United States Olympic Committee Reform
CRS Report for Congress
United States Olympic Committee Reform
Updated January 5, 2005
American Law Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
United States Olympic Committee Reform
Over the past ten years, a number of scandals involving the United States
Olympic Committee (USOC) have shaken the public’s confidence in the USOC’s
ability to effectively lead the American Olympic movement. In particular, critics
have leveled significant criticism at the USOC’s governance structure, leading to
repeated calls for Congress to step in and make changes to the way the USOC is run.th
In response, in the 108 Congress, there were four bills proposing structural and
procedural reform of the USOC. While the four bills differed in their approaches,
they all followed the general recommendations of the Independent Commission on
Reform of the United States Olympic Committee report, in that they attempted to
streamline the USOC’s governance structure by reducing the number of members
sitting on the Board of Directors and separating the volunteer corps from the
professional staff. In addition, the bills each advocated varying degrees of
independence for the majority of the elected Board members, the establishment of
four standing committees, annual reporting requirements, decennial review of the
USOC’s governance structure, and the implementation of whistleblower
mechanisms. This report first summarizes the law governing the USOC - and the
history that shaped it - and then covers the recommendations of the Independent
Commission and proposed legislation. This report will be updated as developments
The USOC Under the Amateur Sports Act..........................2
The Independent Commission Report..............................4
Legislative Efforts in Response to the Independent Commission Report...6
United States Olympic Committee Reform
At the apex of the Olympic movement is the International Olympic Committee
(IOC), which is organized under Swiss law as a non-profit society with legal status
under both Swiss and international law.1 The IOC entrusts to each country’s national
Olympic Committee the responsibility to determine which athletes will represent that
nation in the Olympic Games. The United States first established such a committee -
originally known as the United States Olympic Association - in 1950.2 Fourteen
years later, that body took its current name: the United States Olympic Committee
The USOC at that time was more of a membership organization than a
coordinating body, with no real hierarchy of authority, and factional disputes between
the national governing bodies (NGBs) of the various sports often broke out.3 By the
mid-1970's, it became apparent that the American Olympic movement was suffering
from this lack of coordination,4 and in 1975, President Gerald Ford formed the
President’s Commission on Olympic Sports to determine how best to bring direction
to the USOC. After two years of investigation, the Commission released its report
recommending that the USOC become the national coordinating body through which
the country’s amateur sports organizations provide athletes to represent the United
States in the Olympics.5 Congress responded in 1978 by passing the Amateur Sports
Act,6 which adopted many of the Commission’s recommendations and specified
detailed procedures for recognition of NGBs and dispute resolution. Significantly,
while the Amateur Sports Act was very detailed in listing the duties and
responsibilities of the NGBs, the act was relatively silent on the governance structure
of the USOC itself.
In the last fifteen years, the USOC has come under increasing criticism as
scandals have tarred its image. In 1991, then-USOC President Robert Helmick
resigned amidst allegations of ethical misconduct. A few years later, local organizing
committees involved in the drive to secure the 2002 Winter Olympics for Salt Lake
City were caught up in a bribery scandal that further eroded public confidence in the
USOC. Early last year, internal friction between then-CEO Lloyd Ward and former
1 Walter T. Champion, Jr., Sports Law in a Nutshell 249 (2d ed. 2000).
2 Act to Incorporate the United States Olympic Association, approved September 21, 1950
(64 Stat. 899).
3 See H. Rep. No. 95-1627, at 9 (1978), reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.A.A.N. 7478, 7482.
6 P.L. 95-606 (codified at 36 U.S.C. § 220501 et seq.).
USOC president Marty Mankamyer spilled into the public arena and resulted in a
USOC Ethics Committee investigation of Mr. Ward. When the Ethics Committee
ruled that Mr. Ward had committed two technical violations of the USOC’s ethics
code, a number of USOC executives resigned their posts in protest. By March of
In the wake of this most recent scandal, the Senate Commerce Committee held
three hearings in 2003 to discuss reforming the USOC. At the second hearing, the
Commerce Committee requested that the USOC establish an independent
commission to review the USOC governance structure, which the USOC did, and in
June, the Independent Commission on Reform of the United States Olympic
Committee released its report. This report formed the basis for the four bills
introduced in the 108th Congress. Before reaching the Independent Commission’s
report or proposed legislation, however, it is important to first understand the current
structure of the USOC.
