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Volume 21 No. 1
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NGBs to soon have new generation of leaders

The U.S. Olympic Committee’s top executive ranks have been stable since 2010, but the leadership of Team USA is nonetheless undergoing major changes this year.

USA Swimming is searching for a new leader after the death in April of Chuck Wielgus.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Since the Rio Games last August, 10 national governing bodies have either replaced their chief executive or are searching for one, including four of the largest in terms of revenue. Officially, those executives only oversee their given sports. But collectively, they carry great weight in the decentralized world of Olympic sports, and the widespread turnover could prove to be an important pivot point.

“It’s an exciting time for sport,” said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling and now the longest-serving NGB leader at almost 17 years. “I think we have the opportunity for the Olympic movement to have an injection of new talent and viewpoints, and hopefully we’ll embrace that.”

USA Shooting kicked off the transitional phase just weeks after Rio when Robert Mitchell resigned after 17 years. Over the next several months, changes came to USA Badminton, Diving, Hockey and Volleyball. Searches continue at USA Boxing, USA Gymnastics, USRowing, USA Shooting, USA Swimming and USA Triathlon.

The 10 executives who’ve left had a combined 126 years of experience. They also all served on the NGB Council, an influential body that nominates directors to the USOC Board, communicates the consensus view of the groups to the USOC, and shares best practices among each other.

The vacancies are something of a coincidence, and turnover after an Olympic Games is common among the 47 NGBs overseen by the USOC. But this period stands out for the significance of the groups affected — swimming, gymnastics, hockey and volleyball are heavy hitters — and the longevity and experience of the departing executives.

High-performing NGBs elevate Team USA, said Rick Adams, chief of Paralympic sport and NGB organizational development at the USOC, and the quality of leadership is a big factor in determining that performance.

“They do influence the Olympic movement as a whole, and that really is seen in everything on up from the grassroots level, where really effective NGBs that increase youth participation have a really positive downstream impact for the Olympic movement,” Adams said. “As a collective, they influence the movement in a significant way.”

In recent years, the governing bodies were particularly important in helping create the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a centralized body devoted to investigating allegations of athlete abuse, Adams said.

Going forward, the NGBs will be expected to play a key role in the USOC’s ongoing efforts to collaborate with colleges to protect Olympic sports from funding cuts.

Since some of the departing CEOs started, the business of national governing bodies has grown vastly more complicated. Formerly volunteer-driven, small operations, today they’re expected to compete with well-funded pro leagues for sponsorship dollars and leverage digital media to promote their sport and their athletes.

With that in mind, USA Volleyball, for instance, replaced longtime administrator Doug Beal with Jamie Davis, a veteran of Fanatics and the Versus network. USA Hockey, however, turned to internal development leader Pat Kelleher to replace retiring Dave Ogrean.

The USOC wants “diversity in thought,” more than any given skill set, Adams said. It’s important that NGB leaders understand a range of perspectives, and the USOC’s diversity and inclusion program closely advises the NGB search committees on how to ensure a wide range of candidates, including connecting them with groups such as the Black Coaches Association.

The influence on the larger community only comes with time, Bender said, given the tall learning curve within the sports. “What comes with experience, I think, is that you learn to work within the movement,” Bender said. “And those people know how to influence the broader conversation.”