Tensions sparking change in US Olympic world, but how much?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Changes are coming to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, prompted by frustration over years of steady income and what some describe as heavy-handed management in the wake of sex abuse scandals who upset the movement in America.

In their keynote speeches at the annual meeting of American athletes and administrators this week, CEO Sarah Hirshland and President Susanne Lyons said the federation’s top priority for the coming year is athlete excellence. and increased income. It’s a change after years of putting athlete safety above all else after scandals exposed what critics called the USOPC’s focus on money and medals.

Lyons’ term as president ends at the end of 2022. A candidate to replace her is Dexter Paine, current USOPC board member and former president of US Ski & Snowboard, who is closely aligned with National Governing Bodies (NGBs) that govern the individual. sports and have largely felt undermined in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Former LA 2028 CEO Gene Sykes also played a key role in bringing the Summer Olympics back to Los Angeles. The July 8 vote to choose Lyons’ successor will be a significant indicator of what the USOPC will emphasize in an ever-changing dynamic between athletes, NGBs and international relations.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Lyons said what some see as a paradigm shift is being driven by tough economic conditions, as well as dire ratings for the past two Olympics, which has made fear that fans will lose their love for the Olympics. The United States is now six years away from hosting its first Summer Games since 1996, and officials know the Los Angeles Olympics must be leveraged to stoke passion in the United States for all of industry.

“For a while it was considered kind of terrible if you actually said you wanted to win a medal,” Lyons said. “It was like, ‘Silver medals, terrible.’ But I think everyone understands that to have that commitment, you have to perform.”

Olympic sports in the United States are managed by more than four dozen NGBs which are, in turn, overseen by the USOPC. When the sex abuse scandal broke, the downsides of loosely tied relationships between organizations were laid bare. The conclusion, reached in part by Congress, was that the USOPC, which provides millions of dollars in funding to the NGBs, should exercise greater oversight over the NGBs and take a stronger role in policing them.

Friction came in almost every area.

Since 2019, the amount of money granted by the USOPC to NGBs for standard operating procedures has remained virtually stable – hovering around $50 million per year. Part of that can be blamed on the pandemic, which delayed the 2020 Olympics by a year and strained budgeting across the Olympic world. Another factor was the transfer of USOPC dollars directly into athletes’ pockets. In addition, there were “administrative” costs, some of which related to ongoing legal proceedings involving Nassar’s victims, and others related to increased surveillance of NGBs. At the request of Congress, the USOPC is also funding the US Center for SafeSport to the tune of $20 million annually, an increase of more than 600% from its inception.

Somewhat overlooked is that a lot of the money the USOPC gives to NGBs also ends up funneling to the athletes, who train under the organizations for years and then become part of “Team USA” – overseen by the USOPC – when the Olympics are taking place. around.

Max Cobb, CEO of US Biathlon, acknowledged the growing tension between the NGBs and the USOPC. Cobb said 2022 is a good time to realign priorities, with the Paris Games still over two years away.

“I think now is the time for us to dig in and have some really tough conversations and be really honest with each other about what we’re doing,” he said. “And be really transparent about how the funds are used and what resources we have.”

Other frustrations included:

—Some NGBs felt overwhelmed by new auditing requirements put in place by the USOPC – a response to what was seen as lax oversight in the wake of the Nassar case – which required additional work at a cost extra for organizations already in a hurry.

—NGB leaders balked at some of the athlete-centric programs initiated by the USOPC. One example is the Athlete Marketing Platform (AMP) program, which provides athletes with direct marketing opportunities with sponsors, but sometimes duplicates the efforts of the NGBs themselves and effectively diverts money from those NGBs.

— The sudden ouster earlier this year of sports performance chief Rick Adams, a longtime USOPC executive, angered virtually the entire NGB community. Adams was the USOPC’s main link to the NGBs on the sports side. The United States’ performance at the Games in Tokyo and Beijing – first in medals for the summer and a respectable fourth in the winter – were strong indicators that sports performance was operating effectively despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Almost everything ultimately comes down to money – how to bring more into the Olympic system and how to distribute it, especially in times of high inflation, where fixed incomes actually represent a decrease in purchasing power.

Lyons said she was encouraged by a survey conducted after the Tokyo Games in which more than 90% of American Olympians and Paralympians in Tokyo said that “the USOPC prioritized their health, well-being and their safety while providing appropriate resources and high quality services throughout their Games experience. .” She said the shift in perspective signaled at this year’s meeting does not mean the federation is going to stop focusing on it.

“I’ve never seen an Olympian or a Paralympian who didn’t want to win,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to see, from our athletes at least, any sort of blowback to say, ‘Oh, you know they’re still talking about medals.’ Because they want to win medals.

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