding oversight to the Olympic movement, would compel the USOPC and NGBs to essentially double what they provide now, increasing the grants to a total of $20 million a year.

Nearly half of the 50 NGBs operate on annual budgets of $3 million or less, and though each NGB pays according to its size and, in extreme cases, the number of reports its sport has referred to the center, there is concern that neither the NGBs nor the USOPC can absorb big increases in their SafeSport budgets.

“The $20 million proposal would absolutely force us to make some difficult choices,” Hirshland said.

The USOPC brought in around $323 million in revenue in 2018 up from $183 million in ’17; the federation’s numbers spike in Olympic years and go down during non-Olympic years. It uses the money to support athletes in a number of ways — including training, insurance, prize money for winners of major events and NGB funding.

Last year, administrative costs rose to more than 11 percent of total spending ($31.2 million) because of payments to two law firms that did work involving the sex-abuse scandal and a severance to former CEO Scott Blackmun.

Hirshland and other leaders are pointing to the model that funds the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; USADA received about $9.5 million of its $21 million in 2018 revenue from government, another $5.1 million from the USOPC and $6.7 million from “testing and other services,” according to its annual report.

“I think that makes sense, because we’re addressing societal issue, and government’s authority to protect and serve fits in really well in that area,” said Max Cobb, the CEO of U.S. Biathlon, who heads up the NGB Council.

But the red tape the center had to go through to receive the $2.2 million, combined with the restrictions put on the money and uncertainty over the Congressional appropriations process, gives pause to the new center’s CEO, Ju’Riese Colon, about relying too heavily on government funding.

“The USOPC and the NGBs must be invested in changing their sport culture, which means they must invest in the Center,” Colon said, while adding that she’s not against receiving money from the government, as well. “While I appreciate people connecting us (to USADA) because we’re certainly similar, the job and scope is so different, and I think the funding is going to have to be a lot different.”

When he, along with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, introduced the bill that calls for $20 million, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, called it a more direct and dependable pathway for the center to receive the money than relying on government.

“Having a secure and stable source of funding is very important. It fortifies the independence and integrity” of the center, Blumenthal said.

Recently, the House passed a spending bill that included $2.5 million for the SafeSport Center. The Senate is expected to consider that bill next week.

Even if that money gets approved, the center will need more to keep up with its caseload.

Around the time it opened in March 2017, the center received an average of 31 reports a month. That number exploded in the beginning of 2018, when Larry Nassar’s victims spoke up during his sentencing hearing for sex crimes. By last fall, with the #MeToo movement in full swing and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing making headlines, the number spiked again.

It’s grown even more in 2019, with each sex-related headline triggering more calls.

Meanwhile, an independent consultant hired by the center projects the number of calls will continue to increase until it caps at around 8,000 a year — an average of 667 a month.

Colon says many of the reports could become less complicated as the knowledge from center’s education programs seeps into sports communities and issues are reported before they become overly complicated.

About one-fifth of the center’s workforce (eight employees) is devoted to education-and-outreach programs to serve up to 18 million members of national governing bodies across the country. So far, the center has trained about 800,000 of those people.

The independent consultant suggested to Colon that, given the workload, the center could use $35 million in 2020. But the center has more modest hopes — hoping to increase USOPC and NGB donations to bring next year’s budget to $16 million.

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Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

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When Nathan Chen won Skate America in 2017, he competed two quadruple jumps in the short program and one downgraded quad in the free skate.

When Chen won the event in 2018, he did one under-rotated quad (which was also given an edge call) in the short and three in the free.

For Skate America this weekend (Oct. 18-20, streaming live on the NBC Sports “Figure Skating Pass”), two-time and reigning world champion Chen told reporters on Monday’s media teleconference that three quads in the free skate was “a given.”

“Honestly, I don’t really know exactly,” Chen said, after admitting he gets asked this question a lot and usually ends up giving a “vague” answer. “I have ideas. I want to push three. I want to push four… As of now, I think three is a given. But beyond that, we’ll see.”

Chen completed six quads to win the free skate at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where he ultimately finished fifth.

He’ll skate to La Boheme for the short program in Las Vegas, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, and selections from “Rocket Man” for the free skate, choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil. Bourne is a former ice dancer and choreographs programs for many singles skaters as well as pair teams. Dubreuil is a noted former ice dancer and current dance coach, training the top teams in the world at her school in Montreal.

Chen explained that both of the choices were the choreographers’ picks, and he had to sit on the music for a day or two before committing to skating to it. Ultimately, he likes when choreographers are able to find something that they think suits him.

“I love to listen to Elton John,” Chen said. “I don’t necessarily feel as though I’m an embodiment of his character, per se. But I do feel that no matter how you listen to music there are always many ways to interpret it. The way that we’re approaching it is not necessarily that I’m trying to be Elton John but mostly that we’re trying to interpret his music and share his music.”

And compared to last season, when he was a freshman at Yale University, classes this time around are “a lot harder,” the sophomore said. In general though, he’s a lot more comfortable trying to balance both skating and his studies.

“Skating is always tough, always a challenge,” he said. “But I would say, relative to last season, skating might be a little bit on the easier side. I think classes are definitely a lot harder… You have to really grind for a long period of time or else you don’t do well.”

Luckily for Chen, Skate America is aligned with Yale’s scheduled fall break.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

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. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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Simone Biles reveals one thing she cannot do: Wear all her medals at once

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Three days after raising the record for world championship medals to 25, Simone Biles said her career total is a bit too much to wear at once.

“I’ve worn all five of them (from one world championship) for one time, but they’re pretty heavy, so I can’t imagine 25,” Biles said Wednesday on the “Today” show.

MORE: Mother and daughter share world championship experience

Last week, Biles became the first gymnast to win five gold medals at the world championships. She and her teammates ran away with the team gold, and she won the all-around by a staggering 2.1 points. She then won the vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Only a fifth-place finish in the uneven bars kept her from a sweep.

One event that stood out for her was the ever-challenging balance beam.

“Out of all of my performances this past week, the beam performance was one of my favorites, because I did it exactly like practice, and that’s what I’ve been training to do,” Biles said. “So it definitely helped my confidence.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles had her breakout performance at age 18, her first year in senior competition, in the 2013 world championships with a four-medal performance, including gold in the all-around and floor exercise. In 2014, she won those events again, along with the team event and the balance beam, and added a fifth medal on the vault. She matched that performance in 2015, then switched the vault and beam in her four-gold, five-medal performance in the 2016 Olympics.

After a post-Olympic break, she returned for the 2018 world championships to win medals in all six events, including four golds and a silver on the uneven bars, historically her least successful event.

She didn’t win six medals this year, but she took five golds for the first time. This year’s championships are also special because they’re almost certainly her last, with next year’s Olympics expected to be her last major competition.

Given all that, she’ll make more of an effort to go back and watch what she did.

“Most of the time I don’t want to see it, but this world championships was one of the best out of all five of them, so I definitely wanted to see my performances, so afterward, I would go and try to find it with my coach,” Biles said.

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