The U.S. Center for SafeSport (SafeSport) faced significant critique during a congressional survey exploring the condition of the U.S. Olympic system, characterized as a potential crisis by the responding feedback.
At a hearing held by the Congressionally appointed Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics, Ju’Riese Colon – the CEO of SafeSport – presented a favorable representation of the six-year old agency. Constructed by Congress in 2017, its primary role was to address abuse allegations within the Olympic sports sphere. Colon brought attention to the nearly 1900 people who had been penalized and featured on the center’s disciplinary database, in addition to the shift towards a safer sports environment over the last half-decade.
However, her testimony was followed by criticisms leveled by advocates questioning the center’s efficiency. For instance, Grace French, founder of The Army of Survivors advocacy group, noted athletes who reported abuse to the center struggled to comprehend the process which led to a significant trust downfall. Added to this was the perspective that SafeSport was not meeting its supposed goals, held by about half of the survey respondents.
The report issued by the Commission paints an unsettling image with just a minor 7.3 per cent of respondents perceiving the center to be ‘extremely effective’. By contrast, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), established in 2000 to combat drug use in sports, garnered an approval rating of almost 64 per cent. The statement in the report suggested SafeSport’s struggle with mixed views about its effectiveness while USADA enjoyed strong confidence in its anti-doping efforts.
The survey underscored the lack of transparency within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the problems with funding for Olympic athletes. Sponsorship deals were only available to 19% of athletes, highlighting the need for consistent and various income sources for the athletes, according to the report.
Donald Fehr, the ex-leader of MLB and NHL players’ unions, questioned the efficiency of the reforms he helped initiate in the early 2000s at a panel discussion on the U.S. Olympics.
SafeSport’s practice of “administrative closures” came under fire, as around 38% of its cases were concluded without a verdict, no imposed penalties, and no public record of the allegation. The long duration it takes for such case closures was also brought into question.
Nevertheless, Colon argued that the center has been improving and gaining trust over the years, pointing to the dramatic increase in reports from roughly 300 in its starting year to about 7,000 in the present year. However, she admitted that the escalating rate of reported cases indicated that additional resources were urgently needed.