Tokyo Olympics: Winning trust will be harder than winning medals for USA Gymnastics | Tokyo Olympics News
After the Rio 2016 Games, United States Gymnastics was rocked by revelations of systemic athlete abuse that led to massive resignations, lawsuits, investigations and bankruptcy filings.
It also forced the introduction of health and safety protocols that have long prohibited medical staff, coaches, judges and other event personnel from having alone time with an athlete, and that will be visible in Tokyo.
“I’ve only been with the organization for a year and a half, so I’m not sure what it looked like in Rio, but with SafeSport already in place, we have … prevention policies,” said Kim Kranz, USA gymnastics director. Athlete Health and Welfare Department, he told Reuters.
The USA SafeSport Center is an independent non-profit organization that provides sports guidelines on how to provide safe environments for athletes and training for coaches and administrators.
USA Gymnastics will have a seven-member medical team, five physical therapists, and two reserves, in Tokyo. “There are a lot of rules now (that they have) … to follow,” Kranz added.
Ready to rock on stage 🌎! Don’t miss the chance to see their final preparations! https://t.co/m64mUVkhay
– Gymnastics USA (@USAGym) 1626796446000
These include the need for formal consent from athletes to treat them, the use of privacy curtains only when athletes are treated sensitively, and the presence of two adults when there is a minor athlete in the medical area.
Many of the new rules were implemented in the fight to correct flaws in a system that allowed former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to prey on hundreds of young athletes.
A year after the Rio Games, Nassar was sentenced in federal court to 60 years in prison on charges of possession of child sexual abuse material.
The following year, he was also sentenced to up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for sexually abusing young gymnasts in his care, including Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.
But even as the current squad led by Biles, herself one of many who were abused by Nassar, prepared to leave for Tokyo, the scandal continued to weigh on the sport.
On July 14, the US Department of Justice’s internal watchdog released a report harshly criticizing the FBI for delaying its investigation of the abuse allegations against Nassar.
In between, there have been more disturbing revelations of abuse.
John Geddert, the head coach of the United States women’s team that won team gold at the 2012 London Olympics, was charged with sexual assault and human trafficking. He died by suicide on February 26 shortly after court papers for his arrest were presented.
Other coaches have been suspended for verbal and emotional abuse of athletes, including Maggie Haney, who coached another Rio gold medalist, Laurie Hernandez.
Kranz admitted that while American gymnasts felt they were in a safe and secure environment in Tokyo, it would take much longer to regain their confidence.
“It’s going to take time,” he said. “I think they’re seeing improvement, but I don’t think athletes are ready to go all out and say, ‘You guys are amazing’ … It takes a long time to get that back.”
When asked if, given the scandals, the best therapists and medical staff were moving away from gymnastics, he said: “My guess is that at first that might have been the case, but I haven’t seen it.”
There were many qualified therapists lined up for Olympic assignments and ready to undergo close scrutiny, “he added.
“We will examine the people who work (with) our medical (teams) very closely … They are usually people that the medical team knows, but when they are not, we review their credentials, their work history, we have had a background check and SafeSport training before they are allowed to go to work. ”