The U.S. Olympic Committee's governing executive board essentially gave a vote of support to USOC CEO Lloyd Ward yesterday in Denver, taking no action against him after considering conflict-of-interest allegations.
The 23-member USOC executive council unanimously approved a resolution from the organization's ethics oversight committee that criticized Ward's behavior but also cast blame on others in the organization who failed to advise him of the particulars of USOC rules.
Though the council could have fired Ward, who has been with the USOC for 14 months, no vote was taken on whether he should be forced to leave his job.
"I support the findings of both the ethics committee and the executive board," Ward said by phone from Denver. "The process today was fair and just. The ethics committee report did not point to any [major] violations, and I am happy the executive board put its support behind me. I am eager to move forward."
After hearing Ward's response to charges that he tried to help his brother's company win a lucrative contract selling power generators for the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the council concluded in a four-page report that Ward's behavior in the matter created "the appearance of a conflict of interest" and violated the organization's rules about disclosure.
However, the council noted, Ward's actions "could have easily been corrected . . . by the timely compliance counseling of Mr. Ward." Last summer, Ward had turned over a proposal from his brother's company to former USOC International Relations Director Hernando Madronero.
Ward said prior to yesterday's meeting that he regretted not disclosing his brother's ties to the company in his annual USOC disclosure forms, but that he did not believe his handling of the company's proposal constituted any rules violation. Ward made his case in e-mails to the members of the executive committee and in a letter to the editor that appeared in Sunday's New York Times.
The executive committee's action diffused what had been a smoldering controversy since it was reported two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times. After the story appeared, it was unclear what Ward's fate would be. He said he had no intention of resigning, but his future with the organization appeared to be in jeopardy given the strong language used by USOC President Marty Mankamyer, who in a statement called the charges "serious and disturbing."
It was also Ward's second brush with controversy in recent months. This past fall, the USOC executive committee met to discuss Ward's membership in Augusta National Golf Club, which bans women members. Some USOC officials wanted Ward either to leave the USOC or relinquish his ties to the club. He did neither, pledging to work for change from within the club, but still received a unanimous vote of support from the executive committee.
Though USOC Vice President Bill Stapleton told reporters in Denver that the matter was closed, the ethics committee referred the ultimate resolution of the situation to the USOC Compensation Committee, directing that it be handled through its annual employee performance reviews. The next review will take place sometime in the first quarter of this year.
The USOC ethics oversight committee, chaired by former Reagan White House Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, saved its most severe reprimand to whoever was responsible for leaking details of the ethics review to the press, as well as to those ethics committee members who speculated about Ward's future.
Noting that it was "gravely concerned" about the leak and resulting speculation, the ethics committed declared such conduct "contrary to the USOC Code of Ethics" and lacking a "purposeful disregard" for the ethics review process.