USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland reflected on the coronavirus pandemic's impact ©USOPC

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic, safe sport, social justice and athlete empowerment were among the themes explored by United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) leadership as the organisation began its virtual General Assembly.

USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland highlighted the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which had forced the event to be held online.

She referenced the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 and the financial impact on the organisation, national governing bodies (NGBs) and athletes.

The USOPC eliminated 51 staff positions back in May as part of cost cutting measures, which were introduced to help trim up to 20 per cent from its budget to make up for shortfalls.

"We can never overstate the impact we have suffered through the cancellation of events, the reduction of jobs that impacted our colleagues and friends, and the elimination of programs built to advance sport," Hirshland said.

"But we must remember that the decisions we made were disciplined and thoughtful, and made only so that we could fulfill our promise to the athletes of today and tomorrow.

"Our national sport organisations, while faced with their own untenable revenue loss, have stepped in to help their clubs and membership so that local and grassroots sport development can continue.

"And as our Team USA athletes' earning opportunities vanished, many organisations jumped in to help.

"International Federations, NGBs [national governing bodies] and the USOPC all rose to the occasion.

"And this is just the start, because, simply put, we need to find more ways to expand in order to support and drive all the aspirations we have for sport in this country.

"We need to channel our energy into discovering and implementing new ideas, and collectively finding ways to grow the pie - to infuse more money into the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

"And then, importantly, we need to be efficient, transparent and purposeful with our investments.

"We’ve made progress in this area as demonstrated in our most recent impact report and sport benefit statements, but now we need to adopt this as a new way of operating."

The USOPC leadership highlighted a report published by the Borders Commission, established in the wake of a series of sexual abuse scandals in US sport, which said the organisation was well on its way to implementing 34 of the recommendations it made in a damning report last July.

Last year's report was largely a roadmap for the under-fire USOPC to ensure athletes are the top priority after the Commission outlined what it described as a "money for medals" philosophy.

Overhauling the structure of the Board to increase athlete representation and changing the general culture of the organisation were among the recommendations made by the Borders Commission.

USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said the Borders Commission found the organisation had completed many of its recommendations, and that the progress showed the USOPC was serious about "listening, engaging and integrating athlete perspective when decisions are made."

The Larry Nassar scandal triggered a host of independent reviews of the USOPC, including the one carried out by the Borders Commission.

The US House of Representatives last week passed the "Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020", aimed at giving Congressional oversight of the US Olympic and Paralympic Movements.

The Bill, which will now be sent to US President Donald Trump for signature before October 13, also means Congress can decertify national governing bodies in the country if they fail to adhere to the Act.

Although mainly focused on protecting athletes in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics, the Bill has already caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee, which strictly prohibits Government interference in its National Olympic Committees.

The USOPC had initially expressed concern over the consequences for the organisation and the country's athletes if it were to come into law, but has since offered support to the legislation.

"The Bill ensures that the governance structure of Olympic and Paralympic sports in the United States will receive renewed oversight aimed at protecting young athletes from abuse," Lyons said.

"It also calls for an oversight commission charged with a top-to-bottom examination of the USOPC and the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, aims to increase athlete representation in governing bodies, and calls for more funding and independence for the US Center for SafeSport.

"We welcome additional collaboration with the commission in an effort to look more broadly at the US Olympic and Paralympic Movements - specifically what steps can be taken to consider its longevity and health for years to come as we serve not only current but future Team USA athletes.

"We worked with the Bill sponsors to address concerns, give input, and help ensure that actions recommended and entered into the legislation would serve the intended purpose.

"We are satisfied with the collaborative process, and we support this legislation.

"But we did not wait for the Bill to pass to begin our reforms, and we have already implemented many of the changes contemplated in the Bill."

John Carlos is among the members of the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice ©Getty Images
John Carlos is among the members of the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice ©Getty Images

The Bill may see the formation of a 16-member commission on the State of the US Olympics and Paralympics in the near future.

It also requires the USOPC to give the US Center for SafeSport $20 million (£15.5 million/€17 million) in annual funding to do its work more effectively.

The act establishes safeguards designed to protect amateur athletes from abuse from coaches and other officials within Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Lyons added that no measure of progress would be complete without mentioning the ongoing mediation with the Nassar victim and survivor community.

She said the USOPC remained "steadfast in our resolve to reach a fair and equitable settlement with the survivor groups", adding that the organisation regrets “that the process has gone on this long, and that the complexities of this type of mediation have delayed resolution for the athletes and their families.”

The USOPC officials also vowed to work with international colleagues on topics such as anti-doping, athlete compensation through Rule 40 and athlete demonstration through Rule 50.

The latter has been a source of debate in recent months following sport’s show of support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hirshland highlighted the USOPC’s establishment of the Council on Racial and Social Justice, which is expected to define the next steps by early 2021.

"Together, we committed to take a stand to fight racism within sport and our country.

"We assembled the Council on Racial and Social Justice, bringing together athletes from across our sport community, leaders from our organizations and outside experts, to help engage and encourage, and importantly, define outcomes and next steps by early 2021.

"This is an example of our community listening, recognizing frustration and honouring pleas for understanding and support.

"This important work will have a lasting impact, and we are grateful to all who raised their hand to identify solutions and recommendations for change.

"I am proud of Team USA for taking a big first step toward being true advocates for social justice.

"The leadership we have seen demonstrates the strength of our diversity and reflects the very best of our collective impact."