California court says USA Taekwondo must protect athletes after L.A. sexual abuse case

David Wharton
·2 min read
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2015, file photo, provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows former Olympics taekwondo coach Marc Gitelman. The California Supreme Court will rule Thursday, April 1, 2021, in a case about whether the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has a legal duty to protect to protect athletes from sexual and other types of abuse. The case is related to a lawsuit in which three aspiring Olympic female taekwondo athletes who were sexually abused by their coach for years sued the coach, the USOPC and USA Taekwondo. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)
Former Olympics taekwondo coach Marc Gitelman sexually abused three aspiring female athletes. (Associated Press)

The California Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday that pressures Olympic organizations to do more when it comes to protecting young athletes from sexual abuse by coaches.

The ruling, in response to a Los Angeles lawsuit, stated USA Taekwondo can be held liable for the actions of a coach who abused three female athletes when they were minors. The national governing body, or NGB, is among dozens of organizations that oversee amateur sports and register coaches who work for private club teams.

“NGBs can no longer ‘turn a blind eye’ and blame small clubs,” said Robert Allard, an attorney for the women. He added that because of the ruling, “Minor athletes in the Olympic movement are better protected now than they were in the past.”

Other NGBs such as USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics, with the Larry Nasser scandal, have been hit with incidents of widespread abuse in recent years.

In many cases, victims have sought to hold the U.S Olympic & Paralympic Committee responsible because it serves as an umbrella organization, monitoring and funding NGBs. While the California case establishes legal precedent in such cases, it stopped short of blaming the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which, as an umbrella organization, monitors and helps fund the NGBs.

“While this is a significant finding, and sets a standard for other cases, we are committed to playing an important role in leading the Olympic and Paralympic community in better protecting athletes, and preventing and addressing abuse wherever it may occur,” the USOPC said in a statement.

In 2017, the taekwondo athletes won a $60-million judgment against coach Marc Gitelman, who was convicted of child sex abuse. Though finding in the athletes' favor, the trial court threw out claims against USA Taekwondo and the USOPC.

The state Supreme Court upheld a lower appellate decision that revived the claims against USA Taekwondo, writing that the NGB had a “special relationship” with Gitelman because it registered him and was, therefore, in position to control his actions.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.