Somber outlook at USOC headquarters
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After the shock in Copenhagen comes the backlash in Colorado.
Whether the U.S. Olympic Committee deserves all, some or only a little of the blame for Chicago's embarrassing first-round ouster from the voting for the 2016 Olympics, the federation's home office in Colorado Springs will not be a happy place the next few months.
There is a lot of soul searching to do.
About internal politics, which are in disrepair. And about the way the federation presents itself to the rest of the Olympic world, which, even under the best of circumstances, has anti-American sentiment hardwired into the circuitry.
"It's very real," said Doug Logan, CEO of USA Track and Field, "and for us to take our rightful place, we have to have an understanding of what's really going on out there."
The International Olympic Committee sent a message to the USOC with Friday's humiliation, one that Swiss IOC member Denis Oswald called "a defeat for the USOC, not for Chicago."
The exact message? Depends on who you ask.
Those who deal with the USOC domestically will point to the recent upheaval at chairman and chief executive officer, where Larry Probst and Stephanie Streeter haven't had the time, or maybe the charisma, to enhance the USOC's image, or get their own people in line.
Those who deal with the USOC internationally give overseas liaisons like Bob Ctvrtlik and Robert Fasulo credit for trying. But a concerted four-year effort does not completely wipe away a decades-old reputation that has been widely viewed as arrogant, tone deaf, corrupt, uncaring.
"When you have an international caucus making a decision like that, it comes down to political currency," said Skip Gilbert, leader of the council of America's national governing bodies. "Did we have relationships there to be able to sway people for right reasons? One could argue that the vote said 'no.' "
What needs to change?
One idea would be to get more heft into the IOC executive committee, a place America's two IOC members, Anita DeFrantz and Jim Easton, won't see anytime soon. The USOC might want to push to get its chairman on that panel, though Probst has not overwhelmed many people in his early going as Peter Ueberroth's replacement.
"We heard some people say they really didn't get to know Larry Probst," Easton said. "Having a new person come in without Olympic experience was good for us in the U.S., but not internationally."
Another notion: Keep working on improving the tone. Chicago and the USOC want to act like partners, but they have to learn how to better relate to the IOC's Euro-centric leadership. There is a subtle but significant difference between the message they sent, "Chicago has so much to offer to the movement," and the one the audience wants to hear, "Chicago wants to open its doors to the movement."
While those big-picture ideas percolate, the immediate drama will take place inside the USOC offices. Some insiders thought the friction between the Probst-Streeter duo and everyone else was to blame for everything wrong with the USOC, up to and including the IOC vote.
"You could feel some differences of opinion between Chicago and USOC," Oswald said. "They tried at the end to give the impression they were united, but we know perfectly well."
Others thought it had little or no bearing on the vote, pointing out that the head of the domestic staff has very little day-to-day outreach to the IOC.
"The U.S. Olympic Committee did a great job," Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan said. "I don't think they had a thing to do with this."
A search for a permanent replacement for CEO will start shortly, and Streeter may or may not put her name in the mix. Whoever gets the job needs thick skin, a good knack for negotiating with hard-to-please constituencies, and at least an inkling that the job won't last forever.
That person will also have to be good at measuring success in hard-to-track political currency, not strict dollars and cents. (Though that counts, too.)
There are athletes, governing bodies, CEOs, board members, fans, donors -- and that's before you look at all those international groups that want to tell the USOC how to conduct business.
The big issues for this go-round were the USOC's ungainly effort to start a TV network and a dispute over revenue-sharing that was tabled, but not resolved, about six months before the vote. One question: What's the USOC's motivation to cooperate now? And how will the big-money sponsors and NBC or other TV bidders, all of whom figured to gain from an American Olympics, react when the next round of negotiations come up?
But those rifts only replaced, or added to, issues that have been hurting the USOC's efforts for years, both on Olympic and geopolitical levels: the Salt Lake City bid scandal and the over-commercialized Atlanta Games, the Iraq war and America's role in the tanking global economy.
Undoubtedly, new issues will be on tap four years from now.
Which brings up one of the biggest questions of all: the 2020 Games. Would the United States want to get involved at all? Will the IOC ever give a U.S. city a fair shake?
"I don't think you're ever going to abandon hope," USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said. "But the recent happenings at the USOC -- certainly some of those things have probably not helped in the minds of IOC members who have long memories."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press