Svein Romstad

Probst up for IOC membership

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- It's nearly four years ago now that Chicago got thumped when the International Olympic Committee voted for the 2016 Summer Games host city. For the U.S. Olympic Committee, that was, indisputably, the low point.

It's worth bearing in mind all the time and miles in between then and now amid Tuesday's announcement by the International Olympic Committee of the nomination of nine new members, U.S. Olympic Committee board chair Larry Probst among them.

Probst's membership is for sure a milestone. Over time, it's likely to means more influence for the United States within the IOC, and as the USOC is considering bids for future Games -- in particular, as soon as 2024 -- that could be key.

At the same time, the United States still has a long, long way to go in becoming a power player in the IOC along the lines of, say, Switzerland, with five members.

For now, what Probst's membership marks is, simply, yet another step in the USOC's effort at quiet diplomacy.

He  -- and the other new members - will be sworn in at the end of the all-members assembly in September in Buenos Aires. They will not, repeat not, take part in the voting there.

At that September session, the IOC will elect a new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who has been in office since 2001, as well as pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race. All three bid cities are making presentations here Wednesday in Lausanne to the full IOC. All six presidential candidates are likewise making presentations Thursday.

Four new athlete members, meanwhile, are due to be sworn in Wednesday. They were elected in voting from the London Games and will be eligible to vote in September.

When the nine new members are brought on board, assuming no other changes, that will bring the IOC membership to 113, spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday.

Notable among the nine -- only one is from Asia, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.

The list includes famed long-distance runner Paul Tergat of Kenya and Athens 2004 high-jump champion Stefan Holm of Sweden.

It also features the head of the Russian national Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. The next Winter Olympics, in February, will be held in Sochi.

Russia will then have four members.

The U.S., too -- when Probst is sworn in, the Americans will count him, Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.

Even so, the U.S. has for years lacked significant political influence within the IOC.

DeFrantz has been a member since 1986. She served on the policy-making executive board from 1992 to 2001. She has since run for office unsuccessfully; she is standing this September again for the board.

Easton has in recent years played a markedly reduced role.

Ruggiero is widely seen as an up-and-comer. At the same time, as an athlete member, she is already three years through her fixed term of eight years.

Thus Probst's entry is widely seen as an important step in bringing back a measure of American influence.

"The U.S. is a very strong and important partner of the IOC," Adams said at a briefing Tuesday at the IOC's Lake Geneva headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. "Larry's nomination is a sign of that and a sign of continuing cooperation with the USOC."

For his part, Probst said in a statement released by the USOC, “I am truly honored to be nominated for membership in the IOC, and extremely grateful for the potential opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement."

Last year, the USOC and IOC resolved a longstanding dispute over certain television and marketing revenues. Probst's nomination is a reflection of that ongoing USOC-IOC "cooperation." It is by no means a quid pro quo for the deal.

Probst becomes the first USOC president -- as the jargon goes -- as IOC member since Sandy Baldwin. That's 11 years ago.

Bill Hybl served as USOC president and IOC member for two years, 2000-01.

Before that, you have to go back to Bob Helmick. He stepped down in 1991.

Again, Probst's entry is important. But it's just one step. It must be reiterated that the USOC has to be thinking in terms of the long run in assessing the political calculus of a Games bid.


There are 35 Olympic sports, summer and winter. The United States has no presidents among any of those 35 federations. It has one -- just one -- secretary general from among any of the 35, Svein Romstad, who runs the luge federation from, of all places, Atlanta.

Last year, American Doug Beal ran for the presidency of the international volleyball federation. The convention and election were held in Anaheim, Calif. Even so, he did not win.

The United States does, in fact, boast some international sports federation presidents. But they are not Olympic sports. They are in sports such as softball, surfing and cheerleading.

Then again, the situation now is better -- way better -- than in October, 2009, when Chicago got rocked.

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was elected in April to a four-year term to the FIFA executive committee.

USA Basketball chief executive Jim Tooley is in line to become FIBA Americas president for 2014-18.

Max Cobb, the USA Biathlon president and chief executive, heads the International Biathlon Union's technical committee.

These things, simply, take time.

This is what Probst came to understand in Copenhagen in October, 2009.

Before that, he did not totally understand how demanding the USOC board chairman's job was. Nor did he grasp fully how much time and how much travel it was going to take.

The next January, Scott Blackmun came on board as the USOC's chief executive.

Together, they vowed to repair the USOC's standing in international relations.

They said, privately and publicly, that relationship-building took time and effort. They said they were in it for the long haul.

Instead of sending staffers to meetings, Probst or Blackmun -- sometimes both -- started showing up.

Now, Probst and Blackmun serve on IOC committees. Probst is, as well, on the board of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Blackmun, for that matter, is here in Lausanne for the second time in three weeks. He was here the first time for the ANOC assembly and is back now for an IOC marketing commission meeting.

It's active engagement. That's what it takes. That's what got Probst nominated Tuesday.

It's going to take more -- a lot more -- to win the United States an Olympic Games. Everyone should keep that in mind.

