A year ago the U.S. Olympic Committee was basking in the afterglow
of the feel-good Salt Lake City Games, awash in gold medals and
strong television ratings. That has all disappeared like pond ice
in April as the USOC finds itself embroiled in scandal and
infighting, hauled before Congress and described variously as
bloated, dysfunctional, ineffective and ethically bankrupt. The
committee's fourth CEO in four years is under fire, and its third
president in three years just quit, putting the USOC in a
neck-and-neck race with the Los Angeles Clippers and the
Cincinnati Bengals to determine the worst-run organization in
"If Jesus Christ were to come down to run things, it would still
take years for the U.S. Olympic movement to lay claim to high
ground once again," says John Naber, winner of four gold medals
in swimming at the 1976 Games and president of the U.S. Olympic
Alumni Association, a group of more than 6,000 former athletes.
The USOC's problems are complex and long-festering. Fixing them
won't be easy. "Can you give me the Middle East problem first?"
says Canadian Dick Pound, a longtime International Olympic
Committee vice president. "The [USOC leaders] have lost their
track." Here's how they can find it:
1 START OVER
The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 formed the USOC as we know it, a
staggeringly cumbersome model in which a CEO has to share power
with a volunteer president and is part of an up-to-23-member
executive board that works with a 123-person board of directors.
Among those directors are representatives from not only the 39
Olympic sports but also such vaguely sports-related bodies as the
Boy Scouts of America, the American Legion and the Dwarf Athletic
Association of America. It's amazing that the USOC leadership can
order lunch, never mind create a cohesive plan for the most
powerful athletic nation in the world.
So get rid of the entire structure. Fire CEO Lloyd Ward, whose
efforts to steer a valuable Pan Am Games contract to his
brother's company have permanently tainted him. Beleaguered
president Marty Mankamyer resigned last week; the next step
should be to eliminate her position and consolidate power in the
CEO and a pared-down board of directors, which should be made up
of 11 smart people with business acumen and vision.
These are not pie-in-the-sky suggestions. Congress has the power
to amend the Amateur Sports Act, and it seems willing to do so.
This week the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Arizona's
John McCain, will hold a hearing on possible USOC restructuring.
2 CHOOSE AN OLYMPIC CZAR
The USOC needs a strong, recognizable leader with executive
experience, preferably in sports, and an understanding of the
Olympic ideals and Olympic politics. Here's a short list:
The head of the baseball players' union was a leading member of
the commission that investigated the Salt Lake City bid scandal
four years ago, and he has been on the USOC board of directors
since 1996. He has a profound understanding of the economics of
sports and is skilled at ruthlessly protecting the interests of
A passionate sports fan, the former mayor jumped aboard New York
City's ongoing 2012 bid, lending it energy and buzz. He earned
international respect in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and had long
since proved his toughness as a federal prosecutor.
The Boss has been exhorting the USOC to do more for athletes
since the 1988 Calgary Games and has had two stints as a board
member since 1989. There's no more prominent name in big-time
U.S. sports and nobody with more experience on how to spend money
A wild-card candidate. Sure, he can be outrageous, but the
entrepreneur turned philanthropist wouldn't be afraid to shake
things up. He has the credentials: He founded a cable-television
network (CNN) and an international, Olympic-style sporting event
(the Goodwill Games). He is one of the most successful
businessmen in history and, coincidentally, he's looking for
work, having recently resigned as vice chairman of AOL Time
Warner (SI's parent company).
He remains an Olympic organizing icon for bringing corporate
sponsorship to the Games and making the 1984 L.A. Olympics hugely
profitable. He spent the next four years as baseball commissioner
and since then has kept busy in business and sports; he
spearheaded the $820 million purchase of Pebble Beach and
recently considered buying the Anaheim Angels.
3 SHOW US THE MONEY
The USOC is not adequately accountable to the public for its
nearly half-billion-dollar quadrennial budget. It is required to
file a financial report with Congress only once every four years,
and while it posts its Form 990 nonprofit tax returns on its
website, those offer limited details. "It is essential that every
citizen be able to know how the money is gathered and spent,"
says David D'Alessandro, CEO of Olympic sponsor John Hancock.
For instance, Americans should know that, based on financial
documents obtained by SI's Lester Munson, the USOC's budget for
2001--04 for governance and administration--such as board
meetings, legal staff and CEO's and president's offices--has
soared to $58.2 million, an increase of $22.3 million over
estimates made in early 2000, while the percentage of the budget
allocated to athletes has fallen from 42% to 35%, a decline of
more than $30 million. They should know that in 2000 the USOC
spent nearly $1.8 million on multiple CEOs. They should know that
the USOC keeps a fleet of 197 company cars for the staff of 350
at its Colorado Springs campus.
The USOC should go far beyond its tax forms and post detailed
spending records on either usolympicteam.com or a separate
website--call it nothingtohide.org.
4 KEEP THE RINGS VISIBLE
For the first time since 1990, when Atlanta was awarded the '96
Games, there are no Olympics scheduled to be held on U.S. soil.
(Even New York 2012 is a long shot.) To give Olympic sports a
higher profile--and attract more sponsorship revenue--through
this dry stretch, the USOC needs to live up to its motto: It's
not every four years, it's every day. When the IOC sells U.S.
broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics this year (NBC
owns the rights through 2008), the USOC should push for expanded
coverage of events between Games. It must allow use of the rings
more often, to connect the Olympics to smaller competitions, from
the Millrose Games to Skate America.
In short, the USOC must rebuild, find a leader and heed the words
spoken a decade ago by then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch
to LeRoy Walker, the USOC president at the time. "The United
States is the flagship of the national Olympic committees,"
Samaranch said. "You need to start acting like it."