SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Naber champions drive for alumni association seat at USOC table

Olympic swimming champion John Naber of Pasadena, Calif., a gold medalist in four events at the 1976 Montreal Games, believes the time has come to tap the intellectual and emotional power of the more than 6,000 Olympians across the nation.

He is heading the U.S. Olympic Alumni Association, aka the U.S. Olympians, and seeking a voting seat for the organization on the U.S. Olympic Committee's board of directors.

Few athletes use Olympic glory as a bridge to a lifetime of celebrity and wealth, but many move on to successful careers and prominence within their communities. Fewer become coaches and Olympic sports administrators, or take active volunteer roles in national governing bodies or the USOC.

Naber and his more active fellow alums believe too many fall through the cracks and have drifted away from the U.S. Olympic movement, if for no other reason than that there has been little organizational framework to keep them united.

With many people predicting unusually tough times for the USOC's fund-raising and marketing efforts after next year's Salt Lake City Games, it seems logical that alums might help the cause. But the politics of control and influence among U.S. volunteers add several layers of complexity to alumni involvement.

Within the USOC board are 23 members of the athletes' advisory council. These individuals must be fewer than 10 years removed from their last competition. Council members, however, are not required to be Olympians, just people willing to attend a lot of meetings. Some are concerned that the U.S. Olympians group might overshadow the council's role.

"I have no argument that contemporary athletes can speak with a more informed voice on issues of banning performance drugs or eligibility requirements," said Naber, a speaker and television commentator. "But, as Olympians, we can bring to the table a much greater sense of the power of Olympic ideals, and I would think those would be welcomed. We are certainly not trying to diminish the [athlete council's] influence."

The Olympians recently met in the same Salt Lake City hotel as the USOC's board, but around the corner and down the hall. Naber said 18 alumni chapter heads attended, along with 12 other Olympians. The board will consider the association's request for a vote next April.

Some USOC staffers are saying privately that new CEO Lloyd Ward should bring the alumni group into the fold to keep it from competing with the USOC for corporate support as marketing dollars grow scarce after the '02 Games.

Meanwhile, Naber said Ward stopped by his group's meeting in Salt Lake City and indicated that he intends to work closely with the alumni. Many will be back for the Winter Games at the Visa-sponsored Olympic reunion center.

POWER SHIFT: Former USOC president and Colorado business mogul William Hybl yielded his International Olympic Committee seat last week. Hybl has moved to New York to direct his attention to an expected confirmation as U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

He relinquishes his IOC membership to allow new USOC President Sandra Baldwin to assume the seat, although that is not automatic. Baldwin's nomination recently was submitted to the IOC and must be approved by that body.

FINE CHINA: American George Killian, former head of the international basketball federation and a longtime USOC board member, was among U.S. officials attending the World University Games earlier this year in Beijing, host city for the 2008 Olympics.

Killian believes Beijing's handling of the lower-profile World Games indicates 2008 "will be the best Olympics you've ever seen," citing the government-based approach to running the Olympics.

"When they want the traffic to stop," he said, "it just stops."

Steve Woodward can be reached at stevewoodwardhere@hotmail.com.

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