Former USA Gymnastics team doctor pleads guilty to abusing young athletes

USA Gymnastics has said it is "very sorry" that young athletes were abused by its former national team doctor Larry Nassar on the day he pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual assault.

Having already pleaded guilty to federal charges for possessing child pornography, Nassar told an Ingham County circuit judge in Michigan on Wednesday that he was also guilty of abusing seven victims during his time as a doctor and osteopath at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

The real number of his victims, however, could be far higher, as he also faces sexual assault charges in neighbouring Eaton County next week and is being sued by more than 140 girls and women for alleged abuse that goes back decades.

Dr Larry Nassar, 54, appears in court for a plea hearing.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Dr Larry Nassar, 54, appears in court for a plea hearing. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sentencing for the Ingham County charges will take place in January, the court confirmed to Press Association Sport, with sentencing for the federal child pornography charges scheduled for December.

The 54-year-old Nassar was involved with America's world-beating gymnastics programme from the 1980s until July 2015, when the sport's national governing body sacked him.

In a statement released to Press Association Sport, USA Gymnastics said it "is very sorry that any athlete was harmed by Larry Nassar".

It explained that it reported him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and fired him when it first "learned of athlete concerns" in 2015.

It added: "We note that affected women contacted by Michigan prosecutors supported resolution by plea, and USA Gymnastics also views Nassar's guilty plea as an important acknowledgement of his appalling and devious conduct that permits punishment without further victimisation of survivors."

Earlier on Wednesday, the governing body praised three-time Olympic champion Gabby Douglas for becoming the most recent high-profile gymnast to say she had been abused by Nassar.

The 21-year-old, who was a member of the so-called 'Fierce Five' which dominated at the London Olympics, made the announcement via a post on Instagram on Tuesday.

She wrote: "I didn't publicly share my experiences as well as many other things because for years we were conditioned to stay silent and honestly some things were very painful."

USA Gymnastics responded by saying it was now trying to "promote an environment of empowerment that encourages speaking up" and was "committed to further developing a culture that has safe sport as a top priority".

The organisation, however, has been strongly criticised for its handling of the affair this year, particularly when it did not send a representative to take part in a US Senate hearing on safeguarding in sport.

There was also an outcry against the pay-off its former president Steve Penny received when he quit following claims he had been slow to respond to complaints about Nassar.

Three of Nassar's accusers - including two he admitted assaulting - held a news conference after the hearing. They accused officials at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee of inadequately investigating reports of abuse, leading to more girls being molested.

"We have yet to hear the truth" from those institutions, said Rachael Denhollander.

"Officials who kept Larry in power for decades. Officials who ignored repeated reports of sexual assaults. Officials who brushed the victims off as unable to tell the difference between a medical exam and sexual violation."

Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee are all subject to lawsuits in the case.

There was no comment from MSU, USA Gymnastics or the US Olympic Committee.

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