USOC to take over wayward U.S. Fencing Association (cont.)
A similar oversight occurred with the association's High Performance Committee, which oversees the way national teams are selected. Jane Carter had been appointed as head the committee, but was not told of her appointment until just before a meeting eight months into her term.
In June 2005 Yuri Gelman, the men's national sabre coach, sent a letter to Massik, Anderson, USFA vice president Sam Cheris and Carter, asking why his repeated inquiries about athlete support were never answered. "When the USFA President and the Executive Director fail to respond to or cooperate with coaches and athletes," Gelman wrote in the letter, "it creates a confrontational environment characterized by mistrust and frustration."
In November 2005 several members circulated a petition threatening a recall of Anderson's presidency and requesting her resignation. That letter read in part: "The organization has not been run in a business-like manner, and the best interests of U.S. Fencing have not been served. Your administration has been detrimental to the advance of the organization, especially following two milestones: two Olympic medals, and a 2005 World Championship Gold Medal. The time has come for a change in USFA leadership, and we respectfully ask that you do the right thing and resign gracefully."
The letter was signed by 10 Olympic fencers, the national coaches for men's and women's sabre and men's and women foil and several influential coaches around the country. Anderson declined to resign. Soon after word surfaced among the fencing community about the recall petition, former presidents Steve Sobel and Stacey Johnson circulated a memo warning that recall could prompt the USOC to decertify USFA and cut off funding to the association. That stalled the recall drive. Anderson is still in office and her term will end after the Beijing Olympics.
At a board meeting during the 2007 summer nationals in Miami, Derek Cotton, USFA's treasurer, made a motion to accept the budget of the executive director. Stunned members objected, noting that Massik had not actually put forth a budget report. Massik then explained that he could not put such a report forward because, in his words, the situation was fluid and money was moving in and out too rapidly to issue a report. Sam Cheris, an attorney and USFA vice president, objected to Massik's explanation, saying that any organization, especially a non-profit such as USFA, needed to have a budget plan available with specifics. Then the motion was withdrawn.
The federation should be swimming in newfound riches, or at least solvency. Instead it posted a million-dollar loss last year that has its rank-and-file members wondering what went on behind closed doors. In February 2008 the USFA's annual financial statement for Colorado Charitable Organizations listed the federation's total assets for the fiscal year Aug. 1, 2006, to July 31, 2007, as $816,490 and liabilities as $1,797,365, a net loss of $980,875. It listed total revenues as $3,869,728 and total expenses as $5,002,866, including $4,646,938 listed under program services. Massik revealed the numbers in February 2008, attributing the spiraling losses to bookkeeping errors made by a former clerical employee and verbally pledged his resignation effective sometime after the 2008 Olympics, without specifying a date.
Carl Borack, a four-time Olympic team captain, says that isn't enough. "Massik ought to be fired," Borack says. "There is tendency at the USOC to protect staff. I don't want to protect staff. Heads should roll. This is going to have an impact on the next quad [four-year cycle of Olympic preparation]. I'm worried for our kids in the next quad. We have no funds right now."
The lack of funding has impacted the team's top athletes and coaches, many of whom did not know until the 11th hour whether they would be assigned to certain competitions or compensated for expenses if they attended. After her Olympic success in Athens, Zagunis was a member of the U.S. team that won gold at the world championships in Leipzig in 2005. For her performances the USFA owed her $25,000, which, as a college-eligible athlete at Notre Dame, she could put into an escrow fund until after she either graduated or gave up her eligibility. In 2007 Cathy Zagunis, Mariel's mother, says Mariel sent two certified letters and three emails to Massik, asking for clarification about the money, but received no response. Finally in January 2008 Cathy approached Massik directly after a meeting in Atlanta, where he told her he had sent a letter detailing a repayment plan. Zagunis told him she had not received it. A month later Zagunis cornered Massik again in Charlotte. "He told me he had the letter with him in his briefcase, because he didn't trust it to the mail, but actually it wasn't in his briefcase; it was upstairs in his room and he would go get it," said Zagunis. "He still hasn't provided the letter."