By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, February 27. BY now it’s no longer a surprise to most Americans to hear that the US of A is not beloved on the streets of Baghdad, Damascus, Teheran or Paris, for that matter. But it may come as a shock that Americans are not all that popular even in the halls of the International Olympic Committee.
Despite the fact that the US is, by far, the largest contributor to the coffers of the IOC, and despite the fact that the USA has hosted the Games three times since 1980 and would like to do so again in 2016, it seems — as the Beatles pointed out some years ago — that money can’t buy us love.
At least that’s this observer’s conclusion following the voting to fill seats on the IOC Executive Committee. The voting and the political maneuvering and machinations leading up to the voting drew little attention when they took place two weeks ago. But the message the elections delivered rang loud and clear: the US is continuing to lose influence within the IOC.
The facts of what occurred are quite straight-forward. The US had two candidates for membership on the 15-person Executive Committee of the IOC: Anita DeFrantz, a 1976 Olympian, the first woman to serve as an IOC vice president and a candidate for the IOC presidency five years ago; and Jim Easton, a one-term IOC vice president seeking re-election. When it appeared that support was split between the two Americans, DeFrantz withdrew in favor of Easton. Easton, sensing he would lose his re-election bid to a vice presidency, lowered his sights and withdrew from that race to go for one of the regular seats on the Executive Committee. However, he lost that election, 57 to 36, to Sam Ramsamy of South Africa.
The result is that for the first time in 15 years (except for a seven-month transition period between July 2001 and February 2002), the United States has no representation on the Executive Board. The new board consists of nine Europeans, three Asians, two Latin Americans and one African.
There are several reasons why the USA has suffered a tremendous loss of prestige in IOC circles. Among them: The political turmoil, corruption, ineptitude and leadership changes in the USOC over the past several years; continuing resentment over the commercialism of the “Coca Cola Olympics” in Atlanta in 1996; the Salt Lake City bid scandal (though such attempts to buy votes have a long history within the IOC); the Balco scandal (though the US is by no means the only country with a significant doping problem); and a growing anti-Americanism.
Even before this month’s IOC elections, the anti-American writing was on the wall. New York finishing fourth among the five cities bidding to host the 2012 Games was a major clue. So was the vote to drop baseball – and softball too – from the Games in apparent retaliation for Balco.
The next opportunity for an American to gain a seat on the IOC Executive Board will come in 2007. That means the US has one year to schmooze, mend fences and rebuild alliances if it is to regain at least some of the influence it has squandered in the last several years.