The Borders Report, spearheaded by former WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders and released last summer, included a detailed road map for the USOPC to make athletes the top priority after years of adhering to what was described as a “money for medals” philosophy.
The report listed 39 steps that needed to be taken, many of which would lead to increased athlete representation across the U.S. Olympic team and increased oversight over the sports organizations that fall under the USOPC umbrella. The Borders group said the USOPC was well on its way to implementing 34 of the recommendations, and at least part of the way on the other five.
“People can forget the Borders Commission and the year it was written, but what they can't forget is that athletes should be at the heart of all this,” Borders told The Associated Press in giving a positive review of the work done.
The USOPC's way of doing business came under an increasingly harsh spotlight in the wake of sex-abuse scandals involving gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and others. It led to a number of independent reviews of the federation, capped off by the one headed by Borders and nine others on the commission.
While the USOPC has pushed forward with changes — including trying to direct more money and resources toward athlete training, mental health and benefits — Congress has been moving ahead with legislation that would incorporate many of the same changes while updating the law governing the USOPC.
The two efforts are largely moving along parallel tracks, though the congressional bill has some features, including giving lawmakers the ability to remove the entire USOPC board, that go beyond any suggestion from the Borders Report.
“We are supportive of the bill and prepared to implement the elements that haven't already been implemented through our own governance reforms,” CEO Sarah Hirshland said. The calls for reform have been loud and come from many corners. But the details of actually reforming the 125-year-old federation — a heavily balkanized, highly political organization responsible for thousands of athletes — is detail-oriented work that realistically could take years.
“There's been progress on the bylaw and policy type stuff — increased athlete representation, a broader spectrum of athlete representation,” said Han Xiao, chairman of the USOPC athletes group. “Now that the platform is there, the question is, how do we end up using it? That's going to be the key."
The COVID-19 pandemic and the racial protests brought about by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have slowed some progress and changed the focus of some athletes. The USOPC is attempting to put together an athletes' group to give feedback on racial inequality issues; a top priority there would be pushing for a revamp of the IOC Rule 50 that bars protests on the medals stand.
That effort has been slow-going, and any plans for funding increases has been hampered by the postponement of the Tokyo Games, which have had broad impact on budgets across the U.S. Olympic team. For instance, the USOPC eliminated 51 positions earlier this year in an attempt to cut spending by 20%.
The Borders report card acknowledged the new challenges but didn't dismiss what had already been accomplished. “I give them a lot of credit,” Borders said. “It's hard for folks to admit they need help. The USOPC not only admitted they needed help, they solicited help, they took help, they embraced it and endorsed it and enabled it. That's huge. Is it perfect? No. But hugely on track? Yes.”