USA Track and Field has made another high-profile front-office move that is raising eyebrows across the Olympic world -- even inside the federation's own boardroom, a place prone to in-fighting in recent years.
USATF, which oversees the U.S. Olympic track and field team, hired recently resigned board member Max Siegel to a yearlong contract to try to shore up its flagging media, sponsorship and communications efforts.
The six-figure deal -- USATF would not be more specific about the exact value -- was given to Siegel's 50-employee company this week, barely a month after he resigned his unpaid spot on USATF's board of directors after 2½ years. The contract was awarded without USATF making any formal request for proposals from other vendors.
"In my opinion, there absolutely is a conflict of interest when someone has a perceived advantage over their competitors by having 'inside information' as a member of the governance or management of an organization looking to hire a vendor or service provider," said Steve Roush, who was the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief of sport performance when it asked USATF to overhaul its governance structure three years ago.
The Associated Press interviewed four other Olympic insiders, none of whom wanted to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic, but all of whom objected to the method of USATF's hiring of Siegel.
Some members of the USATF board were also uncomfortable with the move.
Chief spokeswoman Jill Geer, who will be the USATF's liaison to Siegel and his staff, told the AP that when the idea of hiring Siegel was first raised, one of the biggest conversations in the boardroom was how the move would look ethically. The board decided to move forward, convinced that Siegel's ability to improve USATF's image quickly was more important than any backlash USATF might receive for the politics behind it.
"USATF went into this with open eyes," Geer said. "We extensively discussed the issues concerning the process, the fact we were bringing a former board member on as a contractor. But we felt strongly that this is the best move USATF can make to not just advance our business model but really remake it and essentially put us into the 21st century in sports marketing."
As a contractor, Siegel will fill the roles that otherwise would be executed, in various forms, by the CEO, the vacant chief marketing officer's position and others on the sales and marketing side. Geer said USATF went to Siegel, asking him to submit a bid for the position.
The USOC, long skeptical of the way USATF does business, declined comment on the topic.