Going for the Gold
The U.S.'s top Olympic official has profited from questionable sports business dealings
Last Thursday, USA Today reported that Robert Helmick, a Des Moines lawyer who has served as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1985 and is one of two International Olympic Committee members from the U.S., had received at least $127,000 in payments during 1990 from clients who stood to benefit from the USOC's favor. Those clients included:
?The Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, which had paid Helmick unspecified sums since 1987, including at least $37,500 in the first six months of 1990. According to Helmick, he received those payments for, among other things, helping the network acquire rights to the Pan Am Games. The USOC oversees U.S. participation in those games. TBS also sponsors the Goodwill Games, an international sports extravaganza held every four years.
?Ron Meyers & Associates, a public relations firm retained by the Brunswick Corp., a bowling equipment manufacturer, to push for the inclusion of bowling in the Olympics. In 1990 Helmick was paid $25,000 by Meyers as a consultant.
?Robert L. Seagren, marketing director for the U.S. Golf Federation. The USGF is seeking to become golf's international governing body should that sport be added to the Olympic program. Helmick's son, Rob, was secretary general of the USGF until he resigned last week. Seagren paid Helmick $50,000 in consulting fees in 1990.
Helmick, who is not paid by either the USOC or the IOC, says that there was nothing improper about these business relationships and that he had disclosed their existence to USOC executive director Harvey Schiller. But Schiller told SI that "the relationship with golf was never discussed with me." Nor, Schiller said, did he know about Helmick's association with bowling. At any rate, Schiller is Helmick's subordinate; it's unclear what he could have done even if he had known and disapproved of Helmick's activities.
Those activities are troubling. For example, Helmick has long supported the Goodwill Games, to the bafflement of some of his Olympic colleagues, one of whom said in the wake of last week's revelations, "Oh, jeez, now I understand." Helmick's business relationships were especially unsettling given his membership on the IOC Program Committee, which recommends new Olympic sports. How could Helmick have impartially considered the admission of, say, softball versus that of bowling or golf? Responds Helmick, "Everyone has his favorite sports."
But not every Olympic administrator gets paid by his favorite sports. In an SI interview, Helmick denied the accuracy of the $127,000 figure reported by USA Today but said that the 1990 sports-consulting activities that the paper detailed were "approximately consistent with what I'd been doing in prior years."
On Saturday, after an eight-hour meeting in Chicago, the USOC's Executive Committee absolved Helmick of wrongdoing, issuing a statement that read, "There is no evidence that President Helmick sought to or did influence improperly in any way the professional staff or the business decisions of the USOC." The committee said it would appoint a special counsel to examine Helmick's records, though Helmick claims to have terminated any activities that might appear to conflict with his Olympic duties. " President Helmick openly acknowledges errors in judgment concerning the appearance of conflicts of interest and has apologized," read the statement.