Sports organizations increase funding to $2 million for SafeSport center

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- American Olympic sports organizations voted Friday to add nearly $1 million in funding for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nearly 25 percent increase for the 18-month-old organization that is still struggling to find funding and hire staff.

The 50 national governing bodies (NGBs) will now give approximately $2 million a year to the center, which is operating on a budget of $4.3 million, more than $3 million of which comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The SafeSport center now has 24 full-time employees with plans to reach 50 by next fall. It has come under criticism for not processing cases quickly enough.

CEO Shellie Pfohl said funding remains an issue, and also that the center has faced challenges in hiring investigators with backgrounds in looking into sex-abuse cases.

"It's taking us a little extra time to find the right people with the right skill sets," she said.

When the SafeSport center opened in March 2017, it received 20 to 30 calls a month. Since the onset of the #MeToo movement and the gymnastics sexual assault case involving Larry Nassar, that has increased to about 20 to 30 calls per week.

At a congressional hearing earlier this year, USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said his federation contributed only $43,000 to the center but could provide more resources. Under the new formula, the 11 largest NGBs will give .25 percent of their revenue, with a cap of $90,000.

"It was definitely the feeling of the NGBs that they should play a larger role in supporting the center," NGB Council chair Max Cobb said.

The SafeSport center has also applied for a $2.5 million government grant and expects to find out whether it receives that by the end of the month.

Sex abuse in Olympic sports has been a front-and-center topic at this week's U.S. Olympic Assembly, where Sarah Hirshland delivered her first remarks as the CEO, and set the stage for what she says will be a more athlete-focused organization.

Among her first big initiatives will be to centralize the sprawling category of "athlete services" -- everything from funding to training to reporting abuse cases -- into one place for athletes, instead of having them sprawl across departments at individual NGBs and the USOC.

"In a lot of cases, we heard athletes didn't feel we had their back," said Susanne Lyons, who served as interim CEO and will become USOC chair next year. "This way, it will be [one] call and we can send athletes to the right place."

In other Olympics news Friday:

• The USOC board voted to pay equal medal bonuses to Paralympians as it has been paying to Olympians, a move that will be made retroactive to the Pyeongchang Olympics. Athletes receive $37,500 for gold medals, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze. U.S. Paralympians won 36 medals in South Korea and will take in more than $1.2 million in bonuses.

• Lyons said the independent report detailing the way the USOC handled sex-abuse allegations is being delayed because investigators are having trouble getting information from victims.

• Chairman Larry Probst said the USOC's "litigation strategy has not changed," in regard to the federation's attempt to be removed as a defendant in a number of lawsuits stemming from the Nassar case. Lyons took heavy criticism at a congressional hearing after the USOC filed the motions.