To gain long-term clout, U.S. needs longer term for Olympic boss
Larry Probst needs to be the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman for at least eight years.
That is the only way to begin addressing issues highlighted in postmortems after the dismal failures of the last two U.S. bids to host a Summer Olympics.
1. The United States has no clout in the Olympic world.
2. The U.S. Olympic Committee leadership has changed so frequently in the past decade it has developed none of the relationships to create such clout.
The current situation:
The United States has ZERO presidents of international federations with sports still on the Olympic program.
And ZERO places on the 15-member executive board of the International Olympic Committee.
And just two IOC members -- compared, for instance, with five each for Italy and for Switzerland. Neither U.S. member -- Anita DeFrantz nor Jim Easton -- is considered a major player in the IOC.
Switzerland and Italy have so many IOC members because they have people who qualify as leaders of international federations as well as athletes selected to the IOC in a vote of current Olympic athletes.
Those paths to membership were created in the 1990s. (Previously, no country could have more than two IOC members. As the late international track federation president, Primo Nebiolo of Italy, famously said in 1991 when he was pushing successfully for a rule change allowing the IOC president to appoint more members per country -- notably him: "The pope should have the right to choose his own cardinals.'')
Another path to IOC membership is being the leader of an important National Olympic Committee, like that of the United States. But no USOC president/chairman has been an IOC member since Sandra Baldwin in 2002, and her stay lasted less than four months because she resigned as USOC chair after admitting to falsifying her academic history.
Peter Ueberroth, USOC chairman from 2004 through 2008, made too many enemies on the IOC to be considered as a member.
That brings us to 2009 and Probst, who succeeded Ueberroth as chairman.
Probst, who has admitted to surprise over the time demands of the unpaid USOC position, vowed after Chicago finished dead last of the four finalists for the 2016 Summer Games (New York was next-to-last of five for 2012) to devote full time -- or as much time is necessary -- to the USOC job.
That commitment was evident last week when Pan American Sports Organization President Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico asked Probst to fill the PASO executive board position vacated when Bob Ctvrtlik resigned as USOC vice president to work for the Chicago 2016 bid committee.
Probst immediately accepted.
Before Chicago's defeat, Probst had told several people privately that he was unsure about staying in the chairman's job beyond the 2010 Olympics. He told me in a recent conversation that he intends to serve the full four-year term mandated by the USOC board when it made him chairman last year.
The current USOC bylaws allow board members to serve one six-year term and allow the board to define the length of the chairman's term when he or she is selected.
The time has come for the USOC board to amend its bylaws and extend that term to at least eight years. Or more.
And not just for Probst's sake. For the sake of the USOC and any U.S. hopes to be an Olympic host again.
A longer term is the only way the USOC can have its leader become an effective IOC member.
And, referring specifically to Probst, why would the IOC want to select someone who is an almost immediate lame duck?
How much relationship-building could Probst do in less than three years, anyway?
Any decision on extending the chairman's term must wait until after the USOC selects a new chief executive, which Probst said should happen before the end of the year, although it might take until mid-January.
If the USOC board does as badly with this CEO choice as it did in forcing Jim Scherr out last March and naming Stephanie Streeter acting CEO, all of its members should resign. (And quickly, before the mob of angry National Governing Body leaders reaches their doors.)
The CEO selection is not an easy task. As a person close to the search said, only half in jest, "All we need is someone with a cape on his or her shoulders and an S on the chest who is willing to live in Colorado Springs and work for a dollar a year.''
I wonder whether the firm hired by the USOC to do the CEO search has contacted Kim Bohuny. She is the NBA's VP of international basketball, in charge of its Basketball Without Borders program; she has experience in TV (Turner Broadcasting), and she is on the board of USA Basketball, the sport's National Governing Body. Bohuny may not be a caped crusader, but she should be put in the mix.
No matter who becomes CEO, the chairman's position still retains an infinitely higher profile among other international sports leaders.
The person in it needs more time to flesh out that profile.
-- Philip Hersh