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U.S. portion of revenue is still hot topic

June 04, 2008|Philip Hersh | ON THE OLYMPICS

ATHENS -- A leading International Olympic Committee official heated up the war of words over the United States' portion of Olympic revenues Tuesday, and the escalation of rhetoric could burn Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games.

IOC member Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands called the U.S. Olympic Committee's share an "immoral amount of money compared to what other people get."

But Verbruggen denied that recent attempts by him and fellow IOC member Denis Oswald of Switzerland to push for renegotiating the deal were related to the Chicago bid.

Verbruggen, former president of the International Cycling Union, blamed USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth for linking the issue to Chicago's bid and lambasted him for threatening to take the matter to the IOC ethics committee.

"Who the hell do they think they are?" Verbruggen said, referring to the USOC.

It seems apparent, however, that Oswald and Verbruggen are using the Chicago bid as leverage to pressure for USOC concessions. After raising the issue at an April IOC meeting in Beijing, they will bring it up to the IOC executive board today, just hours before the same executive board chooses which of the seven bid cities will be finalists in the 2016 Games.

The dispute probably will have little effect on Chicago's expected selection as a finalist. The impact would be on the IOC members' Oct. 2, 2009, vote to choose the 2016 host.

"Peter is very, very committed to resolving this," Chicago 2016 bid committee chairman Patrick Ryan said when asked about the issue's potential effect on the Chicago bid.

The dispute over the USOC revenues has been ongoing, especially as the IOC attracted more sponsors from outside the United States.

"For four years, if not longer, this has been the elephant in the room," said IOC member Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles, also a USOC board member. "It's hard to negotiate when you are being called immoral.

"What I want is to avoid anything that could be harmful to athletes. That could happen if there is prejudice against the U.S. with Chicago bidding."

The issue surfaced once more publicly during Tuesday's general assembly of the Assn. of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), of which Oswald is president and Verbruggen vice president.

"It is reflecting very, very badly on the USOC," said ASOIF director Andrew Ryan. "It would be depressing if Chicago turns out to be the best bid to see if it might be damaged by this ongoing discussion."

Spurred by suggestions from Oswald and Verbruggen that the USOC has been foot-dragging, ASOIF members voted Tuesday to take it to the higher authority of the IOC executive board.

In an open-ended contract begun 20 years ago and re-negotiated in 1996, the USOC receives 12.75% of U.S. broadcast rights and 20% of the IOC's global sponsorship revenues.

In the current Olympic cycle (2005 through 2008), that amounts to about $300 million, or 50% of the operating budget for the USOC, which gets no government financing, unlike nearly all the world's other national Olympic committees.

When those terms were agreed upon, nearly all the IOC's revenue came from U.S. sources.

Those U.S. sources still provide some 62% of the revenues, according to people familiar with the accounting.

The USOC winds up with more from that TV and sponsorship money than the IOC allocation to the other 204 national Olympic committees combined.

"I don't understand how you can justify that the rest of the world has to pay for the training of American athletes, and the richest country in the world pays nothing," Verbruggen said. "Are we out of our minds?"

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Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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