Several U.S. senators yesterday recommended congressional oversight of a restructuring of the U.S. Olympic Committee during a hearing in which they excoriated the USOC leadership for the ethics and management dispute that has splintered the organization.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he would call a second hearing in the coming weeks to move "beyond the organization's current leadership woes" and turn to the question of how to reorganize the USOC to prevent a recurrence of such management chaos.
Several senators voiced support for the suggestion of USOC CEO Lloyd Ward that a blue-ribbon panel be appointed to lead the restructuring, but no decisions were made.
During a hearing in which warring USOC factions at times engaged in contentious back-and-forth over the facts of the ethics dispute that has mushroomed into a leadership crisis, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) offered resounding and, at times, almost mocking criticism, with Campbell referring to the friction as an "Olympic-sized food fight of incessant squabbling and internal dissension."
"I take the whole sordid mess very personally," said Campbell, a 1964 Olympian in judo. "If medals were given for bickering and infighting, the people involved in this would have gold medals themselves. . . . America should not be distracted by what appears to be a state of dysfunction in the U.S. Olympic Committee."
Ward, who was investigated for conflict-of-interest allegations by a USOC ethics oversight committee, announced during the hearing that he would step down if the USOC's 21-member executive committee and 120-plus member board of directors called for his resignation. He also called upon USOC President Marty Mankamyer to do the same.
"If the executive committee and board of directors call for my resignation from the U.S. Olympic Committee . . . I will step down," Ward said. "I think that should be true for President Mankamyer as well. If they want one of us to go, both of us to go, either of us to go."
Mankamyer, who has twice been asked to resign by the USOC's seven highest-ranking officers, said she believed there was a "better solution."
"It does not seem to me this is the time to have any more change," she said after the hearing. "Reasonable people can work together to come to a solution to benefit the athletes."
The USOC's ethics oversight committee two weeks ago found Ward had committed two technical violations of the organization's conflict-of-interest rules when he directed a USOC employee to consider his brother's company's proposal for a lucrative contract to sell power generators at the 2003 Pan American Games. The committee declined to sanction Ward, however, and after the decision, Mankamyer said she wasn't sure it had taken the correct action. Several USOC officials accused her of trying to undermine the ethics process to get Ward fired.
Yesterday Ward, who has previously declined to discuss the issue extensively in public, lashed out at former USOC compliance officer Patrick Rodgers, who has been vocal in saying Ward committed clear ethics violations for attempting to steer Olympic business to his brother's company.
Saying Rodgers had a "personal vendetta" against him, Ward revealed that he had given Rodgers a poor performance critique last fall after Rodgers had accessed Ward's personal calendar, which had inadvertently been made available in the USOC computer system. Rodgers, who sparred a number of times with Ward during the hearing, said neither he nor any other employee should have been reprimanded for viewing something that was in the public domain.
"What failed me was my instincts," Ward said. "I wasn't as clear then as I am now that the USOC culture is a culture of I-gotcha. . . . My instincts failed me to the extent that I might have been walking off the edge of a cliff, and I'm used to [colleagues] saying, 'Hey, you're about to walk off the edge of a cliff,' not building bleachers and selling tickets."
Campbell said he had opposed congressional intervention in Olympic matters for 20 years, but had been compelled to change that viewpoint given the unprecedented state of discord within the organization and the increasing amount of federal funding for international sporting events such as the Olympics. Campbell pointed out that $1.3 billion in federal monies went to providing infrastructure and security at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, more than double that for the previous U.S.-hosted Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
Stevens, the author of the 1978 legislation that created the USOC, said he was uncertain whether that legislation -- the Amateur Sports Act -- needed to be rewritten or whether the governance structure merely needed to be revamped. He is likely to be closely involved in whatever action is taken.
Several lawmakers expressed dismay at the size of the USOC's volunteer board. The 120-plus members represent different constituencies, most of which are seeking money from the USOC for their own agendas and programs.
"An 120-member board is absolutely ridiculous," said John Breaux (D-La.). "You can't manage that. We have to make some structural changes to prevent this from ever happening again."
The senators sought suggestions on restructuring from all of the witnesses: Rodgers, Mankamyer, Executive Committee member Rachel Godino and Ethics Oversight Committee Chair Ken Duberstein and Vice Chair Thurgood Marshall Jr. They said they intended to speak with attorney Fred Fielding, who conducted the investigation of Ward, and chastised him for failing to show up yesterday.
Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Campbell also queried Ward about his membership in Augusta National Golf Club, which does not admit female members, asking him how it jibed with the USOC's mandate of inclusiveness. Ward responded that he hoped to "open the door wider for those that might follow" him.