In a recently copyrighted story for USA Today, the USOC http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/2008-06-13-4124748098_x.htm?POE=click-refer made sure that USA Track & Field knows that
they are serious about their requests for USATF to change both the size and make up of the board.
What I find amazing, and their is blame enough for both organizations, is that either group would have let this go this far. Allow me to explain.
The USOC has been under huge pressures on the international level, and quite frankly, they do not like it. The 2000 Sydney debacle over CJ Hunter, the matters of Jerome Young, were all known by and mishandled by the USOC. However, it is quite easy to put the blame on USATF, who starts most controversies, thinking they are at fault, which tends to color any damage control.
The USOC has realized that there is money in the sports of track and field, gymnastics and swimming. Why? Well, they are 60 percent of the summer medals. They have noted the growth, strength and financial viability of USA Track & Field and the USOC would prefer their NGBs to follow the leader, stay out of the news, and bring back tons and tons of medals.
The USA Track & Field federation is much like the former country of Yugoslavia, and with more moving parts. The goal of an NGB is quite simple: bring home as many medals from international competition as possible, with the lightest cost, create sport heroes that don't have a trail of drug dirt, criminal records or distasteful personal habits. In order to keep many disparate groups happy, a strong CEO and board needs to appreciate and understand the needs of its constituencies.
Yet, the federation has youth development, coach development, Masters programs, Junior Olympics (which the USOC wants to take away), elite programs, high performance programs. Over the past decade, USATF has taken itself from truly being either bankrupt financially or so morally as to really be decertified, to a federation that has alot going for it.
Major problem, in my mind-the board has not grown up with this increase in position and cash flow. What Mr. Masback, Mr. Elias and others did, was, by making the books look better, and putting cash in the coffers is make USATF a big bullseye. And the tactics the board at USATF has taken in the past just will not work with the USOC right now.
The USOC is under pressure to clean up all of its many NGBs. WADA and USADA are checking athletes-and more so in USATF than in all other US federations combined. Yet we do not get any benefits for that, because it is so much easier to bring up the past and put blame.
Jim Scherr, the CEO of USOC, did send a letter to Bill Roe, President of USATF and interim CEO of USATF. The letter did request a plan by June 24, and that reorganization plan be put to a vote in the coming December national meeting. They also did note various punitive situations that could occur if this is not done, decertification was noted, but in as almost a last resort. It makes no sense for either organization for that process to begin.
The USOC takes alot of Olympic TV money and that has not been appreciated or embraced by the rest of the IOC family. Our lovely Olympic committee is looked upon as greedy and perhaps, a bit glutenous. Part of that may be part of the world view of America in general, but part of it is poorly managed communications and public relations.
Last December, in Hawaii, the USOC representative was treated quite poorly by the USATF board. According to my contacts, and supported by our feature by Mark Winitz in Cal Track and American Track & Field ( Spring issue March 2008), the board virtually chased the USOC out of the meeting. One USATF member said outloud, " Who does the USOC think it is?"
Now, the USOC rep was quite generous afterwards. He tried to bring down the blood pressure and noted that the USATF board was upset, but that should have been expected with such drastic change. The office in Colorado for USOC was not as considerate. " That was not the way to treat a directive from the USOC, " I was recently told.
It also is pretty poor on USOC's part to announce this two weeks before the Olympic Trials. In our research into an article for ATF, it was noted that the USOC is quite confident in their stand and want to treat USATF as pouting teenagers. This is about who is boss, the USOC, and USATF better take this very seriously or the embarrassments will continue to be leveled.
That the USOC has absolutely no understanding nor do they care, about the complexity of USA Track & Field. That the USOC has no appreciation of how much money they are loosing out on because they continue to pick and dig at anything wrong with track and field and road racing, does not really matter. Like many organizations in the sports world, the USOC sees itself in that Father Knows Best position and will slap the fingers, hands, legs and whatever else they need to for USATF to comply.
Where USATF goes wrong is a) taking so damn long to find a new CEO, b)taking so long to respond to the USOC, c) not controlling the meeting with USOC in Hawaii, d) thinking that they need neither a CEO or USOC.
Can the USOC decertify USATF? Well, while some folks at USATF seem to think that is out of the jurisdiction of USOC, it would be a fight that neither group wants to have. That last thing that the USOC wants is to fight USATF, a fight where neither group would win even if one did in court, and from which the sport nor the US Olympic movement would not recover.
A gentle nudge to USOC to focus on making 2016 a possibility for Chicago, and promoting the whole Olympic spirit instead of playing these messy political games just before Beijing would be timely. A gently nudge to USATF to get some strong possible candidates for CEO in, and publicize it, as well as finding detente with USOC asap, so that this goes away would also be timely. That we will not have a CEO by the Olympic Games, the time every four years, when marketing and salesmen ship get gold, silver and bronze medals is absolutely unacceptable to anyone who wants to see USATF grow and prosper.
I still believe that the USOC has done a magnificent job in making the Olympic Games and the term Olympian the pinnacle of the American sports pyramid. That is why fans get upset with Olympians using drugs and really could care less about the professional sports. I still believe that USATF has not comprehended how big they could be if they utilized the Olympic vision, competition, the sound mind, sound body concept. Both groups could learn from the other, but that means that, like President Nixon and Mao, there has to be a rapprochement.
Negotiations cannot be done with one USOC executive being demeaned by a recalcitrant USATF board. Even if the board realized that the USOC does not understand the differing needs of USATF. A compromise will have to be reached. Some face saving will need to be done on both sides. This will have to be accomplished, one on one, by a new USATF CEO, and Mr. Scherr, the USOC CEO.
Mr. Scherr wants to make sure that the demands of the USOC are being taken seriously by USATF. For all involved, let us hope that is the case.