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USOPC to fund professional staff to help athletes council

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee struck a deal to provide $525,000 this year for its athletes council to hire professional staff to help the council's volunteer leaders navigate the thorny issues that surround the Olympic movement.

The USOPC also has rewritten its bylaws and reconfigured its internal operations in the wake of a series of sex-abuse cases that shined a spotlight on the shortcomings of federations in dealing with athlete safety and well-being.

The agreement comes after months of negotiations about what, exactly, the arrangement should look like. Athletes have been pushing for a more independent voice and were wary of the USOPC wielding too much control over a new operation.

The athlete chair, Han Xiao, said the USOPC commitment "has the potential to be an incredibly significant moment in the history of the organization."

Under the agreement, the staff would hire an executive director whose time wouldn't be split by training and competition, as is the case with the athletes who volunteer to serve on the council.

The USOPC portrayed the signing of the deal as another in a series of moves designed to advance athlete's rights.

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said the professionals "will enable athletes to more effectively advise our team on an increasingly diverse and complex set of issues and policies and ensure that athletes' needs and voices are well-represented."