WASHINGTON, D.C. — Olympic athletes dedicate their lives to compete against the best in the world, and they should never feel threatened by a member of their own team. But that is precisely what happened for the U.S. fencing team, who were forced to stand beside a teammate with a long history of aggressive behavior, including multiple accusations of sexual assault.
Despite being suspended from international competition by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the agency charged with protecting athletes from abuse, Olympic fencing alternate Alen Hadzic reclaimed a coveted spot on the team through legal arbitration. To be clear, Hadzic wasn’t cleared of any wrongdoing from the ongoing investigation triggered by at least three formal reports of sexual assault. In fact, he was banned from the Olympic Village just so his teammates could feel safe.
Athletes who require “safety plans” to prevent them from engaging with other athletes should not be allowed at the Olympics. Athletes whose misconduct is so egregious that it provokes their teammates to submit letters expressing that they fear others’ safety should not be at the Olympics.
Things were supposed to change after the spotlighted trauma Larry Nassar inflicted upon hundreds of athletes for decades. But the fact that Hadzic represents the United States in Tokyo is proof that our systems continue to fail athletes and enables and protects violent predators from being held accountable for their actions.
NOW calls on SafeSport, national governing bodies like the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to work together, to prioritize survivors and the safety of athletes, and to establish a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach at identifying, reporting, and preventing discrimination, harassment, and abuse. We can no longer enable misconduct by dismissing athlete’s concerns.