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US Olympic athletes considering forming a union
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US Olympic athletes considering forming a union

Professional sports union heavyweight attends Athletes' Advisory Council meeting with CEO

U.S. Olympic athletes are looking at forming a union. That's the takeaway from the most recent Athletes' Advisory Council meeting in Chicago, where a notoriously tenacious union boss sat in to council members during the discussion with leadership.

What are the details?

Across the room from newly hired U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland, sat Don Fehr, who — in his own words — has "spent 40 years representing elite athletes," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Fehr is currently the executive director of the NHL Players Association, and according to Slate, he earned a name for himself as "the man that won the battles that established the "[Major League Baseball Players Association's] dominion over the sport."

The presence of Fehr at the Olympians' meeting signals the athletes are poised to organize in their efforts to achieve higher leverage and earning potential from an organization that has been plagued by scandal and mismanagement.

Han Xiao, chairman of the Athletes' Advisory Council and table tennis player, told the Journal, "Just having [Fehr] here, it lends a different level of credibility. It recognizes that [athlete] leadership is serious."

Former Olympian Norm Bellingham added, "It feels almost like there's an Arab Spring taking place. Waiting for the people in power to implement appropriate changes is something athletes are less and less willing to tolerate."

Last year, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins called for the Olympic Committee to be dismantled altogether, saying it was bilking athletes who typically work full-time jobs in addition to their training.

Jenkins pointed to the fact that one executive made $1 million in 2016, while the women's hockey team members — who have medaled in every Olympics since 1998 — were each paid $6,000 for a four-year cycle. (Players were eventually granted a raise after protesting.)

Critics have also noted that when American Olympians are able to medal in events for their country, their payouts are a pittance compared to athletes representing other nations.

How did the Olympic Committee respond?

At the Athletes Advisory Council meeting, Hirshland summed up the message she got from athletes as, "'You take us, you use us and when you're done with us, you spit us out,'" promising them, "We will fix that."

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