USA Gymnastics Pulls Partial Funding for the 2023 FISU University Games
Updated: Aug 7
On May 6, 2023, USA Gymnastics announced the five-man roster for the 2023 FISU World University Games – Landen Blixt, Taylor Christopulos, Josh Karnes, Fred Richard, and Ian Skirkey. Just under two months later, their ability to compete in China was put in jeopardy.
According to four sources, USA Gymnastics pulled funding from the 2023 FISU University Games with less than a month's notice. Neutral Deductions reached out to USA Gymnastics for comment; this was their response.
"USA Gymnastics planned and budgeted for a men’s delegation to the Chengdu World University Games in 2021, which was later rescheduled to 2022 and then again to 2023. Several countries and/or U.S. NGBs are not sending delegations.
Airfare to Chengdu in 2023 has been an [at] exorbitant levels ($10k+ for economy seats at times) and far beyond budget capacity and accepted norms for NGB airfare spend [ing]. By July 1, airfare had not come down to rates that would make it feasible to send a full men’s delegation. Therefore, on July 3, the USAG Men’s Program communicated to athletes that it could cover hotel and on-site costs in Chengdu but could not cover airfare. Athletes could still choose to compete in Chengdu (paying their airfare individually) or could switch to the Core US Classic if they sought a more affordable competitive opportunity."
The timing of this decision left athletes and coaches scrambling to find funding for flights from their respective athletic departments just three weeks before they were scheduled to depart. Some institutions were able to provide funding and some were not, meaning that some athletes and coaches had to self-pay.
In a time where many seek black and white, it can be hard to see the growth of a program that has a history of athletes feeling "tossed aside." It is easy to point to the budgetary limitations USA Gymnastics is still facing in the wake of scandal, bankruptcy, and the COVID-19 pandemic and add it to the organization's long list of systemic problems.
However, while those affected communicated their disappointment in USA Gymnastics' decision to withdraw funds at such short notice, they also spoke of the changing culture and the increased opportunities provided. They feel the program is, as a whole, moving in a positive direction.
Ironically, the attempt to increase opportunities for athletes may in fact be what led to this problem in the first place. According to two sources, USA Gymnastics' employees cited the large roster for the US Classic, and consequently the last-minute need to rent the NOW Arena for Sunday's competition as the reason funding was pulled.
Registration for the US Classic was left wide open when the stardards for competing were: "Any USA Gymnastics athlete member 18 years of age or older (must be 18 in 2023) may enter the U.S. Classic with the intent of qualifying to the Senior Division at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships." According to USA Gymnastics, a record-breaking 170+ male athletes registered for the event. Therefore, USA Gymnastics had to unexpectedly rent the venue for another day of competition, and according to sources, the funding for the venue had to come from somewhere. That somewhere was allegedly the flight budget for the FISU World University Games.
It's unfortunate that this open format may have been the reason the five athletes selected for the World University Games were left to make a difficult decision between self-paying or not being able to compete in China.
Regardless of the reason(s) partial funding was pulled, all five athletes and two coaches found a way to move foward and represent Team USA in China. More than anything, those affected by USA Gymnastics' decision wanted to communicate that the true story here was not in the failure of USA Gymnastics to provide flights for their athletes, but rather the resilience of the gymnasts competing in China this week.
Despite the setback and added stress during the last-minute preparation for the Games, the athletes have posted about the amazing experience each of them fought so hard to have. Since their arrival, they had the opportunity to workout in the home gym of Olympic Champion Zou Jingyuan and marched in the opening ceremony (something that has not always been a given at major events). And in the coming days, the athletes will have the opportunity to use their resilience and fight for a spot on the podium.
Gymnastics competitions begin Tuesday, August 1. Information on how to follow the event can be found here.
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Article by: Kensley Behel