The United States Olympic Committee has announced it will lead governing bodies of Olympic sports in unprecedented efforts to prevent sexual and physical abuse that could affect millions of athletes across the country, an issue that has been in the spotlight after a sexual misconduct scandal at USA Swimming.
A top USOC official said recommendations from a task force led by four-time Olympic skier Nina Kemppel will be implemented within six months, including the centralizing and standardizing of background checks for coaches, staff and volunteers working with athletes.
"The issue does merit more haste, and I think you'll see meaningful progress from us long before six months comes and goes," said USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun.
An ABC News "20/20" investigation in April revealed that 36 swimming coaches had been banned by USA Swimming for allegations of sexual misconduct, including molestation and hidden videotaping of children in locker rooms. San Jose swim coach Andy King, 62, abused more than a dozen teen female victims over three decades and still had a clean background screening from USA Swimming in 2008, despite allegations against him and a police investigation. USA Swimming, the governing body of the sport in the U.S., is facing at least five lawsuits by swimmers who accuse the organization of failing to protect them from predatory coaches and allege cover-up at the top.
Kemppel, the Olympian who led the task force that was convened shortly after the "20/20" investigation, said she didn't anticipate the emotional impact that speaking to athletes who had been victimized had on her.
"I will tell you that it's enough of an issue in sport that people would call me up and explain their story, whether they be athletes or parents or coaches who have been involved in some way in the incidents we're talking about," Kemppel said.
She said athletes can be particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse because of "very unique relationships between athletes and authority figures" and "venues that promote more contact than some other venues outside of sports."
To address problems with criminal background checks, Kemppel's group recommended the USOC work with national governing bodies of Olympic sports to establish a "preferred provider network" and standardize the set of background search criteria across all sports and how to address violations.
In addition, the group recommended the USOC provide sports organizations with standardized training and education resources, including pre-hire screening "so that there is no club-to-club or sport-to-sport jumping," said Kemppel. Other recommendations that the USOC plans on implementing include a centralized online toolkit for sports groups to adopt and customize.
Despite calls for a centralized database of coaches across all sports with allegations of sexual or physical abuse of athletes, the task force ultimately decided not to recommend such a system right now, Kemppel said, although she hopes in the future it will become a reality.
"I think the practicality of doing this right now across all [national governing bodies] would be very difficult," said Kemppel.