USOC to take over wayward U.S. Fencing Association (cont.)
According to Cathy Zagunis, Mariel is still owed $10,000-12,000 on top of the original $25,000. USFA also owes money to other athletes. In May, Olympian Sada Jacobsen, a member of the world team in Leipzig, was paid roughly $14,000 of the $32,000 she was owed; and Rebecca Ward, a Leipzig team member and the 2006 world champion, is owed roughly $6,000. This year, when the top fencers traveled abroad for World Cup events, their hotels were supposed to be paid for by USFA, but when they arrived for a World Cup in Klagenfurt, Germany, Cathy Zagunis put the bill on her credit card, because the association had not left a card number at the hotel. When the group arrived at its hotel for another World Cup event in Ghent, Belgium, the hotel informed them that the card the USFA had left to cover the room had been declined.
Additionally a one-time bequest of $360,000, specifically earmarked in two equal parts for training and preparation for the 2004 and '08 Olympics, was folded into the general budget, contrary to the terms of the gift.
Earlier this season Ed Korfanty, the women's national sabre coach, won a default judgment against the USFA for failure to pay funds owed to him because USFA legal representatives failed to appear in court or contest the issue. Korfanty is finally receiving monthly payments that are roughly one year behind.
Though most of the sources for this story felt that the federation's financial and operating implosion was the result of mismanagement rather than malfeasance, most were mystified as to how the association could have such a significant shortfall. Many were strikingly concerned about speaking up directly, for fear that their standing within the fencing community would be jeopardized. For years the complicity of silence allowed leadership that was increasingly overburdened with responsibilities that went over their heads to remain idle. "When people are afraid to put themselves out there and rock the boat," says one member, "the boat just keeps sinking. That's what happened with us."
Anderson did not respond to SI's email request for an interview. Massik declined and asked that all inquiries be directed to the association's communications consultant.
An intercession from the USOC was inevitable and will be announced on Wednesday. In addition to conducting a widespread independent audit of the USFA and overseeing funding for athletes, the USOC will essentially run the association's high performance group leading up to the Beijing Olympics. Beyond that the committee will make sure a board is in place that will run transparently and be accountable to its membership. "We absolutely want to make sure athletes have the full support they need to reach their potential in Beijing," says USOC spokesperson Darryl Seibel. "Going forward, we will start to identify where changes may need to be made within the organization."
That should be a welcome relief, even for those within fencing who fear the impact that outside interference might have on the community of those who better understand the sport. Still, the flickering light of opportunity that propelled a hot sport such as snowboarding may be gone for fencing. This is a shame. Up close, this sport is dynamic and intense. Up closer, the athletes who contest it are largely bright, modest, well spoken and upstanding. Now it's their burden to parry years of missed opportunities.