A former Olympic wrestler made an impassioned plea Saturday to protect athletes from sponsors’ restrictions on whether they can get in the games.
Chris Campbell, a bronze medalist at the Barcelona Games, asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to create “a firewall - a clean break between competition and commercialism.”
“Olympians do not want Coke or Pepsi selecting our Olympic teams, and we think the American people will feel the same way,” said Campbell, chairman of the USOC’s athletes advisory commission. “We want one thing selecting our Olympic team - athletic performance… .
“Now, I understand that some of you will say we need to sell the athlete or their shoes in order to make a buck and support our national programs. But we need to ask ourselves, how far do we intend to go to prostitute the Olympic Games?”
USOC officials, opening a two-day board meeting, quickly reacted to Campbell’s call.
Bill Hybl, the newly installed committee president, ordered a review of the athletes’ code of conduct, adopted less than a year ago, and established a task force to study athlete marketing.
“The No. 1 issue in sports is athletes’ rights,” USOC executive director Dick Schultz said. “It’s not inappropriate to deal with this.”
Paul George, a committee vice president and head of the code-of-conduct review, said his group would start work on possible revisions later this month.
“I’ll tell them this is a fast-pace project,” he said. “We owe it to the athletes, with the Nagano (Winter) Games just a year away.”
Also, the USOC board:
Gave final approval to a four-year, $8 million program to finance low-profile and endangered Olympic sports in colleges and universities. The first-of-its-kind project initially will target a dozen sports, including team handball, rowing, archery and synchronized swimming, and work on a conference-wide basis.
Adopted the initial parts of the committee’s first strategic plan, which emphasizes development of Olympic athletes and the goal of making the USOC “the validator of sports in the United States.”
Elevated squash and water skiing to the same level of recognition as other sports contested in the Olympics or Pan American Games, making them eligible for increased funding and other support. Both sports have been added to the Pan Am schedule, although they are still seeking international Olympic status.
Learned that the surplus from the four-year budget that ended Dec. 31 was almost $22 million less than expected, but still left the committee with a $50 million surplus on its books.
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