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Ward Quits as Head of USOC

Resignation by embattled CEO culminates two months of criticism, controversy for Olympic committee.

March 02, 2003|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Lloyd Ward, the center of the storm of controversy that has enveloped the U.S. Olympic Committee for the past two months, resigned Saturday as chief executive.

Ward, a former Maytag CEO hired only 16 months ago, had for months been a focus of increasingly critical attention. It intensified Dec. 30, with the disclosure that he was under investigation for ethical misconduct. He proclaimed then he intended to keep his job.

Since then, through the resignations of six other USOC officials, two congressional hearings, the launching of two U.S. Olympic reform commissions, the acknowledgement that Ward had committed two violations of the USOC ethics code, the forfeiture of his $184,800 bonus for 2002 and, this week, news reports inquiring into USOC ticketing records and travel expenses, Ward had vowed to stay on.

But with the volley of news reports showing no sign of stopping and staff morale ebbing, with Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) calling repeatedly for Ward's resignation and some sponsors also letting it be known he had to go, support for Ward among the USOC's policy-making executive committee weakened this week, and on Saturday, Ward called it quits.

The resignation is effective immediately. A successor was not immediately announced. A number of sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the coming days may bring further resignations of senior USOC staff.

Ward, who had a $550,000 annual salary, will receive no severance payment. He will get medical benefits for 12 months and a laptop computer, said Bill Martin, the USOC's interim president. Neither man could be reached Saturday for comment.

In a letter he sent to Martin, Ward portrayed his resignation as a move he hoped would "shift the focus back to the athletes and the ideals of the Olympic movement."

For his part, Martin, athletic director at the University of Michigan, said in a letter to Ward that the resignation "accords with what I believe we both regard as the paramount issue -- assuring the credibility of the Olympic movement in the United States at a critical time."

Ward made a number of phone calls Saturday morning to Olympic insiders before the resignation was publicly announced. One of those who talked to Ward, asked afterward what had prompted Ward to resign, said, "Totality of the circumstances."

Some of Ward's most resolute supporters decried his departure. "I believe Lloyd Ward is a visionary," said Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles, a USOC executive committee member who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee. "He understands the Olympic movement and how to make it successful. Unfortunately, the institution refused to accept his leadership."

Others said they believed a straightforward cost-benefit analysis dictated that Ward had to go. Executive committee member Jim McCarthy said, "We have virtually brought the organization to its knees. We have a chance now to restructure, regroup and reorganize, and that's clearly needed.

"The bad news," he went on, "is that getting our reputation back will take some time."

Ward's resignation offers a measure of closure to what has been, even by the standards of an organization long rocked by political infighting, the USOC's worst period of management turmoil.

The USOC has had four CEOs and four volunteer presidents since 2000. Ward became CEO in November 2001. He was the 11th CEO since 1978, when Congress gave the USOC authority for Olympic sports via what is called the Amateur Sports Act.

In the two hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee, lawmakers signaled a clear intent to revisit the law and remake the USOC's unwieldy, two-track management structure, directed by both a volunteer president overseeing a 20-member executive committee and 123-member board of directors, and a paid professional staff of about 500 headed by the CEO.

A panel appointed this week by the commerce committee is due to report by June 30; an internal USOC task force is aiming for an April report.

At any rate, the reform process now unfolds under competing pressures. Revamping any bureaucracy takes time. But time is of the essence. The Athens Olympic Games open Aug. 13, 2004.

Ward asserted in his letter, "Clearly, competing interests within the USOC have placed its CEOs in an untenable, if not impossible, role."

Others, while acknowledging the tension inherent in USOC structure, insisted Saturday that Ward must be held accountable for his own conduct.

Ward is "a casualty of his own actions," said Herb Perez, another member of the executive committee. As first reported Dec. 30, Ward directed USOC staff to help a company with ties to his brother and a friend that was seeking a contract for the 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic.

A USOC ethics panel found that Ward had committed two violations of the USOC ethics code in connection with that directive but did not recommend any action, and on Jan. 13, the executive committee took none.

That sparked the resignations, the congressional hearings, the calls for reform -- all of it ratcheting up the pressure on Ward to go.

"I'm happy this unfortunate sense of circumstances has finally ended," Perez said Saturday. "I acknowledge Lloyd's belated courage in allowing us to get back to -- and focus upon -- our mission, specifically athletes and the [sports federations] who prepare them for the Olympic Games and ... great American Olympians who are inspiring Americans across the nation."

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