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US Olympic Committee Seeks More Diverse Leadership

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USA TODAY

 

Even a quick look around the landscape would have allowed U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun a snapshot of the diversity, or lack thereof, within sport leadership.

That most of the 47 national governing bodies (NGBs) are led by white men came as no surprise. But Blackmun and the USOC leadership have been working for years to push for more diversity through the NGBs' leadership ranks, and now they're using transparency to push for more.

After another dominating Olympic performance in Rio, the USOC this fall for the first time released diversity and inclusion reports for almost all of its national governing bodies.

It's part of a strategy to understand where they stand and where they need to improve.

That buy-in from the top has the USOC headed in the right direction, says Jason Thompson, the organization's director of diversity and inclusion.

"That's been very powerful when I need to then follow up with the NGBs and say this is a mandate from our leadership," Thompson said. "It's not just a good idea. It's something to feel good about ourselves. It's because we see it as a strategy to be successful, and we want to be successful."

To anyone familiar with high-level sport -- or Corporate America, for that matter -- some of the results will be an obvious reminder of the lack of diversity at the highest levels.

The USOC set benchmarks for each sport to reach, basing them on a variety of factors such as the sport's NCAA pipeline, staff size and financial resources. So the benchmark of track and field, for instance, would be different from that of curling.

The report cards assess the NGBs' diversity efforts regarding people of color, women, those with disabilities and military veterans.

Across the report cards, a few patterns emerge:

In most cases, the leadership did not reflect the diversity of the sport's membership and national teams. That held true for 33 NGBs in at least one category, and most often it was women who were represented at the lower levels but not on executive committees and/or boards of directors.

The report cards set the low end of its targeted benchmarks at up to 68% of the goal, saying categorization was "indicative of an opportunity to grow the sport and should be viewed as positive prospect for creating strategy." In areas of leadership, membership and national team athletes, though, 38 NGBs fell below 68% of their benchmark with at least one diverse group being measured. So, for instance, the NGBs for diving, figure skating and luge fell below 68% of benchmarks for people of color, disabled people and military veterans.

The scorecards measured diversity in 10 levels throughout the organization, from part-time employees and interns through boards of directors. Of the 47 NGBs, 36 fell below 68% of the benchmark in at least one entire category. Across the group, that happened most often with people with disabilities (25 NGBs) and military veterans (20).

"We can do better, obviously, but I think it's good that everyone has come to the conclusion that we've got to be competitive and this is one of the ways we're going to get there," Thompson said.

Added USOC board chairman Larry Probst, "You gotta take it seriously, and you've got to walk the talk. ... By trying to shine a light on it, hopefully we'll get better results."

To be sure, some sports have faced socioeconomic and historical barriers. Winter sports have long struggled with racial diversity. Others, such as basketball, have executive leadership that has been with the organization for more than two decades. And boxing, for instance, was only added as an Olympic event for women in 2012.

But the USOC's goal, and the push for outside groups, is that the sports' diversity should reflect that of the nation. Rather than a moral imperative, they see it as a smart business decision.

"It's not going to happen because it's the right thing to do. In most cases, it's going to happen because there is a business case that is made," said Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. "And it can't just happen in the United States. It has to happen globally."

The USOC is working with NGBs to work toward progress. It has recognized sports leading the way, such as rowing and synchronized swimming, and shared their best practices with other NGBs.

It also keeps a short list of diverse candidates who could fill board positions.

Rather than instituting something the likes of the NFL's Rooney Rule -- which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior operations openings -- the USOC expects that the tracking done through the reports will help NGBs create more diverse pools of candidates.

"So much of what we do with our athletes is to help them have a vision of success and a vision of where they can get to," said Max Cobb, executive director of US Biathlon, "and I think it's the same when you're trying to develop a diverse workforce that the people in the workforce need to have a vision of what their future could look like."

In many ways, that is a challenge in the Olympic movement internationally.

Before the Rio Games, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) issued a report card on gender diversity in international sports that found them to be almost exclusively led by men.

It found 24.4% of International Olympic Committee members were women, that only two international federations were led by women and that 9% of national federations were led by women.

"We find it's lacking because it's a large group of older white men in charge who generally feel more comfortable with other older white men," said Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES at the University of Central Florida, "and if nobody's challenging them to think differently, they're able to run the show the way they want to then."

Part of the way to change that is accountability, several sport leaders agreed.

Last month, UK Sport and Sport England warned governing bodies that they must reach at least 30% gender diversity on boards or risk losing public funding, according to a report from the BBC.

Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track and Field and one of the only people of color leading an NGB, said executives needed to be evaluated on their efforts here.

"You have to have buy-in from the top," Siegel said.

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December 19, 2016
 
 
 

 

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