Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Clean House USOC

Some conservatives cheered after the International Olympic Committee eliminated Chicago as host city for the 2016 Olympics on the first round, their disdain for President Barack Obama was so palpable. But most Americans were surprised and embarrassed that Chicago got crushed. Now comes the fallout.

The United States Olympic Committee's acting CEO Stephanie Streeter revealed Wednesday that she'll leave her post within the next five months. Streeter says she decided to withdraw her name as a candidate for the USOC CEO long before the IOC's disastrous vote. Now the USOC will retain a search firm to identify candidates. But first the committee should undertake a serious review of what went wrong with Chicago's bid, why its inside intelligence failed and why public expectations were allowed to soar.

Chicago's presentation was very strong and well polished, that is not in dispute. The Obamas did a very fine job making their pitch in person. And Chicago had put together a powerful package for the IOC. Yet after the first round Chicago received only 18 votes from the 110-member committee. Clearly this result reveals that there are many underlying issues facing the USOC. Especially considering that New York got only 19 votes when it made its last bid to host the Olympics.

Many International Olympic Committee members deeply resent the fact that the U.S. organization gets such a large share from the Olympic television licensing deals. So says Dick Ebersol who is Chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics. NBC currently has the exclusive rights to carry the Olympics in the United States. Ebersol points out that the USOC gets 13% of all the TV rights fees and 20% of all the sponsorship revenues from the Olympics. This is a legacy arrangement based on the fact that at one point the U.S. brought in about 90% of the sponsor money, now it is about 40%. Further, the USOC CEO is paid more than $1 million, which is another source of resentment.

Another issue may be that there are about 110 members of the IOC and more than half are European. These members are made up of sports administrators and ex-athletes. They all know each other very well. The USOC, inexplicably, has had several CEO's over the past few years and none has been full time. Therefore relationships between the American and her counterparts are mostly superficial. And she and members of the US committee didn't seem to understand the role of bloc voting. For instance, committee members from Spain, the home of the influential former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and whose capitol Madrid was a contender, favored Rio de Janeiro as a second choice.

Poor execution could have hampered the US's bid as well. The USOC had a chance to make a presentation to the IOC this past June but they failed to do so. Brazil, on the other hand, sent a high level delegation to make its case. No wonder Rio was the clear front-runner going in to the voting. Their arguments were compelling including awarding South America its first Olympics. How could the USOC not have known that their bid was in deep trouble?

President Obama had to go to Copenhagen to make the case for Chicago and America. It was one of those "no-win" situations where he would have been subject to criticism no matter what he did. Of course, had America won he probably would have been criticized as well. Yet the big question is why were expectations allowed to swirl out of control. Why didn't someone in the White House, or one of the president's Chicago friends, provide a more realistic assessment to the world press?

The USOC needs to clean house. It needs to appoint a powerful and experienced new leader who knows the IOC, its culture and its people.

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