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USOPC Begins Review of USRowing Elite Athlete Concerns

BY ED MORAN
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has notified USRowing that it has begun “a review” of alleged concerns raised by “certain segments of USRowing’s elite athlete population,” which are being viewed as significant enough for the USOPC to hire an independent law firm to conduct interviews and provide an “outside perspective.”

USRowing was notified of the action by the USPOC with an email dated Friday, January 8 that included an attached letter detailing who was conducting the review and what steps they will be taking. No specific allegations or complaints were contained in the email or the attached letter that was addressed “Dear USRowing Athlete,” and a copy of which has been obtained by Rowing News.

The letter states that the review is being conducted “with the full support and participation of USRowing, and was prompted, in part, by USRowing’s request for assistance in responding to athlete concerns regarding athletes’ ability to obtain impartial responses to complaints involving USRowing personnel and practices.”

The Friday email states:

“The USOPC’s Office of Compliance is responsible for ensuring National Governing Bodies are fulfilling their obligations as set forth in the Ted Stevens Olympic & Amateur Sports Act as well as the USOPC Bylaws and various other USOPC policies. Among the most important of an NGB’s obligations is meeting the needs of, and being responsive to, the concerns of their elite athlete populations.

“We are reaching out to you today because certain segments of USRowing’s athlete population have raised concerns about the culture for elite athlete competitors which we believe warrants an outside perspective. To that end, the USOPC has hired the law firm Arent Fox LLP to conduct an independent review and assessment to identify the root factors contributing to those concerns and determine how to address them.

 “The manner in which this review will be carried out is detailed in the attached letter. Please note that not everyone who receives this letter will be contacted by Arent Fox, but if they do reach out to you, we encourage you to speak openly and honestly with them about your experiences. Also, if you are not selected but wish to speak with Arent Fox, instructions for contacting the attorneys conducting the review are included in the letter.

“The USOPC looks forward to receiving Arent Fox’s report when this review has concluded, and to sharing its findings and any recommendations with the USRowing community.”

Reached Saturday afternoon, USRowing CEO Amanda Kraus said:

“The well-being of athletes has and always will be a foundation of our mission to champion participation and the passionate pursuit of excellence in rowing.”

“USRowing has been taking specific steps to ensure a competitive culture where athletes can thrive in a safe and healthy way for the last year, after having received expressions of concern from some athletes.

“Among other steps, USRowing requested an outside perspective from the USOPC and we welcome that assistance in the form of this independent review. We encourage our athletes and personnel to participate in the review and cooperate as much as possible and we look forward to getting valuable feedback as a result,” Kraus said. 

The attached letter also did not specify what concerns were raised to them that resulted in the review.

The letter states:

“Dear USRowing Athlete:

The USOPC retained Arent Fox LLP (“Arent Fox”) to conduct an independent review and assessment to identify root factors contributing to feelings of distrust and concern expressed by certain segments of the athlete population and determine what is necessary within USRowing to maintain and/or create a healthy culture so that its elite athletes can have successful rowing careers while maintaining their physical and mental wellbeing.

“The USOPC has asked Arent Fox to identify specific athlete needs compared to the current practices of USRowing, and in that context to evaluate whether any USRowing practices are inconsistent with its general duties and obligations as a National Governing Body, as set forth in the USOPC Bylaws.

“This review is being conducted with the full support and participation of USRowing, and was prompted, in part, by USRowing’s request for assistance in responding to athlete concerns regarding athletes’ ability to obtain impartial responses to complaints involving USRowing personnel and practices.”

The letter said the areas of review will center around the Olympic team selection process, mental, and physical health resources, USRowing “resource allocation practices,” and USRowing’s high-performance policies and practices to “review whether elite athletes’ concerns are capable of being heard in a fair and neutral way, that does not contribute to a fear of retaliation.”

The letter stated that review will involve speaking on a confidential basis “with a wide selection of current and former USRowing elite athletes, select members of USRowing’s Board of Directors, USRowing athlete representatives, and select members of USRowing’s staff.

When finished the findings of the review will be presented in a confidential report for the “USOPC’s eyes only,” and will provide a “collective consensus of athlete needs relating to the topics listed,” and any compliance issues identified during the review.

“In addition,” the letter continues, “Arent Fox will make recommendations with respect to impediments (if any) that it concludes are or may be interfering with the maintenance or creation of a healthy and successful culture for elite athlete competitors.”

A separate report will be made available to USRowing, and a summary of the findings and “any corresponding recommendations will also be shared with the USRowing Community.”

According to the letter, all athletes interviewed will be identified by name to the USOPC “if the interviewee consents,” but no names will be revealed in the report to USRowing.

“For those who wish to remain anonymous in the USOPC report, efforts will be made to do so, including withholding names, dates of involvement with USRowing, position, gender and other background information,” the letter states.

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