The fate of U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Lloyd Ward will be decided Monday when the organization's executive committee assembles in Denver to review conflict-of-interest allegations that surfaced two weeks ago.
Several executive committee members expressed support for Ward, but all said they were awaiting full details on the matter before making a final decision. On Monday, the board will hear from Ward and receive a report from the organization's ethics oversight committee. In a statement issued after the allegations became public, USOC President Marty Mankamyer called the charges "serious and disturbing."
The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 30 that Ward passed along to another USOC official a proposal from his brother's company to sell power generators for use at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. No deal was ever consummated.
Ward acknowledged in an e-mail to the executive board that he made an "error in judgment" in not disclosing his brother's ties to the company. However, he denied wrongdoing and insisted that he had not violated the organization's conflict-of-interest rules.
Ward, who has spoken by phone with several executive committee officials since the story broke, seems to have support from at least several influential members of the 23-member committee, but it is impossible to predict the mind-set of the entire board. Several members described Ward as a good leader for the organization; others simply said they wished to avoid the leadership crisis that would result if Ward were forced to leave.
"I can tell you, no one wants to go through another executive search," said one member who requested anonymity.
Ward said in an interview when the story broke that he had no intention of resigning.
Many members of the executive committee, however, could not be reached to comment or did not return calls.
Ward told members in his e-mail that he had no financial interest in EMT; his brother no longer works for EMT and had no equity interest in the company; he did not advocate for the proposal or try to influence anyone in the organization; and that he merely passed on the information to former international affairs chief Hernando Madronero, who has since been fired.
The Times reported that at least one of the proposals for the Aug. 1-17 Games called for 53 power generators at a cost of $4.6 million.
"We don't gain anything by changing leadership," said board member Albert Monaco Jr., the president of USA Volleyball, expressing frustration that the situation was reported in the media before it had been discussed internally. "Somebody wants to find dirty laundry and air it out in public. I don't understand why anyone would do that. I haven't seen any information to justify that being done. . . . It's counterproductive for all of us."
The controversy is the second in the last six months to envelope Ward, a former Maytag CEO hired 14 months ago by the USOC. The executive committee also met in November to discuss Ward's membership in Augusta National Golf Club, which bans women members. Though Ward said he would work for change from within the organization, some USOC officials felt he should quit the club. The situation was at least temporarily defused when the executive committee assembled and gave Ward a vote of support. Several members said this past week they would object to the Augusta issue being raised once again Monday.
Executive committee members Anita DeFrantz and Herman Frazier said they believed Ward had done good work for the organization. Both defended his failure to bring in substantial new corporate sponsors in the last year -- he was hired as a marketing whiz who could open revenue streams for the USOC -- by pointing out that there is typically a sponsorship lull right after an Olympics and that he has been on the job for barely more than a year. The last Winter Games took place last February in Salt Lake City; the Games won't return to the United States before the summer of 2012 at the earliest.
"I think Lloyd Ward has done an excellent job," said DeFrantz, president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, who has been a staunch supporter of Ward in the past.
"This thing was out in the media before any of us knew what was going on," said Frazier, the athletic director at the University of Hawaii. "I'm somewhat disturbed about that. . . . I think [Ward] has done a decent job. I think he has a handle on what's going on. It is not easy to come into the USOC with no ties to any [internal USOC] organization and be a CEO. . . . This is a tough place to work."
Ward's predecessor, corporate turnaround artist Norm Blake, lasted just nine months before he was forced out. Last summer former USOC president Sandra Baldwin resigned after it was revealed that she had falsified her academic credentials.
Regardless of the outcome of Monday's hearing, several USOC officials said, the organization needs to find a way to stem the perception -- exacerbated by situations like this one -- that the USOC is a bumbling, poorly managed bureaucracy.
"We're doing exactly what everyone always accuses us of, and that is being dysfunctional," Monaco said.
"Before we know it, [the 2004 Olympics in Athens] is going to be upon us," Frazier said. "We need to put all this other stuff behind us and start thinking about our athletes."