USOC's smart play: staying out of 2020

DAEGU, South Korea -- The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said here Friday, "Obviously we would love to have had a bid emanating from the United States for 2020," and, sure, no doubt about that. At the same time, the United States Olympic Committee unequivocally did the right thing by announcing earlier this week it would not be bidding. An American bid could not have won. If no one else is willing to be so blunt in saying so -- it says so here. Not now, no way, no how. Moreover, it's not clear when. Maybe 2022. Or maybe not. It's too soon to know.

You can believe there were a variety of interests urging the Americans to jump in to the 2020 campaign. Larry Probst, the USOC chairman, and Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive, deserve credit for having resolve enough to just say no. That's leadership.

Right now the IOC, and for that matter international sport, is in the midst of what the South Koreans, prompted by the first-rate American strategist Terrence Burns, cleverly termed the "new horizons" era. That slogan encapsulated Pyeongchang's winning bid for the 2018 Winter Games. That same sort of expansionist thinking won Sochi the 2014 Winter Games and Rio de Janeiro the 2016 Summer Games -- and, as well, brought Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Friday brought yet another "new horizons" twist -- one that makes Probst and Blackmun look even smarter.

After meeting all afternoon here at the Inter Burgo hotel behind closed doors, the IOC's policy-making executive board gave Doha the green light to launch an autumn bid for the 2020 Games, when it would be cooler in Qatar.

Later Friday, the Qatar Olympic Committee announced they were in the race. The formal entry deadline is Sept. 1.

Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo and Rome have announced they're in, too.

There's no question, of course, that the United States has the facilities and resources to stage an Olympic Games. As Seb Coe, the leader of the London 2012 bid and now its organizing committee, has famously put it, that's the "how." What's now missing is the "why" -- the story of why the IOC would vote to send the Games back to the United States.

Until that "why" comes along, there's an incredibly strong argument to be made that it's best for the United States to remain a loyal, faithful and devoted Olympic partner but graciously permit others to shoulder the burden of staging the Games.  It currently costs $100 million, or more, to bid successfully, and in the United States, where all that money has to be privately raised, there has to be a return on that investment.

See New York 2012 and Chicago 2016.

Let's be perfectly clear. At least 20 years will have gone by from the last time the United States had the privilege of staging the Games until the next time, whenever that is; the last time was of course in Salt Lake City, in 2002. But it's not that the USOC, and the United States of America, haven't sought the Games. To the contrary.

Indeed, the next time a bid committee goes to the White House to ask the president of the United States for his (or her) personal involvement in the campaign -- again, it gets back to return on investment.

It is indisputably true that the IOC and USOC find themselves locked in a complex dispute over revenue-sharing over broadcasting and marketing shares. Solving that is a prerequisite for the launch of any American bid. It wasn't going to be solved by Sept. 1, and that's why the USOC was for sure out for 2020.

The two sides are currently negotiating; eventually, the matter will be solved. It's a contract dispute. Such disputes inevitably get solved.

That just sets the stage, though, for the real work.

Far too many people seem to have a grossly unrealistic expectation about the bid process, particularly in the United States, fueled perhaps by Atlanta's win for the 1996 Games.

That win, though, happened at a very different time in both American and Olympic history, when the United States was riding the boom of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Those days are long gone.

What Probst and Blackmun understand is that the USOC now is in the relationship business.

That is the real work.

The two most intriguing U.S.-centric bid-related news bits this week were not so much that the USOC opted out of 2020 -- the signals had been there for a long while -- but that Probst and Blackmun last week traveled to Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, and that here this week Bob Hersh, the American delegate, was not only re-elected to one of the four IAAF vice-presidential positions but received the most votes among all the candidates.

First, the South American swing:

It is vital that the USOC play a key role in the western hemisphere. If you can't help lead in your own neighborhood, how can you lead anywhere else?

It's why Probst, in a statement released by the USOC, said it had placed a "high priority on being a trusted partner" in the Americas. Blackmun -- who, by the way, is also due into Daegu next week -- called the South American trip an "opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people in the Olympic movement and continue to build genuine relationships."

Hersh, meanwhile, offers a solid example of how Americans ought to -- no, must -- go about re-building their international relations effort.

Hersh has been active in track and field circles throughout his life. He was manager of his high school (Midwood High, Brooklyn) and college (Columbia) track teams; after law school (Harvard), he became an official at track meets; then he got involved with the body that pre-dated USA Track & Field. For chronological purposes, that takes us to the 1970s. He was elected to his first IAAF post, a technical position, in 1984.

That was 27 years ago.

Hersh has steadily worked his way up since, saying in an interview Friday, a couple days after receiving 175 votes for vice-president, "Work is the key word," adding a moment later, "The way you progress in most organizations is by doing work that is recognized. And it is work. No question about it. A lot of work. I am pleased, as anyone would be, when things come of it."

Dale Neuberger is a key figure in swimming. Svein Romstad is secretary-general of the luge federation. Max Cobb is a rising figure in biathlon.

Here, in addition to Hersh, three other Americans were also elected to IAAF posts, including David Katz, who led the voting to remain on the federation's technical committee in balloting that saw 12 elected from a field of 28.

The United States needs more such worker bees, and in considerably more federations. That's how networks get built. Over time, such networks build influence.

Again, give Probst and Blackmun credit. Rather than being rushed into a decision for 2020, they took their time.

"We respect and we understand the position of the United States Olympic Committee," Rogge also said here Friday, "and we hope there will be good bids in the future beyond 2020."

There's no rush.