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USOC words, actions, attitude do Chicago Olympic bid no favors

July 9, 2009 |  5:07 pm
Since the April day in 2007 the U.S. Olympic Committee announced it had selected Chicago over Los Angeles as the U.S. candidate for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the USOC has done Chicago few favors.

In fact, USOC words and actions over the last year have possibly undermined Chicago's bid and made a mockery of the USOC mantra of an "unprecedented partnership" between the national Olympic committee and a bid city.
 
It began last October, when Peter Ueberroth, in his final public speech as USOC chairman, rebuked the arguments of International Olympic Committee members critical of the USOC's stance in a revenue sharing dispute with the IOC. Ueberroth also reminded everyone in no uncertain that the U.S. corporations still contribute more than 60%of IOC revenues.
 
Chicago 2016 had no advance warning of what Ueberroth would say, which was certain to offend some 2016 voters, no matter if  his points were valid.
Nor did Chicago 2016 have any clue the USOC was going to announce Wednesday the launch of its new television network, in partnership with Comcast, despite having received an IOC warning Tuesday not to move forward until a number of rights and marketing issues were resolved.
 
 
USOC Chief Operating Officer Norm Bellingham, his organization's point man on the TV network, told me in a Wednesday telephone interview that Chicago 2016 was not involved in discussions about the U.S. Olympic Network, set to launch in 2010.
 
In the news release announcing the network deal between Comcast and the USOC, which carried the logos of both partners, there is a line that makes cryptic expression of what I have learned was Comcast's concern over going public without IOC approval: "The transaction is subject to closing conditions."
 
It also was telling that no Comcast executive took part in the media conference call announcing the deal.

A Comcast spokesperson declined comment.
 
One of the IOC's most powerful members, Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, blasted the USOC, telling me in a Wednesday phone interview, "They [the USOC] just do what they want to do, and the Olympic movement be damned."
 
A lot of other IOC members undoubtedly feel the same way, and, as Carrion said when asked if the latest USOC-IOC brouhaha could hurt the Chicago bid: "I don't see how it can help."
 
Bellingham's insistence that the deal had to be announced before word leaked out during what he expected to be weeks of discussions with the IOC seems disingenuous.
 
It seems instead that he and Ueberroth, another champion of the network, cared more about announcing it finally was close to reality than they did about the impact on the Chicago bid of defying the IOC.
 
"Couldn't be farther from the truth,"Bellingham said in an e-mail. "We have been devoting as much, if not more, resources and energy towards a successful Chicago bid. They have been separate efforts, but it is important for me to stress that we view both the bid and the network as powerful vehicles for us to contribute to the advancement of the Olympic movement."
 
The USOC resources and energy do not include having new Chairman Larry Probst or acting Chief Executive Stephanie Streeter travel to any of the big recent meetings where Chicago has made important presentations. Those include this week's annual meeting of the African Olympic Committees and last month's unprecedented meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, where each of the four bid cities addressed 94 of the 110 IOC members who can vote for the 2016 host Oct. 2.
 
Each of Chicago's rivals, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, had its national Olympic committee leader at those meetings.
 
I asked Streeter about this issue after neither she nor Probst took part in the Chicago newsconference after the IOC evaluation commission visit in April. Her reply: "I had supported it throughout (the visit), and the people who were involved at the press conference were the face of the bid. I didn't need to be there.''

I asked her about it again in an e-mail after the widely read Olympic newsletter, Around the Rings, noted the absence of USOC leadership in Africa. Her response was a statement from a USOC spokesperson saying, "Stephanie and Larry have been and continue to be in frequent, regular contact with Chicago 2016 to fully support the bid."
 
The abrupt USOC leadership change in March that put Streeter in charge after Jim Scherr was forced to resign may not have hurt Chicago, but it did the bid no good. It intimated that the USOC was back on its upper management merry-go-round after five years of stability under Scherr.
 
Since Streeter apparently wants to be considered as permanent chief executive, it would have benefited Chicago and the USOC if she had taken the time to meet other Olympic leaders at the recent meetings.
 
Chicago can only hope the deep commitment of President Obama to the bid -- he took the time to make a new video that was shown in Africa -- will trump all the problems the USOC has created.
It goes without saying that Chicago 2016 has built a relationship with the president on its own.
 
-- Philip Hersh
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