The USOC Under the Amateur Sports Act
Under current law, the USOC is a federally-chartered corporation that receives
no government funding. Rather, the Committee gets almost all of its money from
corporate sponsorships and licensing agreements for the rights to broadcast Olympic
events.8 The USOC is prohibited from engaging in business for profit, issuing stock,
or engaging in political activities.9 The Committee is required to submit every four
years a report of its operations including a statement of receipts and expenditures and
data on minority, female, and disabled participation.10
The USOC is empowered to, among other things, make contracts, acquire and
transfer property, borrow money, issue publications, approve and revoke
membership, sue and be sued, and do any other act necessary to carry out the
Committee’s purposes.11 Specific to the Olympic Games, the USOC serves as the
national coordinating body, represents the United States in dealings with the IOC,
controls U.S. representation in the Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic Games
(hereinafter collectively referred to as “the Games”), resolves disputes regarding
participation, and provides financial assistance to non-profit organizations in
furtherance of the USOC’s purpose.12 The Committee also has exclusive rights to
the names, seals, emblems, and badges associated with the Olympic Games.13
7 For a discussion of these scandals, see United States Olympic Committee Reform Act of
8 Id., at 2 (2003).
9 36 U.S.C. § 220507.
10 26 U.S.C. § 220511.
11 36 U.S.C. § 220505(b).
12 36 U.S.C. § 220505(c).
13 36 U.S.C. § 220506.
In addition, one of the USOC’s most important functions is to recognize certain
amateur sports organizations as the national governing bodies (NGBs) of their
respective sports.14 The NGBs have general authority over their sports, which
includes the ability to conduct amateur competitions, recommend to the USOC
participants for the Olympic, Paralympic, and Pan-American Games, and designate
participants for other international athletic competitions.15
Every four years, the USOC is required to submit to the President and Congress
a report of its operations during the preceding four years.16 This report must include
a complete statement of receipts and expenditures, a description of accomplishments
and activities during the four-year period, information on the participation of women,
minorities, and the disabled in the American Olympic movement, and the steps taken
to encourage their participation.17
The Amateur Sports Act directs the USOC to establish a governance structure,18
but gives very little guidance on what it should look like, other than that it must
account for the reasonable representation of: (1) the national governing bodies of
various amateur sports; (2) amateur athletes; (3) other amateur sports organizations
sufficiently connected to Olympic sporting events; and (4) the American public.19
To that end, the USOC established in its Constitution a Board of Directors with
ultimate responsibility over the business, policies, affairs, and activities of the
Committee.20 The USOC Constitution commands that the Board consist of the
Committee’s executives, the IOC members for the United States, and a member from
each Olympic and Pan American sports organization.21 Under this structure, the
Board currently has 124 members.22
The Board of Directors - which is only required to meet once every four years23 -
selects the USOC’s officers, which include the President, three Vice Presidents and
14 36 U.S.C. § 220521. The eligibility requirements for national governing bodies are set
out at 36 U.S.C. § 220522.
15 36 U.S.C. § 220523.
16 36 U.S.C. § 220511.
18 36 U.S.C. § 220504(b).
19 Id. To ensure that amateur athletes have a stake in the USOC, the Amateur Sports Act
further commands the Committee in its Constitution to establish an Athlete’s Advisory
Council (AAC) composed of and elected by amateur athletes who have represented the U.S.
in international amateur athletic competition within the previous ten years. In addition, the
AAC’s voting power must be at least 20 percent of the total USOC voting power. 36 U.S.C.
§ 220504(b)(2)(A), (B).
20 USOC Constitution, Art. XII, § 1.
21 USOC Constitution, Art. XII, § 3.
22 Report and Recommendations of the Independent Commission on Reform of the United
States Olympic Committee, at 2 (2003).
23 USOC Constitution, Art. XII, § 2.
Vice President-Secretariat, and a Vice President-Treasurer.24 The only executive that
the Board does not select is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), also referred to as
the Secretary General, who is selected by the Executive Committee.25 The Executive
Committee, which is primarily responsible for establishing USOC policy, consists
of the seven Committee officers, five members from the National Governing Bodies
Council (NGBC), and one member from the Education-Based Multisport
The Independent Commission Report
The Independent Commission’s report concluded that many of the USOC’s
problems can be traced to its large Board membership. “The current size of the
USOC Board of Directors (124 members) makes it impossible for the organization
to operate in a coordinated way,” the report stated. “The costs of its size are
disproportionate to any value brought to the organization.”27 In addition, the
Independent Commission found that the large number of directors leads to a lack of
accountability. “No individual director will feel responsible when he or she is one of
The Independent Commission also pointed to the lack of independence shown
by the individual directors, which the Commission blamed on the size of the Board
and the USOC’s election process. “Nearly all USOC directors are elected to the
Board by constituent groups such as the [NGBs], athletes or other organizations,” the
report stated. “As elected representatives of an organization, these directors will
ordinarily tend to look first to the interests of the organization that elected them,”
rather than the best interests of the American Olympic movement.29 In testimony
before the Senate Commerce Committee, Donald Fehr, a member of the Independent
Commission, expanded on that point: “[T]he USOC is more like a legislative body,
with the differing interest groups struggling with one another to protect their own and
get their piece of the pie. What this means is that, for all practical purposes, the
structure of the USOC makes dispute and discord the order of the day.”30
The Independent Commission’s report listed other flaws in the current structure
of the USOC. The report stated that the Executive Committee suffers from the same
24 USOC Constitution, Art. XI, § 2.
26 USOC Constitution, Art. XIII, § 2.
27 Report and Recommendations of the Independent Commission on Reform of the United
States Olympic Committee, at 2 (2003).
