December 22, 2014

Journalist Raises Questions About Succession of Olympic Ombuds

Freelance investigative reporter Irv Muchnick says that there are concerns about the retirement of longtime USOC Athlete Ombudsman, John Ruger, and the selection of his relacement, Kacie Wallace.  Writing on his blog, "Concussion Inc." (his current focus is on concussion crisis in sports), Muchnick offers some details about the Olympic Ombuds:
Some Olympic athletes say Ruger got the boot because he wasn’t advocating adequately for them. Others of our sources believe he performed decently in a conflicted job (with his salary paid by USOC even as he was being mandated to confront it under the Amateur Sports Act).

Regardless of how effective he was, there are dangling questions concerning Ruger’s sudden retirement this year, and whether his accompanying severance package was a “golden parachute” designed to keep him from speaking with full candor to federal investigators.

Now a new controversy has emerged – over the hiring process for Ruger’s successor, Kacie Wallace.

A group of dissident Olympic athletes ... has complained to the USOC that the Athletes’ Advisory Council (AAC) was not consulted in Wallace’s selection. The Sports Act specifies such consultation.
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Another point of contention is that the job description says the ombudsperson is tasked with advocating for “elite” athletes. The word “elite,” however, is not in the Sports Act. It’s easy to see how a truncated definition of the role could be used to argue that complaints of one sort or another are not in the ombudsperson’s jurisdiction.

And to get right down to it, it is especially easy to discern how, with the extra-statutory qualifier “elite,” a young, not-yet-elite athlete at the local club level who is, say, sexually abused, can be left without appropriate advocacy at the highest levels of the USOC.
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Contacted by email, assistant ombudsperson Sara Clark, who is running the office during the transition from Ruger to Wallace, told Concussion Inc., “The new athlete ombudsman has not started her employment yet. And I cannot comment” on our inquiry.
For now, the allegations have not been reported elsewhere.  (Concussion Inc.)

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