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Volleyball's Balance of Power in Question

Beach players aim to decertify national governing body to shift emphasis from indoor game. Move is reflective of federations in flux.

January 07, 2006|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

More than two dozen of America's beach volleyball players, including the 2000 men's and 2004 women's Olympic gold medalists, filed a complaint Friday, seeking the decertification of USA Volleyball, contending it has neglected the beach game in favor of indoor volleyball.

The action was the most recent in a series of disputes involving the sports federations that produce most U.S. Olympic athletes.

In the 40-page complaint filed with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the beach volleyball players said that USA Volleyball, the national governing body (NGB) for the sport in this country, had provided "no meaningful financial support," offered little or no coaching or scouting help, and denied beach athletes meaningful representation on its 25-member board of directors.

The complaint asks the USOC to "revoke its recognition" of USA Volleyball or put it on probation for 180 days while compelling a makeover that would lead to a 12-member board, at least five of whom would have direct ties to beach volleyball.

USA Volleyball's chief executive, Doug Beal, declined comment.

Eric Fonoimoana, a gold medalist in the beach event at the 2000 Sydney Games, said of USA Volleyball, "They're clueless."

Karch Kiraly, winner of gold indoors in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988, then again on the beach in Atlanta in 1996, and considered by many the game's greatest player, described USA Volleyball's historical approach to the beach game as "somewhere between total apathy to lack of respect."

The complaint, endorsed by 28 top athletes, figures to bear significantly on the direction of U.S. volleyball, indoor and beach, before the 2008 Beijing Games -- and in turn on the dozens of players who train in Southern California.

Moreover, it underscores the issues involving a number of NGBs.

Reform of the American NGBs is seen as the next step in a progression that began with changes in the International Olympic Committee, sparked by the Salt Lake City corruption scandal in the late 1990s, and then at the USOC, which in 2003 underwent restructuring.

"In the long term, there is a direct correlation between the strength of the NGBs and the strength of the U.S. Olympic team," said Darryl Seibel, a USOC spokesman. "As an organization, we are committed to working with the NGBs to strengthen their capabilities."

Problems abound, however. For instance, with the Turin Winter Games set to begin in a month, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is to appear Monday in a state court in Upstate New York to show cause for suspending the U.S. skeleton coach, Tim Nardiello, who has been accused of sexual harassment by female athletes.

The federation has launched an investigation into the allegations and the USOC is conducting a separate investigation.

Last year, the taekwondo federation was reorganized amid management and financial concerns.

The modern pentathlon federation dissolved itself last year amid heavy debt, and the USOC is now overseeing the sport.

The triathlon federation last year considered, but rejected, a proposal to split from the USOC.

The volleyball complaint was made even as the USOC is seeking, through a complaint filed Dec. 19, the decertification of USA Team Handball. At issue are governing and financial concerns linked both to U.S. handball's longtime futility on the playing field and to a revolt on the board sparked by the purported federation president, Mike Hurdle of Duluth, Ga.

Team handball has long been popular in Europe and has been a mainstay on the Olympic program since 1972. It is virtually unknown in the United States, however, and the U.S. record in the Games, according to Olympic author David Wallechinsky, is "a dismal 4 wins, 26 losses and 1 tie."

The Dec. 19 complaint refers to a Nov. 2 e-mail written by Hurdle in which he describes his secretary as a "blonde with a nice fake rack." He also says he would not be offering apologies to those with differing views about his management: "Hitler didn't apologize, so I guess I shouldn't either."

Hurdle did not respond Friday to requests seeking comment.

According to the complaint, in balloting conducted Dec. 2, the board voted to remove Hurdle from the presidency by a vote of 19-2. On Dec. 5, the complaint says, he sent a note announcing that all members of the board were "automatically relieved of their duty."

The complaint also says the NGB is "effectively bankrupt," noting the USOC was notified Aug. 29 that the handball federation had $8.47 in its checking account.

Financial issues are key in the volleyball dispute as well.

Top foreign players are often accompanied by coaches, massage therapists and video crews -- who tape matches for review of opponents' tendencies. U.S. players often do their own taping, said Dain Blanton, who teamed with Fonoimoana for gold in 2000.

"Can you imagine [NBA star] LeBron James setting up a video camera at the baseline to scout Kobe Bryant?" Blanton said.

USA Volleyball pays some top indoor players $80,000, the complaint says, but no salaries to beach athletes.

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