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U.S. Olympic Committee must earn back athletes' trust - CEO

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By Karolos Grohmann

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) must work hard towards earning back the trust of American athletes after a sexual abuse scandal rocked the Olympic body last year, its CEO Sarah Hirshland said on Saturday.

Hirshland took over some 10 months ago as the first permanent female CEO of the USOPC following the sexual abuse scandal involving former gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar was sentenced to up to 300 years in prison in two different trials in Michigan last year after more than 250 women, including Olympic gymnastics champions Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, testified about abuse at his hands.

The scandal triggered the departure of both the then USOPC President Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun.

“To walk into an organisation with the lack of trust that I felt from the athlete community, in some cases, is a very difficult thing to reconcile,” Hirshland told Reuters in an interview.

“We have to earn back that trust. It is easy to break trust, it is not easy to earn it back. We have to humbly recognise this is not something that just gets fixed and you go back to the way it was before.”

USOPC is by far the richest and most successful national Olympic committee in the world but the extent of the scandal and the organisation’s failure to act at the time raised fears that subsequent lawsuits could drive it into the ground financially.

“It (legal fallout) requires significant work,” Hirshland said. “It will require, when all is said and done, significant financial resources but not significant enough that it is a concern.

“It distracts from other areas that we might spend that time and money but it won’t disrupt our organisation’s focus.

“It is really important for us that we resolve the litigation and that we resolve the unresolved relationship that we have with those survivors. We want to have a relationship with them.”

CONGRESSOVERSIGHT

Hirshland also said she would support any decision by the U.S. Congress for greater scrutiny.

“If Congress decides that they want to do something… we would support it,” she said. “The purview is they will look at it through the lens of the Act (the Federal Charter that established the USOPC). That has not been thoroughly reviewed, nor altered for many, many years.”

But it is not all doom and gloom for Hirshland’s start at the organisation, with Los Angeles preparing to host the 2028 summer Olympics.

Hirshland in the past worked for Games CEO Larry Wasserman’s media group and that relationship is now a bonus for the USOPC, she said.

“I am uniquely positioned to work with the organising committee and Casey and his team. It makes it easier to work with us when you have a trusting relationship.”

Hirshland also said it was important that for the first time in its history the USOPC was led both on CEO and President level by women.

“I have spent my entire career in sport and I have been the only woman in the room for most of that,” she said.

“Diversity gets you to a better result and if I can inspire other women along the way that’s terrific. At the end of the day gender should not be a determining factor for you to be at the table and be successful.”

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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