(Reuters) - The sex abuse scandal roiling USA Gymnastics could become the United States’ equivalent of the doping controversy involving Russian athletes at the last Winter Games, senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said on Friday.
The sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar on Wednesday to 175 years in prison for molesting athletes including Olympic gold medallists Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Jordyn Wieber, has sparked outrage and multiple investigations into sexual abuse in sports.
A week of gut-wrenching courtroom revelations by gymnasts has led to separate investigations by the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Those investigations seek to establish if other sports officials turned a blind eye to Nassar’s abuses and to examine allegations of harassment by officials in other sports, including swimming and taekwondo.
Pound, who oversaw the IOC investigation of the bribery scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and set up the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said the IOC was unlikely to get directly involved in any investigation or to sanction the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) for failing to act faster.
But he said the issue could find its way onto the agenda of next week’s IOC session in South Korea ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, and that he might raise the topic if no one else does.
“This is kind of the U.S. equivalent in abuse of the Russian doping ... It might well (become the next big issue),” Pound told Reuters in a telephone interview from Florida.
He said that the scandal had not been on the IOC’s horizon when the agenda for next week’s meeting was drawn up.
“Certainly if there is no indication that anybody is going to do it there is always the opportunity under ‘other business’ to say, ‘Hey, maybe perhaps we haven’t had a chance to get the right back swing in here, but what is the IOC going to do with the whole problem?” he said.
The IOC banned Russia last month from Pyeongchang over “systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system at the 2014 Sochi Games. It left the door open to athletes with no history of doping to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
A total of 169 Russian athletes have been cleared to compete at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
With Nassar condemned to spend the rest of his life behind bars, the focus has shifted to the coaches, federations and institutions, including the USOC, that allowed the abuse in U.S. gymnastics to go unchecked.
On Wednesday, the USOC threatened to decertify USA Gymnastics unless the 18 members on the board of directors were replaced. Several resigned as a result of the scandal, and USA Gymnastics said on Friday that its remaining directors would also step down.
The USOC itself has also been attacked by some of gymnastics’ biggest names.
Raisman, a triple Olympic gold medallist, said that both USA Gymnastics and the USOC had been quick to capitalise on and celebrate her success.
“But did they reach out when I came forward? No,” she said in court this week.
The outspoken Pound, who spearheaded the initial WADA investigation into widespread state sponsored doping in Russia, said the IOC was limited in what pressure it can bring to bear directly on the USOC.
For the moment, he said, it would probably be content with monitoring the situation in the United States.
“I think they (the IOC) would probably sit on the sidelines and see what happens,” said Pound. “You’ve got to be careful about interfering in other countries where you have no legal rights ... If they got involved it would be pretty informally.”
Pound said the USOC had now jumped into the difficult and painful issue “with both feet,” a situation that he described as “better late than never.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Wallis