February 22, 2003

Reform Must Precede New U.S.O.C. Leader

It is impossible not to be obsessed with the downhill anarchy of the United States Olympic Committee.

The spectacular dysfunction is likely to doom any outside chance New York might have had for the dubious honor of holding the 2012 Summer Games. You think the International Olympic Committee wants to be dealing with U.S.O.C. blunderers and Congressional bulldogs?

And then there is this: The woeful financial state of the U.S.O.C. is going to cost medals maybe not in figure skating or basketball, which have a life of their own, but in the dozens of obscure specialties that pop onto the tube every two years.

So. We either care now, or we care in 2004 and 2006.

There is no quick fix. I would like to tell you that everything would be all right if only the right man or woman came riding in on horseback to save the day. But it is not as simple as appointing an independent outsider like Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the former drug czar, or some captain of industry or a national-treasure Olympian.

"The person you want is somebody who doesn't want the job right now," McCaffrey said the other day.

I called McCaffrey to hear his thoughts on the U.S.O.C. and whether he would be interested in being executive director when the position became open again.

The post is currently held by Lloyd Ward, whose only two notable acts have been allowing his brother's company to belly up to the Olympic trough and not divulging his membership at Augusta National Golf Club until he was outed.

You can't blame Ward for not resigning from Augusta. The weather is turning nice in Georgia, and very soon he will have plenty of time to play golf.

When Ward goes the sooner the better there is hardly any point filling the job. McCaffrey handled himself well as the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 until early 2001, taking on Olympic interests that were dragging their feet on stricter drug testing.

With his steely Steve McQueen gaze and very alert mind, McCaffrey might be a great candidate but not with the current cast of thousands of officials with their conflicting loyalties.

McCaffrey, who led the Left Hook maneuver during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, is now a teacher at West Point, a consultant and a speechmaker. He can handle himself in civilian life, but he is used to a chain of command and some rules.

"Who would want to run an organization with this kind of board?" McCaffrey said, referring to the 123 members.

He noted that his study of corporate governance at Harvard had led him to believe that "U.S.O.C. factionalism is a recipe for parliamentarian disaster," and he added, "We are jeopardizing our athletes and our Olympic bids."

One obvious problem is the two-headed system of a volunteer president and a paid executive director, who tend to feud with each other over public exposure and office space and other such priorities.

The volunteer president should work "no more than 20 hours a week," McCaffrey said, adding there should be a board of no more than 18 members. He said the U.S.O.C. headquarters in Colorado, with about 500 paid employees, was "probably overstaffed."

The U.S.O.C., which has an interim president, held a committee meeting in Los Angeles yesterday. But Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has already characterized this internal review as "nothing more than a reshuffling of chairs on the deck of the Titanic."

Any day now, McCain is likely to appoint a small study committee to re-evaluate the U.S.O.C. One curious detail is McCain's reliance on Donald Fehr, a U.S.O.C. board member who is executive director of the baseball players association.

Fehr is undoubtedly brilliant about securing huge salaries for his clients, but he has been a rigid obstructionist about drug testing. Given the current furor over the use of ephedra in baseball, Fehr is likely to be preoccupied. Maybe he can handle one of those left-brain, right-brain dissociations, but it's hard to think of Fehr as a reformer.

Whatever the committee decides, American sport does not need a minister or even a czar, as McCaffrey once was in the fight against drugs.

"They've got to have a powerful C.E.O. with a powerful small board whose job it is to have access to the C.E.O.," said David D'Alessandro, chairman of John Hancock Financial Services, a major Olympic sponsor.

D'Alessandro would like to find a corporate executive who might be looking for a new challenge, but he quickly added that he was not a candidate.

"They've got to generate more money, and they must work with athlete groups, and they must get the business side in order," he said.

The McCain study group ought to include Olympians like Bill Bradley, the former basketball star and senator, and Donna de Varona, the swimming medalist, broadcaster and activist who should have had a much stronger role in Olympic sports all along.

After Ward leaves, the U.S.O.C. could use somebody who knows money and sports, like David Stern, Dick Ebersol or Peter Ueberroth. Some people think highly of Fraser Bullock, who was second in command at the recent Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and Val Ackerman of the Women's National Basketball Association. Also, Donna Lopiano of the Women's Sports Foundation, who combines high ideals and experience as a former athletic director at the University of Texas, would be a terrific candidate.

Then there is the General. McCaffrey had his clashes with "that group of scalawags" a grand old word you don't hear much these days. He was referring to Juan Antonio Samaranch, the previous president of the I.O.C., but he had praise for Dr. Jacques Rogge, the new president "clearly a different kind of public servant."

Would McCaffrey be interested in the U.S.O.C? He said he was having a great time teaching and consulting and seeing his five grandchildren. Somebody is going to have to clean out the U.S.O.C. before it can attract the leadership it so desperately needs.