Thursday, January 26, 2012

USOC: Space for sale

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

THERE IS the need now, more than ever, to distinguish between the Olympics and the bozo officials who run the Olympics.

The Olympic Games were established more than 3,400 years ago, some time before the birth of Juan Antonio Samaranch, as a single athletic footrace. The competitions were moved later to the Olympia Stadium in Greece to honor Zeus, king of the gods.

It wasn't until the International Olympic Committee took over in 1894 that the Olympics began to honor Benjamin Franklin, god of the $100 bill, and household deities like Tom Welch of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, holy dispenser of more college scholarships than Kansas State.

In the same spirit of the ancient Greek religions, control among these bureaucrats was parceled out by realm. Before you can truly comprehend the lowliness of the long-distance IOC, you first must acquaint yourself with the local chapter, the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Here, in full pomp and ridiculous circumstance, sit the (mostly white) men and (precious few) women officials who theoretically supervised the now infamous bid of Salt Lake. They are brimming with proven or potential conflicts of interest.

The starting lineup:

At executive director, Dick Schultz. Schultz resigned from a similar post with the NCAA in 1993 after acknowledging that he used the NCAA's plane for personal trips, even though the NCAA told the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals the tax-exempt aircraft was used for official NCAA businees.

At president, William Hybl. Hybl headed George Bush's presidential campaign in Colorado in 1988. He was elected USOC president in 1996 over the objections of many athletes in the USOC, but was strongly supported by powerful bureaucrats from the major sports federations.

Hybl also has retained his position as chairman and CEO of the El Pomar Foundation, the 87th largest grant-giving foundation in the U.S. El Pomar is headquartered in Colorado Springs, also home to the USOC. The private foundation reports assets of more than $400 million, and hands out grants to applicants who will "strengthen the fabric and add to the richness of Colorado communities."

Then there are the powerful officials emeritus:

At former vice president, George Steinbrenner. Despite two suspensions from baseball once for illegal campaign contributions and once for his bizarre harassment of Dave Winfield Steinbrenner wasn't banished from the USOC. He resigned the position on his own three years ago, a perfectly honorable discharge.

Steinbrenner was the benefactor cited on national TV for his financial support by Tonya Harding, mere days after Nancy Kerrigan was attacked.

At former USOC president and IOC member, Robert Helmick. Helmick resigned in 1991, accused of conflict of interest for representing private clients with connections to the Olympics. Helmick, who is still a member of the USOC board of directors, actually had the nerve to write an editorial for The New York Times last Sunday demanding "systematic change" within the IOC, basically calling for Samaranch's ouster from the IOC presidency.

Worse yet, The Times printed it.

In truth, these fancy blazers are not very important people, as far as the Olympics of Carl Lewis or Michelle Kwan are concerned. Most of the bureaucrats could disappear today and would not be reported missing by the outside world until sometime in the next quadrennium.

They harumph a lot about drugs, then rarely have the nerve to act on a positive test if the athlete denies his guilt. They posture a good deal about the spirit of the Olympics, but then Samaranch wears a huge patch on his coat for Mizuno at the Nagano Games, wherever he goes.

The message, always: This space for sale.

The chief requirement of these officials is that they look vaguely interested when hard-working drones issue their reports and budgets in Lausanne, or Colorado Springs. And then there is the one and only thing both the USOC and IOC do that is very important to tax-paying citizens around the world: They decide which cities will host major sports events.

This simple task they have loused up with a vengeance. High up on their mountain, they have soiled the valley below.

AT THE 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, prestige was defined exactly by such altitude. The higher up in the Alps you slept at night, the more important you appeared. The IOC, of course, was bunked at the top of the world in its fancy hotel at Courcheval, looking down on the ski jumps.

Members have received this giddy sort of institutional bribery for decades from host committees. Now that the bribes have become more personal, nobody should act too surprised. We can only try to remember Picabo Street, and Michael Johnson.

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