- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and head of the Senate Commerce Committee, is organizing a "blue-ribbon task force" aimed at reforming the troubled U.S. Olympic Committee.
The task force, whose members are likely be named within a few weeks, fulfills a pledge by McCain to impose federal oversight to the USOC's repeated ethical foibles, constant management turnover and Byzantine organizational structure. The USOC last weekend formed an internal group aimed at improving its governance, but those efforts have not satisfied Capitol Hill.
The Senate task force, likely to include no more than five or six people, will report back to McCain and the Commerce Committee by late summer with recommendations that quickly will turn into legislation or regulatory activity.
"Time is very critical with this," McCain said yesterday after the committee's second hearing on the USOC in two weeks. "We have the New York bid [for the 2012 Summer Olympics] that has suffered because of this. We have athletes who are not being properly served by any stretch. We will move swiftly and get at this."
McCain also will visit USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs in the next few weeks to investigate the organization's problems firsthand. He will be joined by Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican, and Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.
Campbell held out the possibility of revoking the USOC's federal charter, created through the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, if the reform efforts do not succeed.
"I don't want to do that, but [the USOC] definitely has a few less friends around [Congress] these days," Campbell said.
The USOC's latest troubles stem from ethics charges levied against chief executive Lloyd Ward for seeking to steer Olympic business contracts to an energy company controlled by his brother. Following a heated ethics inquiry, Ward was found to be in violation of the USOC's ethics code, lightly reprimanded and denied a $184,000 bonus. In the resulting fallout, USOC president Marty Mankamyer resigned, joining nearly a dozen other members who have quit amid the furor.
More broadly, however, the USOC's unwieldy 123-member board of directors, as well as an odd and layered leadership structure combining paid staff and volunteer executives, has produced many other embarrassing squabbles, four chief executives and three presidents since 2000.
"Clearly, the USOC has lost its way," said David D'Alessandro, chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, a major USOC sponsor. D'Alessandro has been a vocal critic of the USOC's recent activities, saying, "It fails to provide enough resources and opportunities to aspiring athletes, fails to be financially self-reliant, and fails to provide financial and ethical transparency."
D'Alessandro, who has paid more than $110million on behalf of John Hancock for Olympic sponsorship, yesterday lobbed particularly heavy assaults on the USOC for its bloated infrastructure costs and poor cash management.
Many USOC sponsorships call for significant value-in-kind compensation, such as use of cars, as opposed to straight cash. As a result, just a third of USOC income actually reaches athletes after also filtering through governing bodies for individual sports. D'Alessandro wants at least 85 percent of USOC funds to reach athletes.
"When we meet with the NFL, they say, 'Show me the money,'" D'Alessandro said. "When we meet with the USOC, it's more like, 'Show me the Jello.' It's ridiculous. You cannot train athletes with value-in-kind."
D'Alessandro, who has threatened to withdraw the sponsorship, is scheduled to receive a detailed accounting of committee finances today from the USOC.
McCain also said he will be leaning significantly on reform ideas offered by Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Fehr also is a public sector member of the USOC Board of Directors and served on a five-member task force four years ago that examined improprieties in Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Fehr's suggestions include whittling down the board of directors to perhaps one-fifth its current size, a much heavier representation of board membership from outside the USOC and a rigorous clarification of the organization's purpose and mission.
"I'm pleased this is being well-received," Fehr said. "Hopefully, we'll see some positive results soon. You want to move fast but not too fast. This [new] group can do its job in six months."
Meanwhile, Campbell continued his call for Ward to resign, not only because of the USOC ethical violations but also his membership at the all-male Augusta National Golf Club.
"If he really had the best interest of the athletes and the future of the Olympic team foremost, instead of his own interest, he would resign," Campbell said. "But I don't think he will leave, not on his own volition."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide