By Ken Reed

A report from the Commission On the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics was released last week. The report, titled “Passing the Torch: Modernizing Olympic, Paralympic & Grassroots Sports In America” had several recommendations. Probably, the most noteworthy recommendation was the following:
Congress should allow USOPC to focus on high performance athletes and create a new federal office to coordinate and develop youth and grassroots sports.
That is a significant recommendation and one that would significantly change youth sports in the United States if it is fully implemented. Today, each sport’s governing body is charged with the development of its sport from the youth level to the Olympic level. However, the reality is the governing bodies focus almost solely on the elite level and ignore the grassroots level.

According to the report:
“It is time for Congress to accept that, while we will never have a ‘ministry of sport’ model in this country, the federal government has more of a role to play in ensuring safety, equity, accessibility, and accountability in sports than it has so far acknowledged and accepted.”

The Commission’s proposed solution is to separate the millions of youth sports athletes from the few thousand athletes training for the Olympics. The commissioners propose creating a new Office of Sports and Fitness under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate youth sports, run a competitive grant program, and monitor participation.

The Commission laments the fact that youth sports have become more and more a pay-to-play situation for young athletes and their families. To address that issue the report recommends that Congress make families’ youth sports costs, such as program fees, equipment and travel expenses, tax-deductible. In addition, the report recommends letting people use pre-tax monies in health-savings accounts and flexible-spending accounts to pay for them.

The report also suggests that an Office of Sports and Fitness should have a goal of improving coaching culture via tax breaks that could create access to “education about what a healthy athlete-coach-parent/guardian relationship can and should look like.”

Here’s hoping this isn’t just another report that gathers dust on shelves. As a society, we must rise to the challenge of financing these recommendations so they can be fully implemented.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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