USA Gymnastics, the organization that develops the Olympic team, repeatedly failed to report allegations of sexual abuse of underage gymnasts by coaches to authorities, according to an investigative report by the Indianapolis Star that was posted on Thursday.
The organization, which boasts over 120,000 gymnasts at 3,000 gyms, had a policy to dismiss allegations as hearsay and file them away unless they came directly from a victim or a victim's parents, the report said. Two former USA Gymnastics executives testified under oath to this policy as part of a 2013 lawsuit by a coach's victim.
Legally, however, suspected child abuse must be reported to authorities.
The 2013 lawsuit involves a coach named William McCabe, who is accused of abusing the daughter of Lisa Ganser, who filed the suit in Georgia. According to the Star, USA Gymnastics was alerted to possible abuse by McCabe as far back as 1998. An owner of a gym from which he was fired sent a letter to USA Gymnastics saying that McCabe "should be locked in a cage before someone is raped."
In court filings obtained the Star, USA Gymnastics called the allegations against McCabe "third-hand hearsay" and said the organization had not received a complaint from a member athlete or parent of a member athlete.
USA Gymnastics also argued, according to the Star, that mandatory reporting laws did not apply because it was an organization, not an individual.
According to the Star, Ganser enrolled her daughter in a McCabe-run gym in 2002 and shortly thereafter received an anonymous packet with allegations against McCabe. She contacted USA Gymnastics and was told that McCabe was a coach in good standing, according to the newspaper.
In 2006, Ganser found disturbing emails on her then-11-year-old daughter's computer. She called the FBI, and McCabe was eventually accused of molesting girls as young as fifth-graders. He was convicted of multiple crimes and is serving a 30-year sentence.
Although USA Gymnastics would not reveal just how many complaints it receives, the Star reported that it had compiled over 50 dossiers on coaches. The contents remain sealed as part of the Ganser case, but the Star has filed a motion asking to make them public. The newspaper did uncover details of three other coaches who were charged with child abuse.
One coach, Marvin Sharp, was reported to authorities by USA Gymnastics four years after it received a detailed complaint against him, according to the Star. The former coach of the year, who had mentored multiple Olympians, was charged in federal court but killed himself in jail.
USA Gymnastics issued a statement on Thursday responding to the Star report.
"Addressing issues of sexual misconduct has been important to USA Gymnastics for many years, and the organization is committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes," it said, in part. "We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person's life. USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community over the years, and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction, and cooperate fully with law enforcement."
The statement concluded: "With the judge considering whether to dismiss the pending lawsuit in Georgia, there are limits on what the organization can say publicly during litigation. Nonetheless, USA Gymnastics provided the Indianapolis Star with substantial information on its policies and procedures to demonstrate the organization's commitment to the safety of its athletes within the scope of its jurisdiction and governance structure. We feel the Star left out significant facts that would have painted a more accurate picture of our efforts."