Just days before the U.S. gymnastics team made their debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics, a newly released investigation by the Indianapolis Star reported that USA Gymnastics failed to report multiple counts of sexual abuse over several years, leading at least 14 gymnasts to be abused while the coaches were allowed to continue working.
USA Gymnastics, which oversees gymnastics programs of all levels, routinely failed to inform law enforcement after receiving numerous complaints of sexual abuse, saying that they were not obligated to report hearsay or third party allegations, and that they were not bound by mandatory reporting laws because USA Gymnastics is an institution, not an individual.
The investigation lists four instances in which gymnastics officials did not alert law enforcement after receiving reports of abuse. The same four coaches went on to abuse at least 14 underage gymnasts, according to the Star.
William McCabe, a former coach who is currently serving a 30 year prison sentence, was allowed to continue coaching despite four complaints filed against him. He was only caught when one gymnast’s mother discovered explicit emails to her daughter and alerted the FBI, who found that the emails were from McCabe posing as another gymnast.
Two federation officials cited a policy of only reporting abuse to authorities if they had a signed complaint from either the victim or the victim’s parent. This seemingly goes against state law in Indiana, where USA Gymnastics is headquartered, which requires “staff members in a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility, or agency” who know of suspected child abuse to report it.
USA Gymnastics officials released a statement to the Star claiming the organization “seeks first-hand knowledge whenever allegations of abuse arise as the most reliable source to take action.”
The investigation was published Thursday, leaving many elite gymnasts and coaches frustrated and confused just before the U.S. team began competing in Rio.
“We have concerns but we are here to do the best we can. It’s a distraction and I don’t understand why [it came out] now,” Mihai Brestyan, the U.S. women’s Olympic team assistant coach, told TIME.
Despite the joy and excitement that still surrounds the Olympics, a dark cloud now hangs above U.S. gymnastics and we’re left with hundreds of unanswered questions and a stain on the history of the sport. While the Star almost certainly released this report right before the games as a way to attract more attention, this is the kind of story that deserves that—Sexual abuse isn’t a “distraction,” it’s a serious crime that USA Gymnastics should be working hard to eradicate for the sake of all their athletes.