The new force in the U.S. Olympic movement delivered a philosophical message to delegates at the quadrennial meetings of the U.S. Olympic Committee ( USOC) in Portland, Ore., last weekend: The primary goal of the USOC is—and must be—to help U.S. athletes win Olympic medals. Mere participation isn't enough to satisfy George Steinbrenner, New York Yankee owner, newly elected USOC vice-president and chairman of the Olympic Overview Commission, and that was reflected in the commission's long-awaited, 21-page report, delivered on Sunday. Steinbrenner clearly wants the USOC to start playing hardball. Among the commission's recommendations were
?Provide far more money to U.S. athletes through expanded tuition assistance, job programs and direct financial payments. Obtain the money by stepping up fund-raising efforts, demanding a larger share of Olympic television revenues from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), marketing USOC products and logos more aggressively and trimming administrative expenses.
?Take a lesson from the Eastern bloc countries and create an organization to identify and develop promising young athletes.
?Streamline USOC decision-making by eliminating 16 of 29 committees and reducing the executive board from 89 to 46 members.
?Relocate the USOC's marketing, merchandising, licensing and media operations from organization headquarters in Colorado Springs to New York City and model them after those of the NFL and major league baseball.
?Hire a public relations/lobbying firm with offices in Washington, D.C., to build national Olympic spirit and keep Congress and the White House aware of USOC needs.
While some at the meetings questioned Steinbrenner's emphasis on winning—which, after all, isn't exactly at the heart of the Olympic ideals—Steinbrenner generally earned positive reviews. "He's a guy who takes a problem and deals with it," former Olympic hammer thrower Ed Burke said. Anita DeFrantz, a U.S. representative to the IOC, said that if the USOC acts upon Steinbrenner's proposals, he "could have the biggest impact on the organization since the Amateur Sports Act," the 1978 legislation that created America's current amateur sports structure.
The Portland meetings weren't without a significant embarrassment for the USOC: In House of Delegates voting held on Saturday, men were elected to fill all six of the organization's top executive board positions. No women had even been put up for the offices by the USOC's nominating committee. USOC president Robert Helmick rushed to remedy the oversight by announcing the appointment of outgoing USOC vice-president Evie Dennis as his special assistant, but that seems a token gesture.
As the USOC steps into the Age of Steinbrenner, it should be reminded that women made up 36% of the membership of last year's U.S. Olympic teams and earned or shared 35 of the 103 medals won by American athletes at Calgary and Seoul.