- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

A key Senate panel blasted the U.S. Olympic Committee yesterday over its ongoing management crisis and ethics charges.

But rather than simply lob verbal attacks, Congress now will get involved in an organization it has made a point of not directly funding and will seek to implement new rules and oversight for the troubled USOC.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, announced future Congressional hearings to outline the pending federal involvement.

"Scandals seems to follow the USOC like dogs following a meat wagon," said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, during a hearing of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, which McCain chairs. "It's like there's an ethical blind spot [at USOC headquarters]."

USOC chief executive Lloyd Ward and president Marty Mankamyer, the key figures in the committee's bitter and unresolved leadership battle, received stern rebukes from the Senate panel. And the committee did nothing to dissuade the heated criticism as USOC leaders fired off frequent verbal attacks and conflicting accusations at each other during the 2½-hour hearing.

"It is my conclusion that Lloyd Ward misused his position as chief executive officer of the USOC to facilitate potential financial gain for his brother and/or his friend," said Patrick Rodgers, who recently resigned as the USOC's chief ethics compliance officer. Ward angrily denied the charges and in turn accused Rodgers, sitting just a few feet away, of "stepping over the line" and defaming him.

Mankamyer later complained of a "mob mentality" at the USOC.

Though long a troubled organization, the USOC's latest problems began in earnest two weeks ago when Ward was accused of improperly routing business contracts stemming from the Pan American Games to a company controlled by his brother. The USOC has stringent conflict of interest prohibitions in its written code of conduct.

Following an ethics probe and meeting of the USOC's executive board, Ward was found to be negligent in not making full disclosure of his activities with and relationship to his brother's company. But Ward was not fired and only will receive a reduction in salary at an undetermined future date a move many both inside and outside of Congress interpret as not even a token punishment.

Five committee members involved in the Ward probe then quit in protest, as well as Rodgers. Mankamyer twice was asked to resign by all five USOC vice presidents, and then by Ward, who accused her of "disparagement and character assassination." Mankamyer has refused to quit.

Beyond the current crisis with Ward and the ethics probe, the USOC also suffers from deep, systemic problems in its leadership structure. Mankamyer, a 19-year veteran of the Olympic movement, serves as a volunteer in her post. Ward, a relative newcomer to Olympic work, is the paid chief executive, and the persons in those two roles have long clashed for power and control on many issues. Both positions have been revolving doors in recent years. The organization also is bogged down by a 123-member board of directors.

Several key USOC sponsors, including John Hancock Financial Services, are now calling for detailed accountings of committee finances and immediate reform to its leadership woes.

"The USOC is dysfunctional as an institution. It has lost sight of its principle function, which is to serve the athlete," said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican. "What is currently happening is not acceptable to any of us."

Ward, Mankamyer and other USOC officials openly welcomed the prospect of federal intervention into their headline-generating problems.

"The USOC has a culture of 'I gotcha' rather than one of teamwork," Ward said.

The U.S. government, and particularly the Senate commerce panel, has jurisdiction over the USOC through the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which in turn helped create the USOC.

Resigning executives continued to be a hot topic yesterday. Ward, in his written testimony, said he was offered a substantial financial package to resign, which he refused. But he then said during questioning that he would resign if asked to by the USOC's executive committee. Mankamyer denied any knowledge of a buyout offer tendered to Ward.

"If the executive committee and board of directors calls for my resignation, I will step down. That should be true for President Mankamyer as well," Ward said.

The Senate committee on commerce, finance and transportation is the same one that three years ago grilled then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch on the bribery scandal stemming from Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The panel's harsh treatment of Samaranch then was cited by the USOC as a factor eliminating Washington and Baltimore from consideration for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The Senate panel also delivered strong criticism to Ward over his membership at the all-male Augusta National Golf Club. The USOC, by written policy, is committed to full equality in sports, and many see membership in the two organizations as contradictory.

"I wouldn't belong to any group with exclusionary policies," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican and a former Olympian. "I don't know what kind of example you are setting."

Ward responded by saying, as he did last year, that he is trying to change Augusta's membership policies from inside and that he remains proud of his membership there.

"My sensibility is to take the responsibility to try to open the door wider for those that would follow, and that is why I am still a member of Augusta," he said.

USOC counsel Fred Fielding, a lead figure in the Ward ethics probe, did not testify as invited yesterday, and McCain said a subpoena would be sent out to compel Fielding to appear.

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