As compensation for the many days they are required to spend away from home each year, members of the International Olympic Committee earn thousands of frequent-flyer miles, but no pay and only token gifts.
Although their destinations, like this one, sometimes are glamorous, so much of their time is spent in meetings, official dinners and glad-handing that they see beaches, casinos and five-star restaurants only in the brochures in their hotel rooms.
So who wants to become the next IOC member from the United States?
LeRoy Walker, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Anita DeFrantz, the only current IOC member from the United States, plan to meet here today and hope to reach agreement on three nominations they plan to present Friday to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, but both said this week they are still working from a long list of 12.
“I think they mean 12 million,” said the IOC’s court quipster, Richard Pound of Canada.
In almost two years since former USOC President Robert Helmick resigned from the IOC amid a conflict-of-interest inquiry, it seems as if at least that many names have appeared in media speculation. Most prominent have been former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, NBA Commissioner David Stern, cable television magnate Ted Turner and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, although Young is the only one among them who has been seriously considered.
Expecting to announce one name before the 1992 Summer Olympics at Barcelona, the IOC received conflicting signals from the U.S. Olympic Committee and postponed the decision until its session here this week.
Fourteen months later, the only change in the situation is that it has become more muddled. Frustrated, Walker and DeFrantz said Tuesday that they believe a new member from the United States will not be chosen until the IOC’s next session, in February at Lillehammer, Norway.
“No one from the United States has come to the front,” a Samaranch aide said this week. “If no one has come to the front, why make a choice?”
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that anyone who has come to the front has been stabbed in the back in USOC infighting that has turned officers against officers, volunteers against staff, staff against volunteers and friends against friends.
“I think the process over almost two years has been destructive and embarrassing for the U.S. Olympic Committee,” said Michael Lenard, a USOC vice president from Los Angeles. “It represents the failure of leadership and the triumph of ambition and pettiness.”
Lenard excluded no one within the USOC leadership from his criticism except Walker, who inherited the situation when he was elected president last winter.
“If LeRoy is confused about the message we’ve sent with him to Monte Carlo, it’s not his fault,” Lenard said. “The message is confused.”
It seemed so clear in 1991, when the USOC appointed a nominating committee to identify potential replacements for Helmick. Sensitive to the circumstances that led to his resignation, the USOC instructed the committee that no executive director of either the USOC or the national governing bodies for Olympic and Pan American Games sports should be considered in order to avoid conflict-of-interest questions that might arise.
One who supported the position in a letter to members of the USOC’s executive committee was Harvey Schiller, the USOC’s executive director.
But within months after the nominating committee’s recommendations had fallen victim to political machinations at Barcelona, Schiller began seeking backing within the USOC for himself as the IOC member.
Contending this week that the USOC’s stipulation concerning executive directors was not firm, he said, “I’ve got a stack of letters from the USOC leadership, and not just the officers, that support me.”
Therein lies the confusion for Walker, because some of the same USOC members who have written those letters have told the USOC president that they do not endorse Schiller.
“Some people are tap-dancing around the issue like they’re Gregory Hines,” Walker said. “It’s nothing personal or professional against Harvey, but they wonder if he should have dual responsibilities.”
In advising Samaranch today that the USOC still does not have a firm candidate, Walker said that he will guarantee a name for Samaranch after next month’s USOC executive committee meeting at New York.
“I’m going to lock everybody in a room, put the damn key in my pocket and tell them we’re not leaving until we’re straight on this,” Walker said.
But even if Schiller emerges as the favorite of most USOC executive committee members, one of them, DeFrantz, might have the influence to ensure that he is not appointed to the IOC. With her anticipated reelection to the powerful 11-member executive board Friday, her position within the IOC would be further enhanced.
She and Schiller often disagree about Olympic matters and others close to them believe their differences have become personal, although they deny that.
“If you think Rabin and Arafat had a problem, you should hear these two,” Walker said. “Anita and Harvey are very negative in their comments about each other. That’s no secret. For the good of the Olympic movement in the United States, we’ve got to resolve that.”
Meantime, there also is a widening rift between DeFrantz and other USOC executives. Some of them believe the selection of an IOC member would have been completed last year had it not for her insistence upon the inclusion of Larry Hough, the head of Sallie Mae, the student-loan administration, among the final candidates.
Hough, who, like DeFrantz, competed in the Olympics as a rower, was the USOC’s treasurer between 1980-84, but he has not been actively involved in the movement since, except as a fund raiser. Members who have come to the USOC in the last 10 years are not familiar with him, and many of those who were there before question his commitment.
“The two most important considerations for me are integrity and loyalty to the Olympic ideals,” said DeFrantz, president of Los Angeles’ Amateur Athletic Foundation. “When I think of people who have those characteristics, Larry is among them. There are others.”
Beyond that issue, some USOC executive committee members believe DeFrantz is more responsible to the IOC than to the USOC. She points out that she took an oath when sworn in seven years ago to be the IOC’s representative to the United States, not vice versa.
“People say I’m not doing a good job, and I understand that because they don’t know what I’m doing,” DeFrantz said. “When you’re not in the IOC, it’s very difficult to understand.”
Said Walker: “Somehow we’ve got to put all this political divisiveness behind us and start working toward our real goal, which is to get young men and women to the Olympics.
“I’ll never forget what President Samaranch told me when I was elected president of the USOC. He said, ‘The United States is the flagship of National Olympic Committees. You need to start acting like it.’ ”