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End These Olympic Trials

August 06, 2003

The U.S. Olympic Committee has been mired in scandal since the 2000 Salt Lake City Winter Games were tainted by bribery allegations. Bickering continues to stall progress on a credible anti-doping program for athletes and other important initiatives. USOC leaders still argue that they can repair the organization's tattered reputation before athletes head to the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, but past failures and lack of reforms bode ill for that promise.

Congress has picked up the torch with a proposal that would force the USOC to quit its political infighting, reorganize in a less cumbersome fashion and focus on training athletes. The proposed legislation, approved in a Senate committee last month, was introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). It mirrors reforms that an independent commission recommended in June. Congress issued general operating guidelines to the USOC when it passed the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 and has the power to amend the act.

The USOC's paralyzing conflict pits its paid staff against grass-roots sports organizations, such as those that run amateur golf, swimming and skiing, that play integral roles in developing athletes but should not directly shape overall Olympic policy. The Senate bill would force the USOC to trim its board of directors from 124 elected members to a more manageable nine. The initial board candidates would be nominated by a committee culled from two reform commissions and representatives of athletes and amateur sports organizations. The Senate legislation would require that independent board members have no recent ties to Olympic athletes, corporate sponsors or athletic organizations.

The Senate bill also would define the murky role of the USOC chief executive. Professionals hired to create budgets, market the Olympics and build practice facilities too often are resisted by longtime supporters (including former athletes) and sports organizations with their own self-serving ideas. The ceaseless bickering caused the USOC to burn through three volunteer presidents and four paid chief executives in the last three years.

The Senate proposal would require the USOC to publish annual financial reports, long overdue for an organization whose budget will approach $500 million during the four-year Olympic cycle ending in 2004.

One hitch in moving the legislation along is Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who has threatened to delay a full Senate vote unless there is a promise that USOC headquarters will stay in Colorado Springs. Also, sports organizations are lobbying Congress to maintain their positions of power.

Campbell, a member of the 1964 Olympic judo team, should understand better than other senators the need for reforms. The USOC is in a hole and only new leadership can pull it out.

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