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USOC thinking about asking Uncle Sam for a handout

September 10, 2009 |  5:14 pm

For years, the U.S. Olympic Committee has noted, with a mix of pride and pragmatism, that its Olympic teams succeed without any direct funding from the government, making it unique in the Olympic world.

That era could be ending.

International pressure on the USOC to reduce the revenue sharing percentages it gets from global Olympic sponsorship (20%) and U.S. broadcast rights (12.75%) has led the USOC leadership to consider asking for government funding in the future.

"Potential government funding is one of the things we will examine as part of a longer term strategic plan,''  USOC Chairman Larry Probst said today. "Please don't interpret that to mean we will seek government funding. What I am saying is that is something that will be evaluated.''

The USOC funds its teams through the revenue-sharing money, its own domestic sponsorships and donations from the public. The USOC budget for the 2005-08 Olympic quadrennium was about $600 million, about half from the revenue-sharing money.

It has raised $4.4 million in an aggressive public donation campaign that began Memorial Day. But three major sponsors -- General Motors, Bank of America and Home Depot -- have decided not to renew deals that ended in 2008.

In the frequently acrimonious discussions between the USOC and the International Olympic Committee on the revenue-sharing issue, several IOC members have suggested it is time for the USOC to give up its lone wolf stance on government funding. With government money, the USOC critics say, it could take a smaller share of the other revenues, making more available to the rest of the National Olympic Committees.

Probst said there has been no pressure from the IOC to ask for government funding, and the USOC has not put out feelers in Washington to gauge reaction to such a request.

"I have heard comments from certain IOC members along the lines of, `You know, what's the matter with you guys?' '' Probst said. "I think the perception might be that if there is a lot of government funding, there would be more for everyone in the Olympic movement.'' 

The revenue-sharing controversy was having a potentially negative effect on Chicago's 2016 Summer Games bid until both sides agreed in March to put off discussions until the Oct. 2 vote for the 2016 host.

"I think the issue is off the table as far as the voting members are concerned,'' Probst said.

-- Philip Hersh