USOC commends Ward's efforts to admit women

Updated: November 2, 2002, 2:09 AM ET
Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Olympic Committee on Friday voiced its strong support for CEO Lloyd Ward's push to open Augusta National Golf Club to women members.

Rather than asking Ward to resign from Augusta National or from the USOC, the organization's executive committee commended his efforts to work toward change at the home of the Masters.

''I can't change Augusta. Augusta has to change itself,'' Ward said. ''But as an individual you have an opportunity to stand up for what you believe in, and that's what I've done. I've done that my whole life and that's what I'm doing now.

''I have not given deadlines and I have not been given deadlines.''

Ward was the first member of Augusta National to say in April that he would work behind the scenes to admit a woman. USOC president Marty Mankaymer said she believed it was important for the USOC to debate the issue and take a stand.

Ward said he remains committed to ''inclusion and diversity and a level playing field. That's what the Olympics are all about.''

Asked how he could advocate inclusion in the Olympics while belonging to a private golf club that excludes, Ward said the conflict represents a challenge and an opportunity.

''If you take a look at Augusta, not too long ago it excluded people of color,'' he said. ''I'm part of a small, select group of individuals that have broken the color barrier at Augusta. My life has been about a lot of firsts, not because I'm special, because I'm not. But because the world has limits and boundaries and dimensions that exclude certain people and include others. My life has been full of intersections with those kinds of restrictions. I've always used the idea of being first to try to open the door wider for those who might follow me.''

Anita DeFrantz, a member of the executive committee and the International Olympic Committee, said before the meeting that Ward's job was not at stake.

''I will not be a part of running the first African-American CEO out of town on the basis of diversity,'' DeFrantz said.

Martha Burk, the leader of the drive to open Augusta National membership to women, was satisfied with the USOC's stand.

''I am pleased that the board and he believe that change can be made at Augusta National, and made in a reasonable time frame,'' Burk, the head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said by telephone. ''The letter he sent to me suggested that if he didn't think that was possible, he'd resign (from Augusta). I'm pleased that the committee gave him a little slack to work to change Augusta's policy. I believe he's sincere in working toward change.''

Ward, who has played golf at Augusta National only once, said he did not list his membership there when he applied for the CEO job at the USOC because he didn't think it was important and ''it just was not an issue.''

Burk said that is precisely why she has been pressing the issue with business executives who are Augusta members.

''If we've succeeded in anything, we've succeeded in raising the consciousness of business executives about sex discrimination,'' she said. ''I imagine it just wasn't on (Ward's) radar screen the way racial discrimination was. If he were asked to join the club today, knowing that it excluded women, he probably would not do it.''

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press