U S Senators Campbell and Stevens visit the U S Olympic Training Center and vow to make changes in

By John Fuller | Feb. 28, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colorado, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, visited with hundreds of amateur athletes, coaches and employees at the United States Olympic Training Center complex in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Friday morning to discuss ongoing problems within the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). Campbell was member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic judo team. Stevens is the author of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act that chartered the USOC. Both are working alongside Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, and a five-member independent task force to address the issues that Campbell and Stevens say could include fraud and misuse of funds by USOC officials. The five-member task force includes Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr, NBC Sports Chair Dick Ebersol, former USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller, former American Bar Association president Roberta Cooper Ramo and women's sports advocate and former Olympic swimmer Donna DeVarona. "There are some real structural problems with the United States Olympic Committee," Campbell said. "The USOC officials will tell you that the government does not help them, but we are putting in billions of dollars every four years with infrastructures and security. These are things we call indirect subsidies." The USOC has also formed a Governance and Ethics Review Task Force. Selected to serve as members of the Task Force were Lisa Voight of USA Cycling, Jim McCarthy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, Olympians Cameron Myler (luge) and Chris Duplanty (polo), Paralympian Bob Balk, Chief Operating Officer of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee Fraser Bullock , former president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF Gwen Baker and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers Gordon Gund. The Task Force will be supported by USOC General Counsel Jeffrey Benz, who will coordinate USOC resources for this process. Stevens stated that some of the information and documentation provided to the Senators by former USOC employees seem to indicate possible fraudulent activity. He added that some of the information indicated excessive severance packages for top officials who had been terminated in the past two years. One of those packages included two Cadillacs and free fuel for life. Both Campbell and Stevens attacked the use of funds throughout the USOC, including those given to current CEO Lloyd Ward, whose salary they say is listed as over $550,000 while also receiving two automobiles for personal use and a gas card. "This is not a private corporation competing with other corporations on salaries and compensation," Stevens said. "They can determine their own compensation packages." "Who in this room needs two cars for personal use? Who in this room is getting free gas from the USOC? I don't think any of you are, which is why this is so alarming. The excesses of the executive side of this corporation appall me," Stevens added. Government intervention began when ethics allegations against Ward surfaced in December. Those actions led to a reprimand of Ward and ultimately the resignations of six top USOC officials. In January, President Marty Mankamyer resigned from her position as well, after being engulfed in the current controversy. "Clearly the time is over. Over for nepotism, over for cronyism, for featherbedding and a lack of transparency and openness within the USOC, just like Enron and Qwest," Campbell said. Campbell added that there were three possible solutions to the problems at hand. The first is a direct audit by Congress' General Accounting Office (GAO) if the senators do not receive all financial documentation from the USOC. The second is direct oversight and operation of the USOC by federal officials and the third is to revise the 1978 Amateur Sports Act. "The last thing we want to do with all of the problems in the world right now is to have to worry about running our Olympic organization as well," Campbell said. "We will most likely revise the 1978 Amateur Sports Act and an audit is not out of the question. We have an obligation not only to the athletes, but to the hundreds of thousands of donors, parents and volunteers as well." Downsizing within the USOC is another strong possibility, but the senators assured the hundreds of people on hand that downsizing will only include the elimination of positions at the board and executive level. "The existing board is just too clumsy and too big," Campbell said. "I assure you that money downsized will not come from money allocated to athletes." Campbell stated that the future of the U.S. Olympic Training Center was in jeopardy due to the despair within the USOC. He indicated that two Olympic sponsors have stated they will not renew their sponsorships after 2004 and three others have expressed a similar interest. The senators also expressed that all parties with information pertaining to this investigation should come forward with documentation to prove their statements. Campbell said the information will be kept confidential, but that they are also looking into whether the federal Whistleblower Law applies to this case. "If they try to set you back or fire you, I am here to tell you, we will give them a living hell," Campbell said before the crowd erupted. The senators then took questions and comments from the audience. Two unidentified crowd members expressed their feelings that the USOC was performing its functions correctly and legally and that many good people are employed by the USOC. "We have received no information so far that would show any wrongdoing by athletes or lower-leveled employees of this corporation," Stevens said. "This is a publicly chartered corporation, not something for private benefit. We want to clear these decks and give back the management of this corporation to the American public and to the athletes." The senators have given USOC officials a June 30 deadline to report all financial transactions. Their hope is that all matters will be resolved well before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. "We plan to get this ship steered in the right direction well before the 2004 Olympics. It is important that we get these distractions behind our athletes and coaches in time for that event. If we make revisions to the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, we feel that the bill can go through Congress within three weeks," Campbell assured the crowd. The senators ended their visit with a complete tour of the U.S. Olympic Training Center facilities. They met with some of America's top amateur athletes, including members of the wrestling resident teams, and had an hour-long meeting with resident coaches from numerous sports.