The USOPC held an election earlier this month that was important for a number of reasons, but may have gotten lost in its summer schedule. On July 8, the Goldman Sachs executive and former CEO of LA28 Gene Sykes was elected the next Chairman of the USOPC Board of Directors, replacing Susanne Lyons, who has held the position since January 2019. There are a number of reasons why this is notable. This was a rare competitive election for the Chairman of the Board. Emphasizing good corporate governance, Lyons suggested an election, which led to rare open campaigns for the role of Dexter Bread, a noted former varsity skier and longtime NGB leader who enjoyed strong support within the athlete and NGB community. Paine won the support of many of those constituencies, but the 15-member board selected Sykes by what was described as a very slim margin.
Sykes is no newcomer to the Olympic world, but is not the insider inherited from Paine and will likely bring a more business-oriented perspective. The other notable aspect of this result is, unsurprisingly, that Sykes’ job won’t be easy. The role of president is pretty thankless, and while Lyons has handled it with grace and will likely never get the credit she deserves for what she inherited in 2019, don’t be surprised if she’s okay with it. put things in the rearview mirror. There are endless travels, political maneuverings and machinations and so many constituencies to please – it’s virtually impossible. Lyon and CEO of USOPC Sarah Hirsland are also to be commended for a strong working relationship, as their alignment was essential for the USOPC to overcome some major hurdles such as the financial issues of COVID and overcoming the brutal logistical challenges from Tokyo and Beijing.
Sykes’ election hasn’t particularly thrilled athletes and NGBs, as many fear he’s too close to the LA28 chairman Casey Wasserman and the establishment of the 2028 Summer Games, and the NGBs are concerned that too much attention, emphasis and resources will be allocated to these specific Summer Games. Additionally, the NGBs have been upset since longtime USOPC leader Rick Adams (Head of Sports Performance and NGB Services) was fired in April by Hirshland, and they almost universally wanted Paine. Sykes winning the job isn’t going to help ease those concerns.
Divisions like this in the Olympic community are common because the interests and needs of different groups are so disparate. Ultimately, the NGBs certainly want more money and resources, and feel they can never have enough, so Sykes will have to prove that he hears their concerns and that he and Hirshland are voices for them, and that the directives do not come only from Wasserman and LA28. Sykes will also have to balance the relationship between LA28 and the Colorado Springs-based USOPC, which work well together but have different long-term goals. LA28’s goal is to clearly maximize the opportunity around the Los Angeles Games, and the USOPC of course wants that, but also needs to take a long-term view on the strength of the overall Olympic movement in North America and its position in the community.
There are certainly other big decisions to be made – none more interesting than whether Salt Lake City hosts the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games. Many sources believe that Sykes’ victory surely means that ‘It will focus more on 2034, as most Olympic insiders believe that a six-year build-up to the US Winter Games in 2034 would be far more successful than an 18-month run. after LA28. Sponsor fatigue is feared with the 2026 World Cup, a possible Women’s World Cup in 2027 and the 2028 Summer Games all sitting on top of 2030, while the Utah delegation believe the Games the most successful and profitable would be 2030. The United States has declared that they will bid for 2030, but many secretly hope that Vancouver’s bid is financially strong and stable enough to win these Games and the United States returns for to host the 2034 Games, which would also mark the first Games of any new US media deal. , as NBCUniversal’s agreement with the IOC ends after the 2032 Games in Australia.
But there’s more to Sykes’ plate: global inflation will surely affect the cost of the Games in Los Angeles and the sponsorship sales market must remain buoyant despite serious economic headwinds. There are also the issues of transgender athletes and geopolitical controversies, particularly around Russia and China. At a recent dinner I hosted in New York, I was surprised at how much the topic “What happened to the Olympics?” was brought up, as if the Games were an afterthought in the global sporting landscape. There is still time to turn things around – the corporate market must get excited about buying three consecutive Games – Paris, Cortina/Milan and Los Angeles – and we must see a series of Olympic-style events in the United States to create momentum. For these and many other reasons, this vote in July will prove to be very important for the future of the Olympic movement in this country.
Abraham Madkour can be contacted at [email protected]