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U.S. Olympic Panel Overwhelmingly OKs Reform Plan

Prompted by ethics crisis, directors agree to changes that include slashing their ranks from 123 to 11.

October 19, 2003|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — Michael Lenard, a 1984 Olympian and now a Los Angeles businessman, once observed that the way the U.S. Olympic Committee was set up amounted to a nearly perfect democracy -- but with a really crummy management structure.

And that was in 1989, in one of the USOC's recurring attempts to figure out why it was chronically beset by political infighting and management turmoil. The answer was plain: a board of directors that totaled 123. It repeatedly proved too big, too unwieldy and too conducive to petty politics. But for years there was no political will for change.

Prompted by arguably the worst crisis in the 25 years since Congress gave it responsibility for fielding a U.S. Olympic team, the USOC on Saturday finally enacted a wide-ranging reform plan -- the 123-member board of directors essentially voting themselves out of their volunteer posts and the Olympic-caliber perks, to be replaced by an 11-member board, with day-to-day operations directed by a chief executive.

The vote was 100-5.

"This is a historic day," acting President Bill Martin said.

The dissenters were five representatives from sports groups representing disabled athletes, who said afterward that while they supported change, they couldn't vote for a plan that offered them no representation.

The outcome of Saturday's vote, even the widespread margin of support for reform, had been expected.

The USOC had been rocked earlier this year by an ethics-related crisis that saw the president, chief executive and several others resign. That produced congressional and internal task forces and recommendations for far-reaching reform.

The congressional reform plans have yet to be voted on, and it remains uncertain -- because the USOC is congressionally chartered -- whether Saturday's vote marks a blueprint that will put into practice or a mere exercise in participatory democracy.

The USOC plan differs from some of the versions working their way through Congress in key details -- including the number of directors who should come from sports-related agencies and how votes on a reconstituted board should be weighted.

Nonetheless, senior USOC officials stressed Saturday it would have been irresponsible not to go forward with an internal reform plan, one that Vice President Frank Marshall of Los Angeles said is designed to create "stability and credibility."

Bob Ctvrtlik of Newport Beach, one of three U.S. members of the International Olympic Committee, said: "Hopefully, this sends a good message to the U.S. Congress, and they accept what has been passed today."

In closing the meeting, Martin said, "We've done what we needed to do, and the organization will move forward."

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