USA Gymnastics has not voluntarily given up its status as the sport’s national governing body, triggering a hearing that could lead to the organization’s demise.
In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said she is moving forward with the process to revoke USA Gymnastics’ NGB status. The next step is to select the three-person panel to hear the USOC’s complaint against USA Gymnastics.
The panel will be chaired by a USOC board member and have representatives from the NGB and athlete advisory councils. USA Gymnastics will have the opportunity to “present factual evidence and legal argument regarding the allegations of the complaint,” the bylaws state.
After the hearing, the panel will issue a report and make a recommendation to the USOC’s board of directors. The board then makes the final decision.
There is no timeframe in the USOC bylaws for the process, and Hirshland said it could take “several weeks, perhaps a few months.”
“As I’ve said before, the path is not crystal clear, but our motives are – put simply, to ensure the NGB for gymnastics in the United States is the type of organization each gymnast and the coaches, trainers and club owners who support them, deserve,” Hirshland wrote in an open letter to the gymnastics community.
The move does not come as a complete surprise. Despite being informed by the USOC on Nov. 5 that it was beginning the process to revoke its NGB status, known as a Section 8 complaint, USA Gymnastics has continued to operate as if it plans to be around for the long-term.
Earlier this week, it announced it was seeking nominations for its board of directors. In an open letter published Tuesday, board chair Karen Golz said USA Gymnastics was progressing in its search for a new CEO.
“As we’ve said before, this is a situation in which there are no perfect solutions,” Hirshland said Wednesday. “Seeking to revoke recognition is not a decision that the USOC came to easily, but we continue believe it is the right action.”
USA Gymnastics will continue to operate as usual so long as the revocation process is ongoing. Should it be stripped of its NGB status, the USOC would take control of the elite programs until a new NGB is identified.
USA Gymnastics could continue to exist, but its members would likely migrate to whatever new group becomes the NGB.
The USOC is known to have revoked NGB status or cut off funding only three times, with taekwondo, team handball and modern pentathlon. But Hirshland said earlier this month that the USOC had no choice but to step in with USA Gymnastics because of its repeated missteps in trying to move beyond the Larry Nassar scandal.
Nassar, the longtime team physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, is serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty to child pornography and sexual abuse charges. More than 350 girls and young women have said he abused them under the guise of medical treatment, including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian.
USA Gymnastics has been through three CEOs since Rachael Denhollander told The Indianapolis Star in September 2016 that Nassar had abused her, prompting hundreds of other women to come forward. Steve Penny was forced out by the USOC in March 2017. Kerry Perry resigned under pressure in September after being roundly criticized during her nine-month tenure for being both aloof and inept.
Mary Bono lasted just five days after heavy criticism from Biles and other gymnasts about her fitness to lead and what message her hiring sent to survivors. Bono previously worked at Faegre Baker Daniels, a law firm the IndyStar said had helped USA Gymnastics craft a cover story for Nassar after he was fired.
Bono worked for the firm’s consulting arm and was not part of the discussions with Nassar. But the association was considered tone deaf.
The federation also remains mired in mediation with survivors. It has lost all of its major sponsors, and its national championships were held in August without a title sponsor, almost unheard of for one of the premier Olympic sports in the United States.
And in what was the final straw for the USOC, USA Gymnastics said it recently located medical records from the Karolyi ranch that two executives had told Congress were nowhere to be found. Penny, who ordered the removal of the records, was indicted in Walker County, Texas, in September, on a count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.
USA Gymnastics has defended itself by saying its board inherited “an organization in crisis” when it was seated in June, and said it is taking steps to reform. It finally parted ways last week with Ron Galimore, the longtime chief operating officer who, according to emails obtained by IndyStar, helped provide the cover story for Nassar.
But the moves might have come too late.