A for Athlete




Virtual Clinic Regarding Diversity and Inclusion in Swimming-0

Diversity in Olympic Sports[]

Diversity missing among leaders of USA Olympic sports [1][]

Source: By Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY [2] in April 2009

Alison Terry has a mission to get more African Americans to take up swimming and make it to the elite level. While her goal to represent the United States (also known as USA) Flag of the United States at the 2000 Sydney Games fell short, she says this dream will become a reality.

She is braced for a long climb, she says. African Americans make up slightly more than 1% (2,903 of 257,180) of the membership of USA Swimming. But Terry believes her position on the federation's board of directors gives her the clout to bring about change.

"Diverse leadership absolutely makes a difference," says Terry, one of two African American members on the 23-person board. "You have to notice who is missing."

Reforms intended to strengthen the leadership of the U.S. Olympic movement have left more than half of the 38 sports federation boards (59%) with no African American membership, USA TODAY research shows. Asians are represented on nine of the boards. Only five of the federations, also called national governing bodies (NGB), have Hispanic members on their boards. Those groups had the most minority representation on the boards.

INTERACTIVE CHART: View results of USA TODAY survey

Thirty-seven federations provided a gender and ethnic breakdown of their boards. USA Fencing says it does not keep statistics on the ethnicity or gender of its board members.

USA TODAY analysis shows:[]

  • Women hold about one quarter (26%) of all board positions. This is disproportionate to the athletes they represent. Consider that the U.S. teams at the 2008 Summer Games and 2006 Winter Games were 48% and 42% female, respectively.
  • Women hold positions on the 37 boards.
  • None of the eight winter sports federations reported having board members who are not Caucasian. All eight are headed by Caucasian men.
  • Diversity also is missing at the top executive levels of the sports groups. No African Americans hold the highest salaried position at the federations. Two Hispanic men and three women are the top salaried managers, while the other 33 positions are held by white men.

Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, says the "whiteness is distressing."

Lapchick, who has pushed for more minority leaders in college and professional sports, said he was to meet with USOC officials on Sept. 11, 2001, to discuss diversity. The meeting was canceled and never rescheduled.

"How can we have an African-American president in the White House unifying the nation and yet have such an exclusive club in the Olympics?" Lapchick said.

Stephanie Streeter, a member of the USOC's board of directors who was appointed the organization's acting interim CEO last month, agrees that work needs to be done at the NGBs. She thinks the USOC's board can be an example.

On the USOC's 10-member board, there are three African Americans. Since its restructuring in 2004, the USOC board has had minority representation.

"It was important for the USOC to start by providing an example, and when you look at the composition of our board of directors and management team, we believe we have done so," she wrote in an e-mail. "Citing our own commitment as an example, we can credibly work with the national governing bodies to assist them in making greater progress."

Streeter, who is the USOC's first female CEO and will serve until a search is conducted, believes the organization can help the NGBs "in achieving greater balance and representation in their leadership, at both the board and management levels."

Oversight needed[]

Congress passed the Amateur Sports Act (ASA) in 1978, providing guidelines for managing national sports programs and giving the USOC authority to oversee the sports. But critics question whether the ASA goes far enough to ensure minority leadership in the NGBs.

A section of the ASA states a sport group is governed by a board of directors "whose members are selected without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, except that, in sports where there are separate male and female programs, it provides for reasonable representation of both male and females on the board of directors."

Oversight of the ASA falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by Sen. John Rockefeller since January 2009. He said in an email his committee will examine the USOC, NGBs and the ASA "to identify challenges and problems with the organizations that support the Olympic movement.

"Diversity is extremely important, it should never be overlooked. Encouraging participation of historically underrepresented groups in athletic programs should always be of the utmost importance."

Marjorie Snyder, chief program officer for the Women's Sports Foundation, says it would be great if "Rockefeller and the commerce committee would work together with USOC to see the promises of the Amateur Sports Act are met."

She stopped short of calling for Congressional hearings. "We have an ongoing relationship with USOC where we try to work with them to try to get them to move. I think their perspective is they'd rather lead with a carrot than work with a stick."

Lapchick would like to see the ASA scrutinized. "It is sad to note that the Amateur Sports Act has not gone far enough to push minority representation. We need a bigger push," he said.

Snyder praises the USOC and the NGBs for serving women athletes but gave them poor marks for promoting female leaders. "We think the women ought to have a chance at the jobs and a shot at the power," she said.

Measured progress[]

Following the Salt Lake City bid controversy in the late 1990s in which International Olympic Committee members were found to have accepted bribes from bid officials and a USOC management scandal in 2003, a Congressional committee was formed to investigate how to clean up the Olympic movement. The committee found the large boards led to politicking and inefficiency. They also were costly and often interfered in the management of staff.

Jim Tooley, executive director of USA Basketball, remembers the problems. He was one of the 123 members who left the USOC board in 2003.

"We didn't get anything done at those board meetings," Tooley said. "It was just too many people. We were always meeting in ballrooms and having to raise different color paddles depending on who we were representing. It should never be that hard to do business."

USA Basketball is a poster child for how to downsize and establish diversity. Its 12-member board includes three Caucasian females and five African Americans (four male and one female).

USA Gymnastics is one of the summer sports federations that has no African Americans or Hispanics on its board (13 white men, six white women and 1 Portuguese man comprise the board). "We know it's something we need to work on and we want to work on it," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "It's important to us."

At USA Swimming, the work is underway to add more minorities to the board and to expand the membership of participants. Last year Cullen Jones made history as only the second black American swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal. The only black swimmer on the U.S. team, Jones won gold on the 4x100 freestyle relay with Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak. Anthony Ervin was the first black swimmer to win gold for the U.S. in 2000.

The NGB has one staff member whose job is "to get up every day and focus on diversity in swimming," said USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus. The group will add its second African American board member, Maisha Palmer, later this month.

There are various outreach programs at the grass roots level, including one to get more minorities in the pool. Studies show 60% of African American and Hispanic children can't swim and those groups drown at almost three times the rate of Caucasian children.

"We're totally committed," Wielgus said. "It's the right thing to be doing. Our sports need to reflect the demographics of this country. By attracting a broader pool of kids into our sport, eventually that is going to reap benefits for our national team program."

Has it helped to have Terry on the board?

"Absolutely," he said. "I'm a firm believer in having people that every day are reminding you of what's important."

Terry says she has seen a greater openness on the board to make "positive change," but knows her work is not over.

"It's a two-way street," Terry said. "It's about an organization wanting to make a difference as well as gaining the trust of communities that have been excluded. There's progress, but I'll keep fighting for more change until I die."

USA TODAY's Diversity survey of Olympic sport boards[]

Thirty seven of the 38 sports federations that send teams to the Olympics reported the makeup of their boards to USA TODAY. USA Fencing declined. Twenty two of the boards (59%) do not have African American members. Only five boards have Hispanic members. The chart below shows the total number of board members for each sport, the percentage of white males on each sport's board and the percentage of non-whites on the board. The Ctrl-click combination with your mouse and keyboard allows you to view multiple charts at once.