The United States Olympic Committee announced Monday it would begin the process to revoke USA Gymnastics' status as the national governing body for the sport. Just days after the conclusion of the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in which the U.S. women's team took home gold and Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd won seven additional medals, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland addressed members of the team in a letter in which she said the organization has failed "to change its culture, to rebuild its leadership and to effectively serve its membership."
After at least a year mired in the Larry Nassar scandal and several error-filled changes in leadership, the news is far from unexpected, yet still surprising in its timing. Here's what we know and what we don't know, so far, and what we expect to happen next.
What led to the USOC deciding to revoke USA Gymnastics status as governing body?
How much time do you have? It has been a tumultuous 1½ years for USAG, stemming from the initial public accusations by Rachael Denhollander of abuse at the hands of former team doctor Larry Nassar in August 2016. Hundreds of others subsequently came forward, and after 156 women gave harrowing victim statements at Nassar's trial in January, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. Among those who shared stories of abuse were former national team members, including Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Maggie Nichols and Jamie Dantzscher.
Details later emerged that several high-ranking USAG officials knew of the accusations toward Nassar in 2015 but failed to inform the authorities or officials at Michigan State University, where he also worked as a doctor. While USAG suspended Nassar that year, he continued to see patients at the school into 2016.
Former USAG president Steve Penny, who was arrested last month and charged with tampering with evidence related to the Nassar investigation, resigned in March 2017 after calls for his dismissal. Kerry Perry, who assumed the role in December 2017, later faced scrutiny after naming Mary Lee Tracy -- a coach who continued to defend Nassar well after dozens of women had come forward -- to a developmental coordinator position. Perry was asked to step down in September. Former Congresswoman Mary Bono was named the interim president last month, a tenure that lasted all of four days; she was employed by the law firm hired by USAG in 2015 after it discovered abuse allegations and, before being named USAG CEO, sent a tweet criticizing Nike and its support of Colin Kaepernick. In January, every member of the USAG board of directors resigned at the urging of the USOC.
This series of major missteps placed the organization's future in doubt and presented serious questions about its effectiveness and ability to lead and protect those in the gymnastics community.
As Hirshland wrote to the gymnasts in her letter: "You deserve better."
Hirshland addressed this question in her letter to athletes: "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," she said. "We have worked closely with the new USAG board over recent months to support them, but despite diligent effort, the NGB [national governing body] continues to struggle. And that's not fair to gymnasts around the country. Even weeks ago, I hoped there was a different way forward. But we now believe that is no longer possible."
The Trampoline & Tumbling World Championships, in which U.S. athletes will compete, begin this week in Russia, but otherwise there are no major gymnastics events scheduled until March.
Will USAG surrender its recognition voluntarily?
Hirshland said she gave the organization the opportunity to do so. In a statement posted shortly after the USOC's announcement, USAG's board of directors said their group was "carefully reviewing the contents of this letter and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff." It went on to detail many of the challenges and changes the board has faced and said it is conducting a search for a new CEO.
What happens next?
USAG will now have the opportunity to go in front of a panel to "present factual evidence and legal argument regarding the allegations of the complaint," according to the USOC's bylaws. The panel, selected by USOC, will include three people -- a representative from both the National Governing Bodies Council and athlete advisory council, and chaired by a USOC board member. The panel will recommend what action should next be taken, and the USOC will then make its final decision about USAG's fate. It is important to note here that USAG could ultimately maintain its status as governing body, and Monday's announcement isn't an immediate death sentence for the organization.
Hirshland said there is no set timeline for such a process, but the USOC "will make every effort to proceed quickly." As the 2020 Olympics are quickly approaching, one would assume they would like to go forward, either way, as soon as possible.
Is this unprecedented?
No, but it is rare. The USOC has revoked the status of a governing body just three times previously.
What does this mean for Biles, Hurd and all the other athletes looking to compete in Tokyo in 2020?
Whether USAG successfully states its case and remains in power or the USOC revokes its status, the committee will do everything it can to ensure the U.S. team is ready to compete and has all the resources the athletes need to contend for medals. It's unlikely the USOC will let this process get in the way of a star like Biles. In her letter, Hirshland insisted the USOC will "ensure support for the Olympic hopefuls who may represent us in Tokyo in 2020."