Eagle Alum Irene Gardner elected to USOC Athlete Advisory Council

Irene Gardner, an Eagle Alumni, was recently elected to be the USA Rugby representative for the United States Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council - an important role aimed at communicating the interests and protecting the rights of athletes. Eagle Alum, Shalom Suniula, acts as an alternate to the role as well.

According to the Athletes' Advisory Council (AAC) website, the council is responsible for broadening communication between the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and active athletes and serves as a source of input and advice to the USOC board of directors. Each National Governing Body (NGB) has one representative and one alternate. These individuals are voted on by current athletes within their respective NGB.

"The goal of mine and Shalom's role, is to understand what USOC resources are available and what policies have been developed or changed then communicate those with our athletes - specifically the 7s side," Gardner said.

Beyond communicating resources like educational opportunities, medical insurance, and post-athlete assistance, Gardner's role is intended to be a liaison within the USOC where current athletes can bring any concerns, questions or grievances related to their experience as an athlete.

"It is helpful for the athletes to know that they have support and someone who can help them when concerns or issues arise. It is important to note that my role is not as a representative of USA Rugby - I am a representative of the USOC on the athlete's behalf. My role is purposefully placed like this so that the athletes can reach out without fear, knowing that their concerns are confidential."

USOC AAC reps meet throughout the year to identify what needs to be communicated directly to the athletes, which is in addition to being available to current Olympic athletes who have questions.

"If an athlete had questions or issues with things like selection procedure or anti-doping procedures or any questions related to the bylaws at USA Rugby or USOC, I am here to help. It is my role is to answer those concerns and link the athlete with the appropriate resources to address those questions."

"In the event that an issue goes beyond general concerns then I will connect them to the USOC Ombudsman office."  The Athlete Ombudsman office offers a cost-free, confidential service to the athletes if the athletes need to file a grievance.

The term limits of a USOC AAC reps run Olympic year to Olympic year. In Irene's case, she took over for Emily Azevedo, who was halfway through her term as the USA Rugby rep with the AAC. Azevedo transitioned from this role to peruse an opportunity within the USOC Ombudsmen office. Gardner will fulfill this term limit and be available for reelection come 2020.

Gardner expressed her delight to carry on a role with the Eagles as an Eagle Alumni. "It is important that when athletes finish their role as an Eagle that they remain involved in some capacity to help contribute to the development of the game. With this role, I found a space that I can do just that" Gardner concluded.

At USA Rugby we value our athlete's experience and wellness. Therefore, we encourage any athletes to contact Gardner or Suniula with any concerns or questions.