USOC goes for more gold with shift in funding

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The Independent Online

In his first executive committee meeting, new US Olympic Committee boss Norm Blake encountered plenty of griping about his methods but no resistance to his plan to shake up the organisation and shift funding among sports.

Two months after coming in from the business world to tackle the USOC's problems, Blake laid out a detailed blueprint on Friday of how he wants to reshape virtually every aspect of the way the USOC and the national governing bodies of sports operate.

"I've never seen an organisation like this," Blake said of the haphazard way the USOC has been operating for years, with its far-flung national governing bodies acting like subsidised fiefdoms. "I'm not saying it's bad, it's just much different than I'm used to."

Blake smiled, adding that he wanted to be careful in his criticism.

The most controversial aspect of Blake's plan, the idea of taking money from about 20 sports that don't figure to win medals and giving more to those that bring in the most gold, was accepted by committee members with little discussion.

So, too, were his calls for a more streamlined structure and a greater accountability for every dollar spent.

Where Blake encountered the most flak from committee members, particularly those representing national governing bodies and athletes, was in the quick way he devised his plan without consulting everyone at different levels.

"The biggest issue was not the substance but how it all came about," Blake said. "I've been on board for 60 days. There's a broad constituency that's trying to be served here. I tried to come up with workable principles that we could all relate to, with an understanding that it needs to be refined and we need to build consensus behind those principles."

Blake felt that rather than drag out the process with discussion and incremental changes, it was more important to move ahead quickly and create momentum throughout the whole organisation.

"If you try to do things incrementally, it never gets done," Blake said. "The bottom line is that nobody disagreed with the principles."

The next step, Blake said, is to implement the changes while making sure not to alienate anyone in the different sports.

One of his challenges will be to decide how much money to shift from the weaker sports to the traditional powerhouses in the quest for more medals. Some sports already are moving in that direction on their own. Skiing, for example, is shifting money and support out of the Nordic events and into the alpine events. But other sports that can expect cuts, like biathlon, team handball, weightlifting, field hockey and table tennis, are worried about their future.

"They don't know what the impact is going to be yet, and I don't know, truthfully," Blake said. "It's getting down to a basic business plan with an NGB (national governing board) in terms of setting their objectives.

"There is a legitimate concern because it may not be a good thing for them. How bad, how ugly and how harmful it is, they don't know. But it's not going cold turkey. We're going to be responsible. They've been dependent on our funding for years. We can't all of a sudden turn off the spigot."