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U.S. Olympic Committee Moves To Decertify USA Gymnastics


There's been a major development in the world of Olympic sports. The U.S. Olympic Committee has moved to decertify USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body. This so-called nuclear option comes after a widening sexual abuse scandal involving athletes and a former team doctor. In announcing the decision, the head of the Olympic Committee said today that the sport deserves better.

Alexandra Starr has been regularly reporting on USA Gymnastics for NPR, and she joins us now. Welcome.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Thank you. Good to be here.

CHANG: So why did the USOC ultimately decide decertifying USA Gymnastics was its only option at this point?

STARR: The organization has been in a freefall since last year when the former team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to the equivalent of life in prison for molesting hundreds of athletes over the course of decades. And in the last 20 months, the organization has cycled through three leaders, one of whom - Steve Penny - was arrested last month for allegedly tampering into the investigation into Nassar. So it's just been kind of a big dumpster fire for a while.

CHANG: Right. And explain exactly what is USA Gymnastics. I mean, it's the governing body of the sport, but what does that mean?

STARR: They select the athletes who serve on the national team. So that's a very important role. They develop marketing plans and strike sponsorship deals - another big deal. They also work to decide, like, which clubs are members.

So all of those are legitimate, important roles. And, you know, for the last year and a half, it's basically been leaderless. I mean, they've just gone through scandal after scandal, and they can't seem to find their footing.

CHANG: So what does this decertification mean for gymnasts across the country? How will they individually feel this as they're going to practice, trying to train?

STARR: I think there's a big difference between USA Gymnastics and the female team, which is extraordinary. There was just - the world championships just wrapped...

CHANG: Right.

STARR: ...This week. Simone Biles won a record four gold medals.


STARR: She's extraordinary.

CHANG: Yeah.

STARR: So in a sense, you know, the paradox here is that the female team has really never been stronger, and at the same time, the national governing body just can't get it together. I would argue that the example of these women has kind of allowed the organization to coast by. And we'll see now if the leadership becomes more or less commensurate with the team that they're supposed to be fronting and representing.

CHANG: Now how temporary is this - the U.S. Olympic Committee taking over? Is it just until a brand-new governing body can be formed and put into place, or is this kind of the way it will be for indefinitely?

STARR: There was - this happens very rarely, but the U.S. Olympic Committee did take over USA Taekwondo. And that so-called receivership - they were on, like, probation for about two years. I don't know if the same thing will repeat in this circumstance, but it could be a while.

And the fact that they're resorting to this just shows how bad things were because they do not do this often.

CHANG: Right. I was going to ask you, like, how unprecedented is this to see the governing body of a sport be decertified?

STARR: It's happened four times. But it's happened to organizations - this is just the fourth time that it's happened. It's happened to organizations like USA Handball and USA Taekwondo. Honestly, those sports do not have big followings. For this to happen to, like, such a star sport like gymnastics...

CHANG: Yeah, yeah.

STARR: ...Is a very big deal.

CHANG: That's reporter Alexandra Starr. Thank you very much.

STARR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexandra Starr