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Leadership changeover hurt USOC

Vicki Michaelis USA TODAY

The USA is the big dog on the Olympic field, topping the medal count at the last three Summer Games. But in the Olympic boardroom it’s becoming a bit player.

The International Olympic Committee’s decision last week to cut baseball and softball from the 2012 Olympics, coupled with New York’s poor showing in the contest to host those Games, has U.S. Olympic officials wringing hands and rethinking strategies.

“It certainly was a low mark for the United States in the international Olympic movement,” U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr says.

The problem, Scherr and U.S. IOC members say, is a lack of influence in international Olympic circles, exacerbated by the recent revolving-door turnover in USOC leadership.

“In overall terms,” Scherr says, “we have to build better relationships with other national Olympic committees, with the IOC and with various international federations. Those are only done through working relationships, through economic relationships and through personal friendships.”

For all the reforms since the Salt Lake City bid scandal, the IOC remains an organization driven by smoke-filled bar exchanges and you-rub-my-back-and-I’ll-rub-yours maneuvering.

“People want to feel that they’re loved,” U.S. IOC member Bob Ctvrtlik says.

It has been hard for the USOC to show the love when, because of its own turmoil, it has sent different leaders almost every year for the last five years to international Olympic meetings. That is likely to improve now that the organization has established stability with Scherr as CEO and Peter Ueberroth as chairman of the board.

Ueberroth’s term ends in 2008, but Scherr is hopeful the USOC can keep him in “a position of international influence.”

“People in this organization,” Ctvrtlik says of the IOC, “put a lot of weight in face time, and when faces change every couple years it doesn’t help.”

New York’s final presentation to IOC members last week pointed to other things the United States can do to fight long-held perceptions in the IOC that America is too insular and too stingy.

New York’s bid leaders promised international sports federations they would help them establish a marketing base in the USA’s economic capital. They pitched a worldwide athlete development program, working toward a goal of 100 countries winning at least one medal in 2012.

It wasn’t too little, but it was too late. The USA needs to help future U.S. bid cities’ chances, Scherr says, by hosting international sports events on a regular basis and by making its training facilities and coaching resources available to more foreign athletes.

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