Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell said Wednesday he's received assurances that a bill to reform the scandal-plagued U.S. Olympic Committee will contain safeguards aimed at ensuring that USOC headquarters stays put in Colorado Springs.
As recently as Tuesday, local activists who've been working to prevent a rumored attempt to move the organization to New York City said they had little hope of having any such guarantees included in the bill. Instead, they were focusing on a more modest goal: making sure the selection criteria for USOC board members, to be overhauled as part of the Senate bill, wouldn't lead to a controlling body that's stacked in favor of moving the organization.
"The only real way I think that the USOC leaves, is if they create this new board and the board is [composed] of members who are more New York-friendly than Colorado Springs-friendly," said Jerry Biggs, chairman of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has helped raised money to hire a Washington lobbying firm, which has been representing the Springs' interests as the Olympic reform bill makes its way through Congress.
The focus was to make sure the future board of directors is fair and balanced, and not weighted toward New York interests, Biggs says.
On Wednesday, however, Campbell said the reform bill's sponsors agreed to an amendment that would require a unanimous vote by the new USOC board before the headquarters can be moved. A "supermajority" of the organization's advisory board would also have to approve any proposed move.
"It gives us a much bigger safety net," Campbell said in an interview with the Independent.
Rumors of a possible move of the USOC headquarters, which has been located in Colorado Springs since 1978, began circulating after the committee was battered by scandal in the past year. The committee's CEO, Lloyd Ward, and its president, Marty Mankamyer, both stepped down last winter amid an ethics controversy. And just this month, Sen. Campbell asked the Justice Department to investigate complaints that the committee has retaliated against whistleblowers and discriminated against female staff.
The ethics scandal led Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to introduce legislation to overhaul the management of the USOC, which was created by congressional charter.
But Campbell, a former judo Olympian, placed a "hold" on the bill, a procedural move that prevents it from being voted on by the full Senate. He claimed behind-the-scenes interest groups were planning to take advantage of the overhaul to try to move the USOC to New York though he has refused to name the interests involved, saying the sources of his information requested anonymity.
"There's no doubt in my mind" that such an effort was afoot, Campbell said. "But I can't name names."
Campbell initially pledged to hold up the bill until it contained some sort of guarantee that the USOC would stay in the Springs. Wednesday morning, he removed the hold.
No orchestrated effort
Others working to keep the USOC in Colorado Springs said they had seen no actual proof of any attempt to move the organization.
"I don't think there's an actual orchestrated effort," said Will Temby, president of the Springs chamber.
However, a few people, including International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz, have publicly advocated moving the USOC to a major city, to be closer to corporate sponsors and the national media.
Either way, local activists said they wouldn't take any chances. If the USOC were to leave, many of the 30 or so other national sports organizations that are based here might follow, they said. According to a 1999 study by local firm Bamberger & Associates, USOC and the other sports organizations generate a total of more than 4,700 local jobs and $316 million per year in local business income.
"We ought to do everything we can to retain it," Biggs said of the USOC. "I don't think we should ever allow, if it's in our power at all, the USOC to leave."
-- Terje Langeland