USOC reformation sees difficult path ahead

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

DENVER Most groups under the umbrella of the U.S. Olympic Committee agree that drastically cutting its unwieldy board of directors is the best way to fix the troubled organization.

But some leaders of smaller Olympic sports and other organizations tied to the USOC worry the changes will make it even more difficult to have a voice in what has sometimes been a muddled process.

''I think it's a good idea, but as an athlete my biggest question is, is everyone going to get a fair say?'' said Olympic gold medal wrestler Rulon Gardner. ''Part of what made the old board of directors work was that everyone had a chance to have a say in what happened. Now you have to wonder if that's still going to happen.''

A series of scandals and months of infighting led Congress to look at revamping the world's richest and most influential Olympic organization, which has had four chief executives and three presidents since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Two proposals one in-house, the other by a Senate-appointed task force calls for the USOC to trim its board from 125 members to about a dozen in an effort to cut some of the bureaucracy that has plagued the organization almost since its inception 25 years ago.

''There was a concern that if there is a change, certain of these groups might be disenfranchised and they would lose some of the interest and support that they have from the USOC today,'' said Fraser Bullock, a task force member. ''What we tried to be very careful about is recognizing that if we put the proper governance in place ... their concerns really will be solved.''

For non-Olympic sports, perception is a big concern.

Bowling is big enough to sustain itself financially without much help from the USOC, but the sport's leaders are constantly fighting the stigmatism that comes with being a Pan American sport.

''Our major concern is the credibility attached to being a part of the Olympic family and not being looked at or having our participants being looked at as second-class citizens,'' USA Bowling executive director Gerald Koenig. ''We want to have a feeling of belonging, not being looked at as some kind of afterthought.''

As president of the USA Deaf Sports Federation, Bobbie Beth Scoggins worries that her organization will fall further down the priority list with a smaller USOC board.

Scoggins has tried for years to get a separate funding mechanism from the USOC for deaf athletes, but she has been told that deaf athletes should either compete in the Paralympics or Olympics.

''We are truly disenfranchised,'' Scoggins said. ''I have been to USOC and disabled sports meetings, countless meetings where the Deaflympics was literally ignored, accorded only a nod as might be afforded to a stepchild. In many cases we were isolated from the decision-making and funding process.''

Not all of the smaller sports feel left out.

Although it is one of the most popular sports in the world, badminton is considered a recreational sport by most in the United States.

USA Badminton is one of the smaller NGBs and gets about half of its annual budget from the USOC, but executive director Dan Cloppas said he is more concerned with training athletes and promoting his sport than with any changes within the USOC.

''Most of us day to day are worried about trying to get athletes trained and get them to the Olympics,'' Cloppas said. ''Certainly the board of directors is huge in setting policy, but I don't think it's going to change our day to day work of training athletes for the Olympics.''

One way authors of the two restructuring proposals have tried to keep groups from feeling disenfranchised is by creating an Olympic Assembly, which would serve as a sounding board for the smaller sports and outside organizations.

The Senate task force's proposal would allow the assembly's speaker to have a partial vote on the board of directors, while the USOC's own panel recommends the assembly serve in an advisory role only.

''The smaller NGB's will have a greater voice in the new assembly than they now have on the board,'' said Frank Marshall, co-chair of the USOC panel. ''It will be a place for communication, not politics. It becomes an opportunity to exchange information on issues that affect them, to discover ways to help one another and to communicate with the board.''

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, plans to meet in the next few weeks with Donald Fehr, co-chairman of the Senate task force, to resolve differences over the proposed reforms.

''I think people who have been around the Olympic movement for a long time are going to be somewhat cynical of any changes that are made because often there's a big change and then nothing happens,'' said Steven Locke, executive director of USA Triathlon.

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