28 Id., at 9.
30 United States Olympic Committee Reforms: Hearing Before the Senate Commerce,
Science, and Transportation Committee, 108th Cong. 7-8 (February 13, 2003) (statement of
Donald Fehr, Public Sector Member of USOC and Executive Director, Major League
Baseball Players Association).
structural flaws - and therefore is just as ineffective - as the Board.31 The report also
found, among other things, that there is no clear delineation of authority between
volunteers and full-time paid personnel,32 that there is a great deal of confusion
within the USOC as to its overall mission,33 and that the current governance structure
does not promote financial transparency.34
To remedy these problems, the Independent Commission first recommended a
statutory overhaul of the USOC’s governance structure. The Independent
Commission found that reducing the Board’s membership to nine would increase the
Board’s ability to coordinate. The report stated that five of the nine directors should
be independent,35 two should be elected from individuals proposed by the Athletes
Advisory Council (AAC), and two should be elected from individuals nominated by
the NGBC.36 The five independent directors, the report stated, should be nominated
by a new Nominating and Governance Committee to be established by the Board.37
The Independent Commission recommended the establishment of three additional
standing committees by the Board - an Audit Committee, a Compensation
Committee, and an Ethics Committee.38
For the volunteer corps of the U.S. Olympic movement, the Independent
Commission recommended an Assembly representing various parties, including the
NGBs and the athletes. All 124 members of the current USOC Board would have a
place in the Assembly, which would act as a forum for the Board to interact with and
31 Id., at 11.
32 Id., at 12.
33 Id., at 17.
34 Id., at 18.
35 The Independent Commission recommended that the term “Independent Director” be
defined as a director who: 1) has not been an officer or member of the Executive Committee
of the USOC within the past two years; 2) has not been an officer or member of the
Executive Committee of the AAC, the NGB Council, any NGB or any international
federation or a member of the IOC within the past two years; 3) does not receive any
compensation from, and does not have a personal services contract with, the USOC, any
U.S. Olympic Entity, any International Olympic Entity or a member of the USOC’s senior
management; 4) is not, and is not affiliated with a company or firm that is, counsel or an
auditor, advisor or paid consultant to the USOC, any U.S. Olympic Entity, any International
Olympic Entity or a member of the USOC’s senior management; 5) has no other relationship
with the USOC, any U.S. Olympic Entity, any International Olympic Entity or any member
of senior management of the USOC that in the judgment of the Board would adversely affect
the Director’s ability to represent the interests of the American public in the activities of the
USOC; 6) is not affiliated with a company doing business with an Olympic Entity that in the
judgment of the Board would adversely affect the Director’s ability to represent the interests
of the American public in the activities of the USOC; and 7) is not a member of the
immediate family of any person described above. Id., at 32.
36 Id., at 4.
37 Id., at 5.
38 Id., at 39.
take suggestions from the volunteer corps.39 The Assembly would have authority
over all “questions relating to the Olympic Games,” which the report defined as “pure
Olympic sport matters such as the final selection of any U.S. city...as the U.S.
candidate for a future Olympic Games...[q]uestions relating to the Olympic Games
do not include matters relating to financial, commercial, legal, personnel, governance
and other aspects of the USOC’s or any other NGB’s business and operations.”40
The Independent Commission also recommended changing the reporting
requirement from every four years to every year.41 In addition, the report stated that
the Board should be required to establish financial and ethical whistleblower
procedures for fielding complaints against USOC officials and protections for people
who make such complaints.42 Finally, the Independent Commission recommended
that in 2013 and every ten years thereafter, an outside independent commission be
appointed to review the effectiveness of the USOC governance structure.43
Legislative Efforts in Response to the Independent
In the 108th Congress, four bills were introduced in response to the Independent
Commission report: S. 1404 (introduced by Senators McCain and Stevens); H.R.
3330 (introduced by Representative Buyer); H.R. 3144 and H.R. 3825 (both
introduced by Representative Stearns). While the four bills differed somewhat in
their approaches, they all followed the general recommendations of the Independent
Commission’ report, in that they attempted to streamline the USOC’s governance
structure by reducing the number of members sitting on the Board of Directors and
separating the volunteer corps from the professional staff. In addition, the three bills
each advocated varying degrees of independence in the majority of the elected Board
members, the establishment of four standing committees, annual reporting
requirements, decennial review of the USOC’s governance structure, and the
implementation of whistleblower mechanisms. The McCain bill passed the Senate,
but none of the bills passed the House.
39 Id., at 5.
40 Id., at 51-52.
41 Id., at 6.