Days after American gymnast Simone Biles concluded a historic performance at the world championships, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced it will seek to banish the national organization that oversees her sport.
The drastic move involves the USOC filing a complaint to revoke USA Gymnastics’ status as a national governing body, initiating a potentially complex adjudication process.
If the revocation is successful, an entirely new organization might have to be created to run American gymnastics with the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo less than two years away.
“You might be asking why now?” USOC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland wrote in an open letter Monday. “The short answer is that we believe the challenges facing the organization are simply more than it is capable of overcoming in its current form.”
USA Gymnastics has suffered through a series of controversies in recent years, foremost among them a sexual abuse scandal that saw disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar molest hundreds of young athletes under the guise of providing medical treatment.
More recently, the organization suffered through repeated missteps as it struggled to replace former President Steve Penny, who was arrested for allegedly tampering with evidence in the Nassar case.
Interim Chief Executive Mary Bono stepped down last month under intense pressure from athletes including Biles and Aly Raisman, who pointed to Bono’s association with a law firm that had advised USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal.
Numerous gymnasts have filed lawsuits against both USA Gymnastics and the USOC.
“This is a situation in which there are no perfect solutions,” Hirshland said. “Seeking to revoke recognition is not a conclusion that we have come to easily.”
Officials have given USA Gymnastics the option of surrendering its status voluntarily.
“USA Gymnastics is carefully reviewing the contents of this [USOC] letter and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff,” the governing body said on its website.
USOC officials have revoked recognition only a few times before. Earlier this year, they issued a set of demands to USA Gymnastics, which complied by, among other things, replacing its entire board of directors.
If the current process moves forward, it could include a review panel, a hearing and a report, leading to a final vote by the USOC board of directors.
There is a possibility, however slight, that USA Gymnastics could revamp its leadership and structure to the USOC’s satisfaction. If not, an entirely new governing body could be built from scratch.
Or, the USOC could recognize an existing gymnastics organization to become the national body.
“A complete regime change should start now,” former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, a Nassar abuse victim, posted on social media. “This is for every survivior.”
Regardless of how the process plays out, the immediate future looks uncertain for American gymnastics, which had been celebrating Biles’ medal haul at the world championships.
The 21-year-old won gold in the team and all-around final and the floor and vault events in Doha, Qatar. She also took silver on the uneven bars and bronze on the balance beam, becoming the first woman in three decades to earn six medals.
Now the American team could be looking at months of upheaval.
The USOC insisted gymnastics will “remain a bedrock” of the U.S. Olympic community, with Hirshland telling athletes: “We will work to ensure that gymnastics training and competitions will continue as usual.”
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