U.S. Olympic body picks new female CEO months after sex abuse scandal

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) named a top woman golf executive as its new CEO on Thursday, months after its former head quit for medical reasons following a sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Sarah Hirshland, currently the chief commercial officer for the U.S. Golf Association, will be the first woman to serve as a permanent CEO of USOC. She takes over from Susanne Lyons, who has been acting CEO since Scott Blackmun resigned in February due to health issues related to prostate cancer.

The sex scandal also prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics, the sport's U.S. governing body, to resign, along with the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.

Hirshland told journalists on a conference call that she was motivated by the challenge created by the scandal. People have criticized the USOC for not heeding women's complaints about Nassar years before the scandal became widely public.

"As a female leader in the world of sports, I understand the importance of creating cultural change and I understand the importance of creating an environment in which athletes can be successful in their personal and professional lives, and I understand what it takes to get there," Hirshland said.

Besides Lyons, Stephanie Streeter also served as acting CEO for the USOC in 2009, according to the committee.

Nassar last year pleaded guilty to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment in incidents dating back to the 1990s and was sentenced to life in prison. The scandal sparked widespread condemnation.

Authorities said Nassar victimized more than 260 women and girls, including several Olympic gold medalists. Nearly 200 of them gave often emotional testimonies during sentencing hearings in Michigan earlier this year.

Lyons said on Thursday that due to pending litigation, victims' attorneys prevented the committee from including their clients in the CEO search process.

"We hope that some of the victims will choose to speak to us on their own but we were not able to do that directly," Lyons said on the conference call with Hirshland.

John Manly, an attorney who represents a number of Nassar victims, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

USA Gymnastics is expected to have a new permanent board in place this month.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Susan Thomas)

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