USOC: On road to recovery?

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Scott Blackmun, on the job as CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee since January, was finally, formally introduced to the community at a reception last week at the Carriage Museum at the Broadmoor.

In attendance: assorted local luminaries, elected officials, a few Olympic stars and, the one guy in the room with undeniable gravitas, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The wine flowed freely, the crowd hummed agreeably, and, best of all, most of the speeches were over quickly.

Surrounded by friends and supporters, it was likely to be one of Blackmun’s more relaxed moments for some time to come.

Less than 24 hours later, a committee headed by Tagliabue released a report on what it believes Blackmun and everyone else at the USOC need to do to tackle some of the management issues that have plagued it in recent years.

Reforming its ways, it is hoped, will, above all else, help the USOC repair strained relations with the International Olympic Organization. And that, in turn, will perhaps once again give the U.S. a shot at securing a bid to host an Olympic Games. I’m hoping we see that day sometime before we enter the 22nd century, but you never know what slight, perceived or real, might annoy those secretive selection committees.

One of the thornier issues fueling the flames of resentment at the moment involves sponsorship and TV revenue sharing deals that, at least in the IOC’s eyes, unfairly favor the USOC.

Tagliabue was asked to help look at matters in December, not long after Chicago’s embarrassing fourth-place finish in the bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.

He made sure to put things into context in his report:

“For too many years, the USOC has suffered from the high turnover of chief executives and others in leadership positions, from a lack of continuity in strategy, and from a lack of transparency that accompanied much of that instability,” he wrote in the report.

“These activities have been very negative not just in shaping public perceptions of the USOC but also in having had long-lasting deleterious effects on the trust, credibility and confidence of many key constituencies and partners,” he wrote.

In other words, Blackmun, the third USOC CEO in a year, has a huge job ahead of him.

Most of the headlines generated by the report centered on a recommendation to add four members to the USOC board, bumping it up from 11 to 15 members.

One of the new positions, the report said, should be nominated by athletes, the second from among the leadership of the national governing bodies of Olympic sports, while the two others would be independent members, including a Paralympic representative.

Expanding the board will no doubt help address some of the criticism by various NGBs that the USOC has ignored their needs.

More critically, the report also included several recommendations that can help the USOC correct some of its organizational issues:

The CEO, it said, should be the person running day-to-day operations, not the board chairman. He (or she) also should be the primary voice of the organization.

Immediate past chairmen should not be permitted to serve as honorary presidents or to attend board meetings.

In other words: One guy (or gal) as boss, and the board, while helping set the tone for the USOC, needs to give the CEO room to operate.

Just as crucially, Tagliabue’s report says the USOC needs to clarify its mission.

The USOC is under “relentless pressure … to be all things to all people,” despite its limited resources, the report said.

That can’t continue, it said. What’s needed is for the board to develop for the executive staff a newly refined “statement of principles,” which the report described as “more granular than the mission statement” and which must articulate “the metrics by which success will be measured.”

Translation: the board needs to kick it up a few notches in terms of providing some leadership and direction.

The board will have to take a vote on these recommendations before any of the proposed changes take effect.

Tabliabue, for one, has confidence in Blackman and USOC Chair Larry Probst.

“They clearly understand not just the assets of the USOC, but also its liabilities and challenges,” Tagliabue wrote.

Well, that’s certainly a start.

USOC Independent Advisory Committee report

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Reach him at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.