California court says USA Taekwondo must protect athletes after L.A. sexual abuse case

Former Olympics taekwondo coach Marc Gitelman
Former Olympics taekwondo coach Marc Gitelman sexually abused three aspiring female athletes.
(Associated Press)

The California Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday that pressures Olympic organizations to do more when it comes to protecting young athletes from sexual abuse by coaches.

The ruling, in response to a Los Angeles lawsuit, stated USA Taekwondo can be held liable for the actions of a coach who abused three female athletes when they were minors. The national governing body, or NGB, is among dozens of organizations that oversee amateur sports and register coaches who work for private club teams.

“NGBs can no longer ‘turn a blind eye’ and blame small clubs,” said Robert Allard, an attorney for the women. He added that because of the ruling, “Minor athletes in the Olympic movement are better protected now than they were in the past.”


Other NGBs such as USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics, with the Larry Nasser scandal, have been hit with incidents of widespread abuse in recent years.

In many cases, victims have sought to hold the U.S Olympic & Paralympic Committee responsible because it serves as an umbrella organization, monitoring and funding NGBs. While the California case establishes legal precedent in such cases, it stopped short of blaming the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which, as an umbrella organization, monitors and helps fund the NGBs.

Three women who sued their former taekwondo instructor for sexually abusing them while they were minors each have been awarded $20 million in damages by a California court.

Aug. 3, 2017

“While this is a significant finding, and sets a standard for other cases, we are committed to playing an important role in leading the Olympic and Paralympic community in better protecting athletes, and preventing and addressing abuse wherever it may occur,” the USOPC said in a statement.

In 2017, the taekwondo athletes won a $60-million judgment against coach Marc Gitelman, who was convicted of child sex abuse. Though finding in the athletes’ favor, the trial court threw out claims against USA Taekwondo and the USOPC.

The state Supreme Court upheld a lower appellate decision that revived the claims against USA Taekwondo, writing that the NGB had a “special relationship” with Gitelman because it registered him and was, therefore, in position to control his actions.