Jacques Rogge told a German newspaper last week that future International Olympic Committee presidents no longer should be volunteers but paid employees.
He is right.
But only under this condition:
If he or she is to be paid, the president who succeeds Rogge in September and all future IOC presidents must be selected from a wide pool of candidates that cannot include any past or present IOC members.
The U.S. Olympic Committee found out what a mess ensues from picking one of its “members” to be salaried chief executive, even if it was originally to be only on an acting basis.
The shameful conflict of interest that allowed Stephanie Streeter to go from the USOC board to its chief executive was a disastrous idea made even worse by her unsuitability for the job. Streeter even made a play to keep the job full time that thankfully was quashed by rebellious constituencies.
Yes, the USOC eventually turned to someone who had been an insider, Scott Blackmun, its former general counsel and, briefly, its acting CEO. The difference is Blackmun had been hired as general counsel, not elected to the position, as IOC members are. He also had not been a USOC employee for nearly nine years when the board hired him as CEO at the end of 2009.
Rogge’s valid reasons for wanting a paid president included having “independent people,” according to his interview with Suddeutsche Zeitung. The former orthopedic surgeon noted that having a paid chief executive was the policy of many major sports organizations but did not specify those to which he was referring.
How independent could a person be after having been part of a self-selected IOC membership? Especially because the most likely candidates will come from an even smaller self-selected group, the IOC executive board, which the membership picks after campaigns rife with rumors about horse trading and other shenanigans.
The closed club nature of the IOC remains a big reason why the organization suffers from low esteem among those few in the USA who pay any attention to it at all.
That feeling is mutual. The IOC’s Eurocentric membership, many of whom have perfected Old World hauteur, cares little about the U.S. beyond scarfing down its TV and sponsor money and relying on the ability of its athletes to make the Olympics a competition that attracts billions in global TV rights fees.
In U.S. pro sports, the owners pick their commissioner. Only in Major League Baseball, however, is the commissioner a former owner – and Bud Selig is an anomaly, the first commissioner who has been an owner. No former NFL owner has been a commissioner since 1959. None of the NBA’s four commissioners was an owner. No NHL president or commissioner was elevated from being a team owner.
Now let’s look at the example of a paid federation president who had been one of its elected officials: FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, who runs an organization some feel is more powerful and important worldwide than the IOC.
His four-term presidency of the soccer federation has turned into a morass of allegations about bribes and widespread corruption. It seems likely Blatter has stayed in office, with his $1 million annual compensation and apparently unlimited expense account, by bestowing quid pro quo favors on his supporters – the ultimate downside in conflicts of interest.
The IOC never has understood the idea of conflict of interest, which resonates more in the United States than anywhere else in the world.
(If it did grasp the concept, there is no way Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. would have had a vote in the executive board decision that recommended wrestling be ousted from the Olympic program and modern pentathlon be kept. Samaranch, you see, also is first vice president of the modern pentathlon federation.)
The IOC had a reserve fund of $558 million as of mid-2012 and should have revenues of some $5 billion in the 2013-2016 Olympic quadrennium. According to its financial reports, less than 10 percent of those revenues go to IOC operation and administration.
Until now, the IOC presidency has been a volunteer position, with reimbursement for living expenses in Lausanne and travel expenses. It makes sense to pay the president at least $1 million in salary, more if living expenses no longer are part of the deal.
Give credit to Rogge for proposing an utterly sensible idea.
But it will be more IOC nonsense-as-usual if it just lines the pocket of a member of its private club.