A group of GOP lawmakers is threatening to dissolve and replace the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees (USOPC) board of directors if its leadership does not take disciplinary action against athletes who partake in “anti-American” protests.
In a letter sent to USOPC Board of Directors Chair Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland on Thursday, the lawmakers — led by Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks (R-Ind.) — said they have “serious concerns about radical, anti-American statements” recently made by certain Olympic athletes.
The group argued that similar actions would represent the country poorly on the world stage as athletes prepare to compete in Tokyo later this month.
The group cited transgender BMX Freestyle rider Chelsea Wolfe — who said in a since-deleted 2020 Facebook post that she would like to win “so I can burn a US flag on the podium” due to the Trump administration’s position on transgender girls in sports — comments as an instance they feel is problematic.
They also pointed to Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry turning her back to the flag during trials in June as an action they feel warrants disciplinary action.
“In March, Chelsea Wolfe, who qualified to represent the U.S. as an alternate in 2021, pledged to ‘burn a US flag on the podium’ if she pulls off an upset and places in the games. In late June, at the women’s U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials, third-place finisher Gwen Berry turned away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem,” they wrote.
“She later explained she believes that the national anthem is ‘disrespectful’ and pledged to ‘not stand or acknowledge’ it. Such anti-American statements divide the U.S. domestically and embarrass us abroad.”
The lawmakers noted the International Olympic Committee’s rule barring athletes from partaking in political demonstrations in the Olympic Village and other game venues.
“Fortunately, Article 50 of the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter prohibits ‘demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda’ from ‘any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,’” they continued.
“We are asking the USOPC to enforce IOC rules. And we are writing to remind you that Congress has broad authority, under 134 STAT. 943, over the USOPC.”
“The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, enacted in October 2020, gives Congress the power, through a joint resolution, to dissolve the USOPC Board of Directors, terminate recognition of the USOPC as a national governing body of the U.S. Olympic teams, and replace the dissolved committee with a governing body that can adequately represent America and its athletes on the world stage,” they wrote.
The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice, with the backing of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the Athletes’ Advisory Council released recommendations in December calling for a rule change to allow for peaceful protests at the games without athletes being sanctioned.
But Olympic organizers have long pushed to keep the games apolitical, with the International Olympic Committee calling for the focus of the games to “remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony,”
While Republicans do not currently hold the majority in Congress, the threat to dissolve the board could become a reality should they take back both chambers in 2022. The lawmakers said they will not hesitate to move forward with a joint resolution should they not enforce rule 50.
“If the USOPC continues to fail to discipline athletes who dishonor the United States and our flag, as required by its own charter, we would support a Joint Resolution to dissolve the USOPC’s Board of Governors and find a replacement governing body for the U.S. Olympic team,” the group wrote.
“Americans deserve an Olympic Committee that is patriotic and that shares their values. If the USOPC is unable or unwilling to defend America from slander, it should be replaced by a more capable committee.”
In addition to Banks, GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Buddy Cater (Ga.), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Mike Garcia (Calif.), Yvette Herrell (N.M.), Ronny Jackson (Texas), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Greg Murphy (N.C.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Burgess Owens (Fla.) and Randy Weber (Texas) signed onto the letter.
Their efforts come in the wake of freshman Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) expressing concerns over athlete’s representing the country criticizing the United States in a letter sent to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees earlier this month.