Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Streeter's tenure marked by missteps
Six months of shaky decisions and turmoil came to a head for the U.S. Olympic Committee on Wednesday when its acting CEO said she would step down, bringing more chaos to an organization that was humiliated when Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Games fell flat.
Stephanie Streeter said she would not seek the USOC's CEO job on a permanent basis, and that she would leave in the next five months.
The decision came just five days after Chicago's humbling, first-round exit in a vote by International Olympic Committee members, who ultimately picked Rio de Janeiro. It also happened on the same day leaders of America's Olympic sports organizations said "No" in a 40-0 vote to this question on a survey they conducted: "Do you believe the acting CEO has the ability to be an effective leader of the Olympic movement?"
Stephanie Streeter never gained the trust of the national governing bodies, and some of the moves made in her tenure drew the IOC's ire.
The United States contributes more money to the Olympics than any other nation, yet the USOC is rife with infighting and turnover, perceived internationally as arrogant, and populated with leaders who are having trouble turning things around.
"I'm incredibly saddened by the developments, which I lay largely at the feet of the USOC, which has clearly lost its way," said NBC Universal Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol. "It's a combination of people who don't have a full-time commitment to it, too many people who really don't have an understanding of international sports and relationships. I don't believe there will be another Olympics in the U.S. until the USOC really gets its act together."
USOC Chairman Larry Probst conceded that turning around the group's international reputation is not a one- or two-year project. "I'm talking 10, 15, 20 years," he said.
Chicago's elimination in the first round was universally viewed as an embarrassment, and one of the biggest surprises ever handed down by IOC voters. One IOC member, Denis Oswald of Switzerland, went so far as to call it "a defeat for the USOC, not for Chicago."
The USOC will hire a national recruiting firm by the end of the month to search for Streeter's replacement. The next CEO will be the third to sit in that chair in the span of about a year. The latest upheaval began in March when Jim Scherr was forced out after six years of relative stability and success.
Scherr, himself, has been approached by people in the movement to gauge his interest in a return. He acknowledged the small chance of that idea going anywhere but didn't rule out considering it.
"It's possible under the right circumstances," he said.
Ebersol said good candidates would be people with connections to major Olympic sports -- such as swimming, gymnastics, skiing -- with experience in marketing, international relations and the sports world.
Probst, who said he has no plans to step down as chairman, acknowledged some of the USOC's problems.
"We have plenty of good relationships, but the reality is, we don't have the political capital, the leverage, a spot on the IOC executive team," he said. "We need to do work over the long haul to have more of a presence."
In several conversations with The Associated Press in the past few weeks, Streeter made it clear she didn't want to stay on and would announce that after the IOC awarded the 2016 Games. She said she wants to return to the corporate world -- she is a former CEO at Banta Corp. -- though she realizes many people will view her decision as a direct result of the Chicago vote and the increasing calls for change in the USOC leadership.
"I had made this decision prior to the bid and clearly it makes sense to announce it as soon after as possible," she told the AP. "It makes sense to announce it at this time so the USOC has a clean slate when it goes into the search process."
Depending on how the CEO search goes, Streeter could be with the USOC through March 21, which is when the Paralympics end in Vancouver. The Vancouver Olympics are set for Feb. 12-28.
Whether her departure satisfies her critics will almost certainly depend on who the board chooses to replace her. The board also has been criticized as being out of touch with what the majority of the Olympic movement wants.
"This is just a first step," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics and a key member of the leaders of national governing bodies who answered the questionnaire on Streeter.
That questionnaire was a rough one for the leadership. It consisted of 63 questions, and almost every answer returned something overwhelmingly negative about Probst and Streeter. Streeter had said the NGB criticism was a small but vocal minority, but at the end of the day, the whole group banded together to call for her and Probst's immediate resignations.
"If you don't know what you don't know, you can't really lead from a dynamic vision," said Skip Gilbert, leader of the NGB bosses, speaking to what he called the leadership's lack of knowledge in Olympic areas. "Realistically, today is the day to make that change."
Ebersol, whose efforts have helped bankroll the Olympic movement to the tune of billions of dollars over the years, predicted Chicago losing out on the games will diminish the value of American TV rights by at least 15 to 20 percent, "just because it won't be the same level of advertising" a network could get from an American games.
He expects NBC will still bid, though that wouldn't be an indicator that all is well at the USOC.
"It won't just change from Stephanie Streeter not standing for re-election," he said. "The board has to be seriously re-examined for the fact that it lacks real leadership in all these key sports fields."
Streeter was under intense scrutiny immediately after moving into the job from the board of directors. The switch came as a surprise to many in the Olympic movement, in part because the USOC had been functioning relatively smoothly with Scherr at the helm.
She and Probst claimed the USOC needed a different, more businesslike approach to running things, especially considering the bad economy and the reluctance of some sponsors to re-sign with the USOC after the Beijing Olympics.
There were some successes -- a handful of sponsors did come on board, and the USOC was able to increase funding for Winter Games athletes by one-fifth, partly by exceeding projected budget revenues.
Those successes, however, were barely a blip -- overshadowed by the perceived missteps and criticism.
Her arrival never was accepted by the NGB leaders, who felt blindsided and wondered about the transparency of a move that elevated a volunteer board member into a paid position.
They found more to complain about when the board approved a pay package with a base of $560,000 -- about 30 percent more than what Scherr earned. That only grew louder when the USOC botched the introduction of its TV network and drew criticism from the IOC.
"I think we miscalculated on the network," Streeter said when asked if she had any regrets from her seven months on the job. "We miscalculated the reaction from the IOC and our TV partners at NBC. I still think it's a good idea. In retrospect, I would've altered timing on the announcement."
There was also the complicated IOC-USOC revenue-sharing issue that Streeter and Probst managed to table -- but not solve -- about six months before the 2016 vote. Despite efforts on both sides, the lack of a resolution colors almost everything about how international Olympic leaders relate to the United States. Internationally, the Americans are perceived as taking too much of the money generated by the Olympics.
IOC member Willi Kaltschmitt of Guatemala said the USOC needs to "rethink, reorganize and regroup."
"There are a lot of wounds there," Kaltschmitt said. "It's an accumulation of things. We say 'dead corpses in the road.'"