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USOC leaving Ueberroth years behind

On the surface, it looks like purely a sensible money-saving move.

Dig just a little, and it won't take long to unearth the other motive in the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision to close its office in Irvine, which the USOC announced Monday.

It marks a further break with the Peter Ueberroth era and the international relations team he assembled, one that could not prevent a repeat of the bid city debacle that originally had led Ueberroth's USOC to engage the services of Bob Ctvrtlik and Robert Fasulo after New York's bid for the 2012 Winter Olympics finished next-to-last among five finalists in 2005.

(And let there be no doubt about it: In his four years as board chairman, it wasUeberroth's USOC.)

Fasulo Ueberroth brought in Fasulo as international relations chief right after the 2006 Winter Olympics. Ctvrtlik became USOC vice president for international relations a couple months later.

At first, they worked in space provided by Ueberroth's Newport Beach-based company, The Contrarian Group. Later, as the staff grew to five (including Chris Duplanty, who made $281,000 in 2008 for a Ueberroth-created post supposed to be an unpaid, volunteer position), the USOC began renting space in Irvine that likely cost some $30,000 a year -- not an enormous expense.

And then the Chicago 2016 bid failed even more miserably that New York's had. While Rio de Janeiro clearly was not going to lose last October, no matter who did what (short of the handsome bribes that presumably ended after the Salt Lake bid scandal), some blamed Ctvrtlik and Fasulo for not doing a better job of locking in enough votes to avoid having President Obama travel to Copenhagen to promote a bid that made a humiliating first-round exit in a field of four.

Ctvrtlik had resigned his USOC post early last year to become a paid member of the Chicago 2016 staff.  When the USOC decided to close the Irvine office, it offered the staff there a chance to relocate to Colorado Springs, Colo., (where international relations staff will not pay for rent in the USOC headquarters), an offer it knew Fasulo was guaranteed to refuse. The USOC announced Monday that Fasulo will leave his post Aug. 31.

Ueberroth had a role in Chicago's bid until bid chairman Patrick Ryan told the USOC chairman last spring his services weren't needed.  That move owed to the animosity Ueberroth's hard-line stance on revenue sharing had created among International Olympic Committee members demanding that the USOC rewrite existing contracts and take a smaller share of the global revenue pie.

(Full disclosure: As readers of this blog may remember, I frequently backed the rationale for Ueberroth's stance on revenue sharing, which was based on how large a percentage of that money came from U.S. companies and TV rights.  But the issue turned into a shouting match between Ueberroth and some IOC members, and I said at that point the USOC had to at least lower the decibels to avoid damaging Chicago's bid. That happened a few months after Larry Probst became USOC chairman in late 2008, but by then the issue had become toxic to Chicago.)

The USOC recently has engaged with the IOC in quiet negotiations on revenue sharing, some of which took place during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Maybe the closing of the Irvine office is a symbolic part of those negotiations, showing the IOC that the new USOC regime -- Probst and Chief Executive Scott Blackmun, who took over in January -- really does have a different approach to international relations than the one that left the New York and Chicago bids with embarrassing defeats.

*On a related subject: Ten days ago, the USOC announced the recommendations of an independent advisory commission on its governance chaired by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. I didn't feel compelled to write about it then because I already had outlined in blogs a couple months earlier what became the two most significant recommendations -- extending the chairman's term beyond four years and expanding the USOC board.

 My Nov. 9, 2009 blog was headlined, "To gain long term clout, USOC needs longer term for Olympic committee boss.''  Its opening sentence was, "Larry Probst needs to be the U.S. Olympic Committee  

for at least eight years.'' Later, I said, "How much relationship-building could Probst do in less than three years, anyway?''

The Tagliabue commission report said the board should "consider extending the term limits for the chairman of the board in order to allow increased ability for international relationship building.''

In a Dec. 10, 2009 blog based on an interview with Tagliabue, I wrote, "Tagliabue clearly seems inclined to recommend a larger USOC board than the current one, which now includes just eight voting members, two of whom (the U.S. members of the International Olympic Committee) share one vote.  He just returned from chairing a meeting of the Georgetown University board, which has 45 members, a size he called workable.

" 'In the NFL, we had a 32-member board, and that was workable,' '' he said.

The Tagliabue commission report recommended the board be increased from 11 to 15 members.

Among the other Tagliabue commission recommendations, which the board will take up in June, were ones recommending elimination of the positions of board liaison and first vice president, international relations.

One job was Duplanty's. The other was Ctvrtlik's.

At this rate, it soon will take more than a little digging to find traces of the Ueberroth years.

-- Philip Hersh

Robert Fasulo, foreground, and Bob Ctvrtlik, formerly the top two USOC international relations officials, in a November 2006 photo. Fasulo will step down Aug. 31;  Ctvrtlik left his post last year; a commission recommended 10 days ago the job be eliminated. AP file photo / Chris Carlson.

 
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