Diversity is objective of new USOC executive

Ward targets importance of `transferable skills'

February 06, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - When Lloyd Ward looks around at the Winter Games, the new head of the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't see many people who look like him.

Ward, the black business executive brought in last fall to stabilize the organization, said more must be done to bring diversity to the games.

Fewer than a dozen athletes on the U.S. team are black, Asian or Hispanic, and several of the teams have never had a non-white athlete.

Making winter sports more recognizable and accessible is part of the answer, Ward said, but it's also important to show the "transferable skills" between some summer and winter sports. For example, many bobsledders and skeleton riders have backgrounds in track and field.

"It's a concept that doesn't translate well in the inner cities. We've got to make that connection," he said. "There are tremendous athletes who don't realize they can go to the Olympics. We need to have a wider net."

Ward said the USOC doesn't have nearly enough money in its budget today to do outreach and create year-round training complexes.

"We will be looking to build those facilities around the country in easily accessible locations," he said.

One of the places that looms large in those plans is Salt Lake City, where ski jumps, a world-class downhill course and a combination bobsled, luge and skeleton track were built for the Olympics. The Salt Lake organizers also must set aside a $40 million "endowment" for the maintenance of the facilities.

Ward, who went on an 83 mph bobsled run with America's best driver on his first day of work, said he loves the speed and danger of the Winter Games and believes those elements can be successfully marketed.

Ward's boss, USOC president Sandy Baldwin, said Americans have made strides in a number of winter sports, but lag far behind in others.

"We have to make endurance sports more attractive," she said. "We have to make a hero out of a biathlete. We have to get our kids to toughen up."

And both USOC executives insist outreach and development efforts must extend beyond the country's borders.

Baldwin said the organization is working on a pilot program to send coaches and recently retired athletes to a nation in Central America or South America to help promote sports. She likened the project to an athletic version of the Peace Corps that will help burnish the USOC's image internationally.

"Sports outside Cuba and the United States have not gotten better," she said. "Those countries aren't winning medals. ... If we elevate the quality of sports, our political influence will follow."

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