Pool privilege revoked: Lochte to receive 10-month suspension
US swimmer Ryan Lochte's report of being robbed at gunpoint in Brazil, for which he has since apologized, appeared to fulfill Brazilians' fears that Olympic media would emphasize crime and corruption.
Ryan Lochte will be suspended from US swimming events for 10 months, the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming announced in a statement on Thursday.
The 12-time Olympic medalist, who claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint alongside teammates during the Rio games – a story Brazilian police soon cast doubt on – will also be barred from participating in the sport's 2017 world championship games in Budapest, Hungary, as well as the national championships, ABC reports. He must also perform 20 hours of community service.
Three swimmers with him during the incident will receive suspensions of four months. One of the young men, Gunnar Bentz, must also perform 10 hours of community service for violating a curfew for athletes under age 21.
"It's our responsibility to take action that reflects the seriousness of what happened," USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said in Thursday's statement. "Unfortunately, this storyline took attention away from the athletes who deserved it the most."
Lochte originally claimed that men with police badges had pointed a gun at his head and demanded money from the group. Brazilian police, citing inconsistent reports and lack of evidence, brought in several of the swimmers for questioning. After the release of security camera footage, which appeared to show the swimmers vandalizing a gas station, and security guards demanding payment for repairs, Lochte eventually apologized for "over-exaggerating" his account.
In August, Brazilian police charged the swimmer with making a false report. Lochte could be tried in absentia, and faces up to six months in prison, or a fee, though it is unlikely he would be extradited if convicted.
Brazilian authorities questioned teammates Jack Conger and Mr. Bentz, but have not pressed charges against them. Jimmy Feigen has paid nearly $11,000 to charity in order to settle the case. Each one has issued an apology.
For many Brazilians, Lochte's robbery story struck a nerve. The 2016 Summer Olympics were discussed as a chance to elevate Brazil's global status, but in the months leading up to the games, Rio's alleged corruption and pollution were a major focus of media attention.
In many Brazilians' view, that's exactly the image Lochte and teammates took advantage of when they initially fabricated the story, which appeared to confirm fears that crime would disrupt the Rio games – and made some wonder if the young men had assumed that relative privilege as foreign athletes could shelter them from the consequences of exaggerating the story.
The incident "has tapped into one of Brazilians' biggest pet peeves – gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it," Brian Winter, the vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, told The New York Times in August.
At times, attention to the swim team threatened to overwhelm the Rio games themselves. "Who wouldn't believe [Lochte] got mugged in Rio?" The Christian Science Monitor's Mark Sappenfield wrote in August soon after the story emerged:
And that is an Olympic story in itself. It is a reminder that the reality in host cities is usually never as dire or ideal as the portraits painted of them. Cities may seek to host the Olympics as the ultimate photo op, but the picture is inevitably a warped one.
Though Lochte's behavior was a sore spot for many Brazilian spectators, some may find a silver lining in the incident. After severing its relationship with the swimmer, Speedo USA pledged to donate a portion of Lochte’s sponsorship fee to benefit children in Brazil. The $50,000 donation will be given to global charity Save the Children.