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Faulty Olympic Leadership

January 27, 2003

So much for Citius, Altius, Fortius. A more suitable motto for the troubled U.S. Olympic Committee would be "Money, Power, Greed."

The guardian of the country's Olympic movement is being torn apart by internal strife. Some board members have resigned to protest alleged ethical lapses by staff executives. Paid staff members and volunteer leaders are waging a bitter war of attrition. Rumors of a doping cover-up persist.

The longer this frustrating situation exists, the deeper the pain and insult to the nation's Olympians. The federal Amateur Sports Act of 1978 created the U.S. Olympic Committee to bring order to the chaotic process of developing Olympic athletes. But it apparently will take another act of Congress to hold the Olympic caretakers accountable for their failures.

USOC officials will appear Tuesday before a U.S. Senate committee. A simple dressing-down isn't enough. The mean-spirited nature of the USOC feud and its dulling effect on athletes -- which does not bode well for the U.S. medal count in the 2004 Athens Games -- demand a full-scale investigation and a restructuring.

Accountability is in short supply throughout the Olympic world. When the International Olympic Committee recently looked into the mirror it saw a dysfunctional bureaucracy with "no real focus on what matters." The hard-edged quote, from a report commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, neatly describes the U.S. leadership crisis as well. The USOC's annual budget tops $100 million, yet at the height of the Salt Lake City scandal, a top Olympic official couldn't tell the Senate how much went to support athletes. Embattled Chief Executive Lloyd Ward is the 11th person to hold the job since 1978, and the current president took office after her predecessor acknowledged falsifying her official biography.

Sports talk show hosts regularly demand that professional athletes make a sacrifice and represent the U.S. in Olympic competition. The same call should be made for strong leaders who are willing to give to the movement and have the athletic history, business acumen and credibility needed to steer the USOC out of dangerous waters. Bill Bradley, former U.S. senator and 1964 gold medal Olympian, comes to mind.

The Senate should follow the lead of problem-plagued Major League Baseball and appoint a blue-ribbon panel to assess the USOC's role in society. Congress must then establish effective oversight of USOC leadership. The nation's premiere athletes deserve more idealism and courage at the top.

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