"USA Gymnastics has the safety of our athletes as our top priority," Peter Vidmar, USA Gymnastics chairman said in a statement. "USA Gymnastics has continued down the path of strengthening our athlete registration policies, and we believe this is one step further in promoting a safe environment for our athletes."
Among the Register's findings was the case of Doug Boger, a former U.S. national team coach. Boger was permanently banned by USA Gymnastics in 2010 following a USAG investigation into allegations that he sexually and physically abused young female gymnasts at Pasadena club in the 1970s and 80s.
But more than a year after his ban, Boger continued to work with children at ArtSports World, a Colorado Springs gym owned by a convicted sex offender. While Boger was permanently banned from coaching at member gyms or participation in USA Gymnastics-sponsored events, he was able to continue coaching underage gymnasts at ArtSports World because the gym is not affiliated with USAG as a member club.
Despite its non-member status ArtSports World continued to play a prominent role in American gymnastics. Boger was fired in October after the Register investigation was published.
The Boger case, sports officials, former gymnasts and others said, illustrated the need for USA Gymnastics to tighten its rules to make it more difficult for coaches and employees banned for or convicted of sexual or physical abuse to stay in the sport at non-member clubs and businesses.
Under USAG's latest rule changes only member clubs and registered businesses with USAG will be able to apply for membership with USAG for athletes or enter teams in USAG sanctioned events. Athletes not affiliated with a member club or registered business will not be permitted to "wear any apparel that refers to a gym, coach, team, or other group which is not recognized as a member club or registered business of USA Gymnastics."
The new policy also states that USAG member clubs and registered businesses "agree to follow a number of policies, including implementing recommendations from the Participant Welfare Policy; certifying that no persons permanently ineligible for USA Gymnastics membership – which includes convicted sex offenders and/or persons on the permanently ineligible for membership list – are or will be associated with the club or its activities in any way during the club's membership period."
While the change was applauded by some former athletes who had been subjected to abuse, others maintain USA Gymnastics still hasn't gone far enough.
"I'd like to applaud USA Gymnastics for the recent amendments to the Athlete Participation Policies," said Julie Whitman, a former U.S. junior national team gymnast who told the Register and USAG officials that she was physically abused by Boger more than 20 years ago.
"Gymnastics clubs owned by convicted sex offenders or those who employ a "Permanently Ineligible Member" should not be granted the same privileges as a "Member Club" that ensures a safe and healthy environment. It's unfortunate that these policy changes came about because of pressure from former athletes and media attention."
Katherine Starr, founder of Safe4Athletes, a national advocacy organization dedicated to child athlete welfare, wants USAG to take an even stronger position toward gymnastics clubs, camps and businesses.
"These are strides forward but not enough," Starr said. "We can't recommend something like policies when they need to be mandated. If you told travelers that we recommend that you go through security, and there it is over there, would you feel safe traveling?"
The Karolyi camps, Starr and others said, are a glaring example of how even with the new rule changes coaches and clubs can still operate outside USAG's jurisdiction and safeguards.
The Karolyis, who have dominated American gymnastics for more than a quarter-century, will host five non-sanctioned five-day camps for young gymnasts this summer at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center on their rural Texas ranch, which has been designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee as a U.S. Olympic Training Site.
"These camps are not USA gymnastics sanctioned events as they are open to non-USA gym participants," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny told the Register.
After defecting in the 1980s from Romania where they coached Nadia Comaneci to Olympic glory, the Karolyis eventually settled in Texas, guiding 1984 Olympic all-around champion Mary Lou Retton. Bela Karolyi coached the U.S. women to the Olympic team title at the 1996 Games. Martha Karolyi, Bela's wife, has had control of the U.S. women's program since taking over as national team coordinator in 2001.
Martha Karolyi told the Register that the camps are not sanctioned because USAG rules do not require them to be registered with the organization.
But the camps' non-sanctioned status and the Karolyis' failure to register with USAG, former gymnasts and child sports advocates said, sets a poor and embarrassing example.
"A powerful coach that has proven success like Bela and Martha Karolyi, should be held to a higher standard of accountability, when it comes to welfare of athletes, with exemplary moral and ethical examples of excellence and not the other way round," said Starr.
The Karolyi camps are located on the family's remote ranch three miles down a gravel and red clay road into the Sam Houston National Forest, approximately 60 miles north of Houston. The 2012 U.S. women's Olympic team will train at the gym next month prior to the Olympic Games in London. This summer Bela Karolyi will direct five five-day camps from June 11 to July 21. "Bela and Martha Karolyi invite female gymnasts of all levels, 7 years and older, to be part of an action-packed, fun-filled summer!" reads an advertisement for "Karolyis Camp."
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