NEW YORK: As American sport reels from a horrifying sexual abuse scandal, athletes competing in this month’s Pyeongchang Olympics will have access to trauma units for the first time in Games history.
The Winter Olympics open in South Korea on Friday after long-time USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for molesting young athletes in a case that sparked universal shock and anger.
Four counselling centres have been set up by local organisers to offer medical and psychological care to athletes subjected to harassment or abuse.
Legal advice will also be on hand to help victims file a police report, according to Games officials.
“We have to protect our athletes and help them avoid and manage any situation,” said International Olympic Committee (IOC) safeguarding officer Susan Greinig.
“It’s important to raise awareness. If you learn about something you feel more in control,” said the IOC medical officer, who said national sports federations also recognise more work needs to be done to tackle sexual abuse.
“Our focus is to help the athletes,” added Greinig. “We lose talented athletes and it’s completely a disaster if people don’t come forward.
“When we started this work it was very much a taboo subject, but the NOC’s (National Olympic committees) have recognised the destruction it brings to sport.”
Greinig took up her role as safeguarding officer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when the IOC first created the post, and recommended future local organisers establish their own framework for dealing with sexual harassment.
American luge slider Summer Britcher applauded the decision to set up support units at the Games, crediting the more than 150 victims who gave testimony against the disgraced Nassar.
“Everything that happened with the gymnastics team is really horrible,” she told AFP.
“But I think maybe it’s a bit of a silver lining that those women having the strength and bravery to come forward has resulted in having these avenues available for women in the future.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said he was “saddened” by the Nassar case and called for answers on why the system had failed athletes.
But when asked how Nassar could have been allowed to attend multiple Olympics, he denied the IOC was to blame.
“I think this is first of all a question you have to ask to the USOC (United States Olympic Committee),” insisted Bach. “The IOC is not nominating the members of the US Olympic team. This is the prerogative of the national Olympic committee.”
Olympic host South Korea, a socially conservative country where victims fear public shame, has made significant strides in dealing with sexual abuse as the global “MeToo” movement continues to expose sexual abuse following the bombshell allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. – AFP