Blackburn, Grassley, Colleagues Work to Improve Transparency and Accountability for U.S. Olympics’ Abuse Review Arm

November 14, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) joined Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in introducing legislation to ensure the proper use of resources designated for investigating abuses of Olympic and amateur athletes. The Stopping Abuse from Entering Sports, Promoting Oversight, Responsibility and Transparency (SAFESPORT) Act is cosponsored by Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and David Perdue (R-Ga.). Much of the legislation was included as amendments to the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, which was approved yesterday by the Senate Commerce Committee.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned in recent years, it is that sexual abuse knows no bounds in terms of where it may occur, and the athletic community is no exception,” said Senator Blackburn. “Victims must have an outlet available to hold their perpetrators accountable, which is why Congress established the U.S. Center for SafeSport as an independent entity tasked with investigating reports of abuse and protecting Olympic athletes. It is incumbent on Congress to ensure a robust, functioning, and transparent SafeSport.”

“Nobody should ever face abuses like those perpetrated by Olympic physician Larry Nassar, someone entrusted to support and care for young athletes. The U.S. Center for SafeSport was established to respond to claims of abuse and exploitation of athletes in amateur sports, including those who train and compete under the supervision of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its associated organizations. Our legislation applies the same safeguards used for federal grant oversight to ensure resources are going to support SafeSport’s mission to protect athletes,” Senator Grassley said.

“Like so many Americans, I remain appalled by the crimes committed by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who abused hundreds of young athletes. The U.S. Olympic Committee has shown a willingness to make necessary reforms to prevent these abuses in the future and this legislation supports that effort. Our bill will increase oversight and accountability, begin necessary steps to prevent all forms of abuse, and will help in moving us down the long road to rebuilding trust within our country’s Olympic community,” Senator Ernst said.

“Alaska produces countless Olympians and world-class athletes and I am committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of these competitors – in our state and around the nation. As a cosponsor of the bill that created the Center for SafeSport, protecting these athletes has long been a priority of mine. This bill furthers that goal and ensures tragedies like those that occurred in recent years never happen again,” Senator Sullivan said.

“Over the past few years we’ve heard more and more stories of athletes experiencing emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse in their training environments. This type of misconduct against participants can be challenging to detect and difficult to report, but we must do everything we can to foster an environment of respect for our athletes, free from the fear of abuse. I am committed to working with my colleagues to carry on the legacy of Ted Stevens, and to help ensure the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Center for SafeSport run as efficiently, effectively, and as safely possible. The Olympics are about the athletes, and we cannot lose sight of their well-being. By creating policies that improve transparency, increase financial oversight, and ensure that any misconduct is quickly addressed, we’re ensuring that every athlete can feel safe and empowered in their sport,” Senator Murkowski said.

“All athletes should have access to a safe environment to train and compete without any threat of exploitation or misconduct. This is a zero tolerance issue. By working together in a bipartisan way, we can ensure that the U.S. Center for SafeSport is enabled to address claims of abuse and guarantee that the program’s funding is handled appropriately,” Senator Perdue said.

Congress formally designated the U.S. Center for SafeSport to protect amateur athletes from abuse. The center receives millions of dollars annually from the Olympic community for this purpose. To ensure those resources are best used to further this important mission, the SAFESPORT Act establishes safeguards such as annual audits and funding allocation requirements that are standard for many federal grant recipients. The bill also provides for enhanced child abuse reporting and prohibitions on retaliation against certain individuals who report instances of abuse or harassment.

Senator Blackburn worked with Senators Grassley, Sullivan and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) as well as Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to ensure much of the bill’s provisions were adopted in the form of amendments to the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, which advanced out of the Commerce Committee today by voice vote without objection. One amendment providing for grant accountability was not considered during the markup, and Senator Blackburn has requested that committee leadership work with her to secure its inclusion prior to further Senate action.

For more information on the SAFESPORT Act, see the legislative text and summary.