By Simon Evans
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States appears to be back at the heart of the Olympic movement after IOC President Thomas Bach said on Thursday years of wrangling over revenue sharing and failed U.S. attempts to host the Games were “history”.
The Association of National Olympic Committees’ (ANOC) general assembly is being held in the U.S. capital this week, the first time in 21 years the body has gathered in the country.
“We announced in 2010 that we wanted to be more active and engaged participant in the Olympic movement and this (event) is a continuation of that desire,” United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Chief Executive Scott Blackmun told Reuters at a gala awards dinner on Thursday.
“It is something we have realised we have to do if we want to be one of the people at the table as this movement decides how it is going to move forward.”
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Bach praised the United States for hosting the event and said problems relating to the country’s position in the business and politics of the Olympics were in the past.
“I think this is history, let’s look into the future,” he said.
After the disappointment of Boston withdrawing its bid for the 2024 Olympics, Los Angeles picked up the baton in an attempt to bring the Summer Games back to the country for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been busy in Washington drumming up support for the bid, has been encouraged by the response.
“It has been a great few days,” he said. “We have heard such amazing input. People love Los Angeles and see it as a key Olympic city, people have such fond memories of the 1984 Games.”
There were reminders of the task facing the USOC, however.
ANOC President Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a key powerbroker in sports politics, spoke of a need to rebuild trust.
“We still have the main partner in broadcasting (NBC) and other partners from this part of the world. This meeting gives them a great opportunity to start again, to build the trust, the confidence and the relationships,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“I think that is a very nice environment for us to be back and for USOC to start to build again this trust after the Salt Lake City problems, 9-11 and so on. There is a sense in the movement that America should be back.”
While the hospitality and smiles in D.C. can only help the USOC’s rehabilitation efforts, what has been crucial to creating the new mood has been the settling of old disputes.
A new 20-year revenue-sharing deal to carve up the billions of dollars in television rights and sponsorship was agreed in 2012, after seven years of difficult negotiations which had left USOC a virtual outcast.
The relationship was not helped by New York’s failed bid for the 2012 Summer Games and Chicago’s humiliating first round defeat when Rio de Janiero was selected for the 2016 Olympics.
The USOC’s Blackmun said the change in attitude among Olympic officials was palpable.
“I sense that we have a greater opportunity to be involved on a day-to-day basis than we have had in a long, long time,” he said.
“That is true commercially, it is true on the field of play, it is true from a sports administration point of view.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)