Image: In this still image from video Olympic gold medallist swimmer Ryan Lochte of the U.S. gives an interview to Globo TV at their studios in New York City, August 20, 2016. Courtesy Globo TV via REUTERS
NEW YORK (Reuters) – American swimmer Ryan Lochte has been suspended for 10 months and will miss next year’s world championships for his part in a scandal involving the U.S. athlete and three other swimmers at the Rio Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee said on Thursday.
Lochte, who won gold in the 4×200 metres freestyle relay in Rio, will also forfeit bonus money from the Games, monthly funding he receives from USOC and USA Swimming and will not be allowed access to USOC training centres.
He will miss next year’s national championships and will therefore not be eligible for the world championships in July. He must perform 20 hours of community service and will miss Team USA’s post-Olympics trip to the White House.
Lochte, 32, admitted he “over-exaggerated” a tale about being robbed and held at gunpoint after a party during the Rio Olympics.
Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, James Feigen, Lochte’s swimming team mates who were involved in the incident, also received sanctions for violating the USOC’s code of conduct.
“As we have said previously, the behaviour of these athletes was not acceptable. It unfairly maligned our hosts and diverted attention away from the historic achievements of Team USA,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in a statement.
“Each of the athletes has accepted responsibility for his actions and accepted the appropriate sanctions.”
FINA, world swimming’s governing body, said in a statement that it was satisfied with the sanctions and would not seek additional bans.
“FINA considers the sanctions applied as proportionate, adequate and sufficient,” the organisation said.
“In light of these measures, FINA will not apply additional sanctions and will implement those now imposed on the swimmers at all FINA events.”
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, said in a statement: “We accept the decision as we believe it is in everyone’s best interest to move forward. Ryan is grateful to be a member of the U.S. Olympic team and USA Swimming.
“He recognises his lapse in judgement, and is looking forward to continuing his training, volunteer work with kids, and resuming his swimming career next year with an eye toward representing his country at the 2020 Olympic games in Japan.
“That said, in my opinion, while the collective sanctions appear to be harsh when considering what actually happened that day — Ryan did not commit a crime, he did not put the public safety at risk, and he did not cheat in his sport — we will leave it to others to evaluate the appropriateness of the penalties.”
Bentz, Conger and Feigen will be suspended from domestic and international USA swimming national team competitions for four months and will not receive monthly funding from USA Swimming or USOC during that period.
They will also have no access to training facilities and will not attend Team USA’s White House visit.
Bentz will also perform 10 hours of community service for violating a USA Swimming Olympic Village curfew placed on athletes under the age of 21.
In what became one of the biggest stories of the Rio Games, Brazilian authorities said the group of swimmers destroyed a bathroom and urinated in public, and have recommended that Lochte be charged with falsely reporting a crime.
Late last month, ABC television said Lochte was joining the cast of “Dancing With the Stars”, a competition in which celebrities are paired with professional ballroom dancers.
That announcement came as the gold medallist said he thought reaction to his Rio de Janeiro tale had been blown out of proportion.
“During an otherwise extraordinary Olympic Games, a small group of athletes had lapses in judgement and conduct that are unacceptable and not consistent with our expectations,” said USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus. “When Code of Conduct infractions occur, it’s our responsibility to take action that reflects the seriousness of what happened.
“Unfortunately, this storyline took attention away from the athletes who deserved it the most.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in New York and Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis and Andrew Both)
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