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Volume 26 No. 209
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Reform Commission: USOPC Needs To Give Up Control Of Board Seats

A reform commission told the USOPC to relinquish control over a majority of its BOD seats instead of allowing constituent groups to directly elect those members. The commission in a report released on Thursday also called for substantial hikes in spending on athlete and sport support. If approved, the board changes would constitute a major shift in governance for the USOPC, which once was run by a large board of constituent representatives but in recent decades has embraced a corporate-style model dominated by independent directors selected by the board itself. The board overhaul was one of several major recommendations made by the commission, created last year in the wake of the Larry Nassar/USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal and chaired by former WBNA President Lisa Borders. USOPC leaders would not commit to any particular course of action in a statement released alongside the report. Board chair Susanne Lyons: “We look forward to reviewing the full report and taking appropriate actions to implement and reinforce meaningful reforms to create a culture and environment where athletes can achieve both personal well-being and competitive success.”

PROPOSED BOARD MAKEUP: The USOPC’s board currently includes 13 voting spots, including three each who are nominated by the Athlete’s Advisory Council and the National Governing Bodies Council. Those nominations are subject to final approval by the board itself. Its chair must be one of the six independent members chosen by a nominating committee. Also, all American IOC members share one vote. Under the new proposals, eight seats by '24 would be directly elected by the AAC, the NGB Council and the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association. Only five would be independent seats directly chosen by the board. "Board composition should represent a mosaic of expertise and experience to ensure optimal decisions are made based on a diverse set of perspectives. Independent directors remain an important component but need not be a majority,” the report reads. The current board makeup stems from changes proposed by a governance commission headed by George Steinbrenner in '89 and then again by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in '10. The Borders group’s endorsement of direct constituent elections is sure to be embraced by some national governing bodies, which are resisting the USOC’s demands that they include more independent directors.

OTHER CHANGES: Along with the board changes, the Borders Commission made several other major proposals:

  • Stop determining funding for NGBs based on their potential to generate Olympic medals, and instead implement stipends designed to cover basic operational costs, with expanded compliance checks.

  • Empower the current Athletes’ Advisory Council through a dedicated funding stream large enough to pay for full-time staff, and strengthen the current ombudsman position.

  • A major expansion of funding to athletes, including: Minimum financial support guarantees, enhanced health insurance that increases mental health funding and improved education programs.

  • Streamline the dispute-resolution process when athletes are at odds with their sport's leaders, including the elimination of a requirement that athletes exhaust all possible remedies before bringing disputes to the USOPC.


The 113-page report also includes a draft of proposed changes to the federal law governing Olympic sports in the U.S. It was the result of nine months of research, including interviews with 62 individuals. The work itself uncovered a broad, underlying problem confronting the USOPC: a culture in which athletes simply don’t believe the front office of the Olympics movement are on their side. "Most of the interviewees requested confidentiality out of fear of possible retaliation for assisting the Commission, highlighting their lack of trust in the USOPC and/or NGBs,” the report reads.