Thursday, June 26, 2003

Olympic committee feuding camps

Swift restructuring

Sen. John McCain's call Tuesday for Congress to swiftly reform the U.S. Olympic Committee was made with a worried eye on the countdown clock. By Congress' recess in August, the Athens Summer Games will loom only a year away, while the feuding, scandal-ridden USOC already has set world records for dysfunction and conflicts of interest. Its top leadership has more turnover than a McDonald's - three volunteer presidents in 13 months and four paid CEOs since the 2000 Sydney games. The mess is more than bureaucratic. It could drive away corporate sponsors and other donors who pay for training America's best athletes.

Last week, a Senate independent commission and a USOC task force both released reports calling for drastic restructuring. The USOC's bloated 124-member board and 23-member executive committee show more allegiance to the groups that elected them than to America's best athletes. Congress should run, not walk, to end this national embarrassment.

The two reports call for similar reforms and should be easily harmonized. The Senate commission calls for a 13-member board; the USOC task force, for an 11-member board. A smaller board with more independent directors can act for the good of the whole and cut wasteful administrative costs. Since USOC directors are reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, it costs about $250,000 just to hold a board meeting. Policymakers and operations staffs clash and meddle in each other's business. Both reports agree the USOC needs to speak with one voice to the public and the International Olympic Committee.

Nick Vehr, a Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce vice president who headed Cincinnati's bid to host the 2012 Games, said months ago, "The USOC needs to evolve from a volunteer-driven organization to a professional staff-driven organization."

The sports may be "amateur," but the Olympics are big business. USOC's four-year revenue ending December 2000 was $451 million. It should file annual reports, not every four years. It needs an uncompromised - and uncompromising - ethics committee. Congress should put the USOC's house in order fast and streamline governance to serve the athletes and the good of the USOC as a whole.

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