Lloyd Ward, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, kept his job Monday in the midst of an ethics-related controversy, portraying the experience as a “learning point” that would better him and the Olympic movement.
The USOC’s policy-making executive committee took no action against Ward after an inquiry into whether he had used his influence to help his brother’s company bid for a contract for the 2003 Pan American Games. A USOC ethics board report said Ward had “created the appearance of a conflict of interest” but did not recommend disciplinary action.
“There was no mention of reprimand,” Ward said after Monday’s meeting. “There was no consideration of reprimand. The executive committee said they support me 100%, and we will move forward on the road to Athens,” site of the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Apparently mindful that a change at the top would mean yet more uncertainty for an organization that often in recent years has been aswirl in chaos, the executive committee judged that Ward had made an “error in judgment,” as USOC Vice President Bill Stapleton said. But, as Stapleton then quickly added, “That’s the end of it.”
In a news conference that followed the 22-member committee’s verdict at a Denver-area hotel, senior officials said they hoped the episode would mark a turning point for the USOC -- which over the last decade has endured a succession of leadership changes, allegations of doping scandals and ethics-related controversies. The turmoil, officials acknowledged Monday, has damaged USOC credibility and may threaten the sponsorship deals that provide necessary funding for U.S. athletes.
It also may invite a review by Congress, as members of the executive committee were “keenly aware,” according to Paul George, another USOC vice president. Congress chartered the USOC 25 years ago through the Amateur Sports Act.
Hoping to hold off Congress and allay sponsors, the executive committee directed the drafting of a “comprehensive plan of action” in the spirit of corporate “best practices” as well as providing for “enhanced ethics education” for USOC staff and volunteers. That plan is due next month.
“I said at the meeting today that out of crisis can come opportunity,” said Stapleton, a sports agent whose clients include cyclist Lance Armstrong. “I think we have a real opportunity to change the organization and try to right the ship.”
He also said, “This group of people stands 100% behind Lloyd.”
Robert Marbut, executive director of U.S. Modern Pentathlon and a member of the USOC executive committee, said he had seen “more in the last week in terms of leadership and coming together, working together.”
The hearing Monday was called in the aftermath of a Dec. 30 report in The Times that Ward had directed USOC staff to introduce Energy Management Technologies of Detroit to organizers in the Dominican Republic, site of the Pan Am Games.
Ward’s brother, Rubert, is identified on at least two company documents as EMT president. A childhood friend of the Ward brothers, Lorenzo Williams, is listed as CEO.
Lloyd Ward does not have a financial interest in EMT, and Pam Am organizers have not signed a contract with the company.
The USOC already had a contract with a temporary power supplier, Aggreko Inc. of Houston, a deal that made Aggreko the official backup power supplier to the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and kept it in the so-called “Olympic family” as an ongoing supporter of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. The contract did not give Aggreko rights to the Pan Am Games.
Ward, a former Maytag CEO hired as a marketing whiz, said he had not been aware of the USOC’s relationship with Aggreko. He was “embarrassed” and intends to “follow up” with company executives soon, he said.
Ward also e-mailed a statement to sponsors that said, in part, “I deeply regret any distraction or confusion that this may have caused our Olympic sponsor family. The USOC staff remains dedicated to supporting your brands and businesses towards maximizing return on your sponsorship investment.”
Last July 1, Ward signed a USOC form, saying that said he had no real or potential conflicts of interest.
In requesting a USOC employee to consider “providing assistance to his brother in a commercial venture,” Ward created the “appearance of a conflict of interest,” the ethics board said, adding that he’d “failed to make a written disclosure of the potential financial interest of his brother” when signing last July’s form.
The ethics board added, however, that there was a “serious lack of sensitivity” by others -- it did not say who -- in the enforcement of USOC ethics provisions, beginning last April, when Ward’s request to the USOC’s former director of international relations was first made, and which could have been “easily corrected without a breach of the reporting requirements” by “the timely compliance counseling of Mr. Ward as to his ethical obligations and restrictions.”