PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee must help boost safeguards for athletes against sexual abuse or risk losing them, the head of the IOC’s working group on abuse and harassment said on Sunday.
Prince Feisal of Jordan, an IOC member who heads the Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport working group, said the U.S. gymnastics sexual abuse scandal should serve as a stern warning.
“It is a terrible case and situation. If we keep quiet these unfortunate and tragic things will continue to happen,” he told a small group of reporters.
Former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced last week to 40 to 125 years in prison after weeks of horrifying testimony from nearly 200 victims about his decades of abuse.
He had already received a separate 40-to-175-year sentence and was sentenced to a 60-year federal term for child pornography convictions, in an abuse scandal involving more than 250 athletes that has rocked the sports world.
Asked whether there was a danger of seeing young people turn away from organised, competitive sport as a result of that scandal, Feisal said: “If we don’t make it a safe environment then that could very well be the result and that is what we are trying to prevent.
“Maybe you need a tragedy like this for people to use this as a wakeup call.” said Feisal, who is also member of the IOC Women in Sport Commission.
His working group late last year created a toolkit for national Olympic committees and international federations aimed at helping them develop safeguards for athletes.
“Unfortunately a few months ago nobody would think this is as a major issue. The real tragedy is if in a few years we come across the exact same thing and nobody has done anything.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee said this week it had failed its athletes. It also admitted to making a mistake in not attending the trial but so far it has escaped the scandal relatively unscathed bar the widespread criticism.
Calls for the resignation of top USOC officials have been mounting after the resignation of the entire USA Gymnastics board.
Feisal did not want to discuss potential sanctions for the USOC from the side of the IOC but said sexual abuse should be as important as doping in sport.
“They (USOC) have to do their own investigation to find out how 250 athletes fell through the crack, to look at processes, procedures that should have been in place, that should have been upheld.”
“All the focus is on doping. Is it more important than doping? I think it should be as equal but not many people see that right now,” he said.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty