Media Press Release

Audio & Transcription: USOPC Leadership Press Briefing


Below is the audio recording and transcript from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s leadership press briefing on Monday, June 26, following the board meeting via teleconference.




Good day everyone, and welcome to today's USOPC Board briefing. At this time, all participants are in the listen-only mode. Later, you will have the opportunity to ask questions during the question and answer session. You may register to ask a question at any time by pressing the star and one on your touch tone phone. You may withdraw yourself from the queue by pressing star and two. Please note that this call may be recorded. I will be standing by if you should need any assistance. It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Ms. Kate Hartman. Please go ahead ma'am.

Kate Hartman:

Thank you, and hello everyone. Thank you for spending your Monday morning with us. I'm joined today by our president and board chair Gene Sykes, and our CEO Sarah Hirshland. As always, in just a moment, I'll turn the call over to both Gene and Sarah, to provide a brief update on our second quarter as an organization. Once they're finished with their remarks, we will open the call to questions. Just as a brief reminder, we will limit one question per turn, but we promise we will circle back for additional questions as time allows. Happy to turn things over to Gene. The floor is yours.

Gene Sykes:

Thank you very much. Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us on this Monday morning. It was great for our board to be together virtually for our second meeting of 2023, spending time on the [inaudible 00:01:31] USOPC, during what is a very [inaudible 00:01:34] in the Olympic and Paralympic movements. I'll start things off today by providing you with an overview of what we discussed, and then turn things over to our CEO, Sarah Hirshland.

First of all, we opened the meeting with a discussion with Ryan Crouser, who is a two-time gold medalist and world record holder in the shot put. Ryan was, honestly, incredibly inspirational, both for the success he's achieved and the process he's used in developing his own technique, and his own way of having tremendous success in the sport of shot put. He provides inspiration to all of us and everyone else in the sports of track and field, who can see what he does. He's an innovative individual, and someone who, I think, represents the best of Team USA. The board was really pleased to have a chance to hear from him, have his point of view, his advice, his perspective on the athlete's journey, and I think it was something that allowed us all to learn quite a bit.

Secondly, we had a visit from the Team USA Athletes' Commission leadership, who came to present their views to us on the current state of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements. It gave us an opportunity to have a very thorough back and forth discussion with them, it was quite useful. They make their visits to us on a periodic basis, so that was also a good thing to accomplish.

Let me give you an overview of the business of the board. We're pleased to share the news of the election of Jeff Yang to the role of chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation Board of Directors. This is a wonderful appointment, and Jeff becomes only the second permanent chair, following Gordy Crawford's Retirement. Gordy led the foundation board with drive and passion for nearly a decade before stepping down last year. Jeff Yang currently serves as co-chair of the Technology and Innovation Fund advisory committee, a group that supports performance-impacting projects that help U.S. Olympians and Paralympians gain a competitive edge. Jeff has been a long time supporter of Team USA and the foundation, serving as a director and as vice chair previously. Our thanks especially go to Mike Carter, who served admirably as the interim chair of the foundation during this transition. Welcome Jeff, and congratulations.

Secondly, I'd like to talk a bit about the Russia/Belarus athlete issue. While there's been lots of news about Russia over the past several days, I don't think we have any direct insight into any of that, and there's been very little substantive movement on the topic of Russian or Belarusian athletes since our last board meeting. You may have seen news coming from various international federations on this topic, and how they're approaching the qualification procedures. The IOC is engaging with these [inaudible 00:04:37], who run the Olympic competitions, on how best to vet athletes based on specific criteria. Though the broader conversation related to participation has shifted over time, our position has not. Above all else, we stand in solidarity with the people and athletes of Ukraine. We're proud to be a small part of the incredible support offered to the Ukrainian Olympic Committee and the athletes of Ukraine.

I'd like to talk briefly about Salt Lake. Our friends in Salt Lake continue to meet the prospect and process of welcoming the world for a winter games head on. Last time we met, we shared news of our visit to Salt Lake City to meet with the Utah state legislature, as well as with Governor Cox and Mayor Mendenhall. The result was an outstanding commitment to supporting winter sport through venue updating and access pathways at all levels. The support of returning the games to Utah is remarkable, with well over 80% popular support locally in Salt Lake, and in the state of Utah.

The Salt Lake City team continues to share the story of sport culture in Salt Lake City and across the state. It's a story that everyone who loves the games and winter sports should embrace. It's truly legacy in action. Next steps in this process include a shift from continuous to targeted dialogue with the IOC, and it is our hope that will happen in the fourth quarter of this year, likely around the IOC session in Mumbai, which is in October. Salt Lake City stands ready to welcome the world again in 2030 or 2034, which ever year best serves the Olympic and Paralympic movements. The USOPC stands ready to support them in that effort. With that, I'm happy to pass the line over to my great friend Sarah Hirshland, to give an organizational update.

Sarah Hirshland:

Thank you Gene, and good day everyone. Thanks for making time to be with us today. As you can imagine, activity on the road to Santiago 2023 and Paris 2024 is picking up significantly, and we are hard at work supporting Team USA athletes where they live, train and compete. Before we talk a bit more about our preparations for the upcoming games, let me just note, we did conclude our second quarter, and with that, reviewing our second quarter impact. Overall, the leadership group had a very good discussion on our organizational priorities, and we are generally right on track as we hit the midpoint in the year. We took time to reflect on our five-year strategic plan. Many will remember, we initiated that plan in 2020, and have made some incredible progress, and at the same time, have noted there's still some opportunity that sits in front of us.

As we look forward to the next five years, we are really focused on setting ourselves up for success with these ongoing efforts, and the unprecedented opportunity that lies in front of us with a summer games in LA 2028, and hopefully, a future winter games thereafter. As we gear up for the Pan-American and Para-Pan games in Santiago 2023, we are thrilled to witness the tireless efforts of our team and partners in making this global event a huge success. Many know it's a large delegation, with around 700 total athletes representing 53 sports, 35 Olympic and 18 Paralympics. We're confident that our team will bring their A-game, and will make us proud, as they often do. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the organizers in Santiago, who are in the last months of preparation, and certainly at their busiest time; and our continental partners at Panam Sports, for all the hard work and dedication toward ensuring a really seamless and excellent experience for our athletes. I know we've had many team members down in Santiago doing preparations, and we're all quite excited to have an opportunity to be down there, and be hosted in Chile.

Meanwhile, as you can imagine, our sights are set on the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games, and we're leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Team USA athletes are well-prepared for this iconic event. With teams and athletes currently in the process of qualifying, we are thrilled to see the buzz around trials being announced and celebrated in cities across the United States. I will note, gymnastics recently announced in Minneapolis, and swimming in Indianapolis. The excitement around these trials and these announcements is palpable, and we're certainly feeling the energy continue to rise across the country. As many of you know, the qualification opportunities in Santiago are important, along with many international competitions that are ongoing, and certainly, the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic team trials that will run right up to the start of the games next year. It is an incredibly exciting and incredibly busy time for Team USA.

We're certainly thrilled to share an update on our preparations for the highly anticipated Paris games. With just more than one year to go, our team has been working tirelessly to ensure that Team USA is fully supported and ready. Our staff is hard at work spending many hours in Paris, to ensure that everything's in place for our athletes. Whether that's sport science, sport nutrition, sports medicine, mental health services, our teams are collaborating really closely with our national governing body partners to create personalized plans and resources for all the individual athletes and teams that will join us in Paris. We're proud to highlight some of the exciting developments taking place.

The High Performance Center, as many of you know, we have an in-country high performance center, and this one in Paris is a world-class facility that will really serve as a training and care hub for Team USA. It is nearing completion, some work being done, including a brand new track, and we're excited about the developments there. I know the folks are excited to host us, and be part of supporting Team USA throughout the game. Additionally, we're working closely with the OCOG to ensure that our athletes have the best possible conditions at the Athlete Village, travel arrangements, equipment, training partners. As we do, we are leaving no stone unturned, to ensure that Team USA is well-positioned for success in Paris.

Let me remark, as I have done many times on these calls, June 23rd marked an important 500-day mark since the figure skating team competition in Beijing, and as many of you know, Team USA athletes are still without their medals. I raise this again each time, to ensure that none of us forget that these athletes have, so far, not received the recognition that they have rightly earned. Despite progress, CAS has taken up the case, and we do expect there will be some activity through the summer.

In fact, we just learned that the CAS hearing date has been set in the Valieva case for the end of September. While this feels still like quite a long wait, we urge CAS and all the parties to continue to work expeditiously. I want to stress that while we certainly don't have authority over any action at CAS, it is really important that the figure skating team athletes who competed in Beijing get resolution, and get resolution as quickly as possible. We have their backs, we are anxiously awaiting the day they get their medals, and are ready to help support the celebration that will come along with that milestone.

Excitedly, we announced last week that Eli Lilly and Company has renewed its relationship with Team USA, and announced a partnership with the LA 28 Olympic and Paralympic games as well. Lilly will now serve as an official Team USA partner in prescription medicine and health equity through 2028, bringing their expertise and experience to support elite athletes on their health journey around the Olympic and Paralympic games. You can imagine our excitement. It is no secret that athlete health and wellbeing has been a top priority for us as an organization, and we're thrilled to have Eli Lilly and Company as a partner as we continue to advance our work, and become world-class leaders in elite athlete health and wellbeing. Lilly will also support NBC Universal's Olympic and Paralympic game coverage across all media platforms for the next five years, so truly a holistic partner here of the U.S. movement, and we're excited to have them as important piece of our journey.

Many of you know, on an annual basis, this is the time of year we announce the release of our USOPC impact report. This will highlight the incredible accomplishments and impact of Team USA athletes over the calendar year 2022. The report, as you might imagine, will showcase the dedication and hard work of Team USA, all of the coaches, the staff, and the support system, providing insight into the ongoing efforts to promote excellence in sports. The report will be launched on a newly-developed website, featuring a new design and user-friendly interface. We hope that you will all now have easier access to up-to-date news and information. Hope you will take a look, and please provide us feedback as we continue to evolve and develop that new online destination. We expect the 2022 impact report to go live this Wednesday, June 28th.

In summary, we're happy with our progress against our goals as we hit the midpoint in the year. We're thrilled with where we are as an organization, working in service to Team USA athletes and the whole community that supports them. We're excited about Santiago coming up, and certainly eager and anxious for the year that awaits us as we lead into Paris. Appropriately, before we move to media questions, I just want to take a moment to share our congratulations to Ed Hula, who was awarded the IOC's Pierre de Coubertin Medal on Friday, in Lausanne. I'm not sure that Ed is with us on the call today, but this is a great honor for Ed, someone who's covered the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement for so many years, and done so steadfastly and skillfully. We want to send our best to Ed and to the Hula family. He's been a great friend to many of us, myself included, and congratulations to Ed. With that, Kate, I'll turn it back to you.

Kate Hartman:

Thank you Sarah, and thank you Gene. With that, operator, you can open the line for questions.


Thank you. At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press the star one on your touch tone phone. You may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing star two. Once again, that is star one to ask a question. Please limit your questions to one per person. We'll pause for a moment to allow questions to queue.

We'll take our first question from the line of Lisa Roche, with Deseret News. Please go ahead Ms. Roche.

Lisa Roche:

I'm wondering about the comment Gene made about finding out whether or not Salt Lake moves on to targeted dialogue around the IOC meetings in October. Do I understand correctly, Gene, that you're saying you expect a decision on targeted dialogue by the executive board in October at this point, rather than December, so you don't need a decision on a dual award by the full session, before that happens? Also, what would that mean to find out in October? Thank you.

Gene Sykes:

To be clear, we're not sure whether we'll find out in October or December. We're in constant touch with the IOC, to try to gauge how they're bringing their members along, and how the executive board is being briefed by the future host commission, which is where this really sits, with the future host commission, and how much progress they've made with the executive board. They are making progress, and the direction that we're getting from the IOC and the Future Host Commission are very encouraging. What we're trying to make sure we share with you is our stance of enthusiasm, and confidence that Salt Lake City is on the right track.


We'll take our next question from the line of Rachel Bachman, with the Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

Rachel Bachman:

Hi Sarah and Gene, and thanks for taking my question. It's very clear that the USOPC, and the U.S. generally supports Ukraine. I just wanted to ask Gene in particular to clarify, but also Sarah, since Gene, you're relatively new here, does the USOPC support the IOC's plan to include Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris as neutrals, after a screening process? Or, does it think those athletes should be excluded entirely from the games?

Gene Sykes:

Maybe I can speak to that. Just to correct your statement, the IOC has made it clear they do not have a plan for Paris, and they have deferred making any decision about Russian or Belarusian athletes for Paris. The decision they've made is really a recommendation to the sports federations about how neutral Russian athletes might be permitted to participate in international competition. As I'm sure you've seen, they have a very significant set of recommendations. What we're seeing, as I mentioned, is an interpretation of those recommendations by the various sports federations. In large part, the issue has been how to determine which athletes are neutral. To some degree, there are independent organizations, one in particular, Sport Radar, which has been providing some inputs and background check-type information, and making that available to the sports federations. I do want to be very clear, the IOC has not said that they support bringing Russian or Belarusian athletes back into the Paris games. They've made it clear, any decision about the Paris Games is a decision that would get taken later.


Our next question comes from the line of Julie Jag, please go ahead. I'm sorry, we've lost Julie, if she can please re-queue. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your touch tone phone. Our next question comes from the line of Tom Schad, with USA Today. Please go ahead.

Tom Schad:

Yeah, I just wanted to see what the USOPC's reaction was to the vote last week to revoke recognition of the IBA, in boxing. Part two of that question is, what is your level of optimism with regard to World Boxing, the potential timeline for that entity being recognized, and what that means for LA 2028?

Sarah Hirshland:

Thanks, Tom, this is Sarah. I'll take that one. Certainly, as you can imagine, we've been following this quite closely, and in touch most importantly with USA Boxing, and the U.S. delegation to the sport, if you will, and I'm optimistic and hopeful. I would say, we applaud the IOC's discipline in setting out criteria, and then holding boxing accountable to those criteria, while at the same time, taking on the responsibility to manage the sport, so that athletes can compete in Paris, even without an international federation. That's certainly been a burden on the IOC. USA Boxing has been eager to step in and help ensure that these athletes do have a competitive environment to compete in, and we're grateful for that.

I am hopeful and optimistic that there will be an international federation that is held to the high standards that they should be in LA, and that boxing will remain a part of the sport program into LA. We have an incredible group of Team USA athletes in the boxing realm, and we're excited to continue to see opportunities for them. While this transition has been burdensome for sure, I think we're optimistic that the sport will be healthier for it, and continue to believe that there's a pathway that looks promising at the moment.


We'll take our next question from the line of Louise Rednoski, with the Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

Louise Rednoski:

Thanks very much. I just wanted to clarify one thing, based on what Gene said. Does the USOPC support the idea of Russian and Belarusian athletes being in Paris as neutrals?

Gene Sykes:

I think I said that our position really hasn't changed. What we've said is that we believe that there are a lot of challenges to making sure that we respect the Olympic values and support the athletes at the same time. Therefore, we've been quite measured and willing to give the IOC the opportunity to explore the possibility of understanding how Russian and Belarusian athletes who are neutral, truly neutral, could compete in international competition. That has been our approach so far, to make sure we're watching carefully, and constructively engaging with the IOC to share our views.


We'll take our next question from the line of Scott Reed, with the Barnes County Register. Please go ahead.

Scott Reed:

Yeah, my question was just answered.


Thank you. We'll take our next question from the line of Julie Jag, with the Salt Lake Tribune. Please go ahead.

Julie Jag:

Hi, thanks everybody for being here. My understanding is that the IOC plans to discuss the winter rotation system during their session in Mumbai. I was wondering just what information the USOPC would like to see come out of that, what revelations they're looking for, and then also, if USOPC has started to outline at all a process for selecting a U.S. bid city for that, and what that process might look like.

Gene Sykes:

I'll be happy to speak to that. First of all, I'd say it's still early days in this concept of a winter rotation, but the IOC and the Future Host Commission have raised the idea. There is some open discussion about this, and it stems from the fact that with an anticipated impact of climate change, there will be somewhat fewer cities, or fewer host areas available to host a winter games and all of the events that would occur in a winter games. Many of the places which have hosted winter games in the past wouldn't be able to do it 20 or 30 years in the future. What that leads to is a conclusion that having perhaps a rotation of hosts that have done this before, and could be reliable hosts of a winter games, is a concept worth engaging in. That's as far as the Future Host Commission has gone, and I don't think we can speculate in terms of where it would go.

We support the idea of investing in communities that can be Olympic hosts, and Salt Lake City, I think, is an excellent example of just that kind of investment. Since 2002, they have continued to maintain, invest in and upgrade the infrastructure that they developed for the 2002 games, and that's one of the things that makes them such a great host for either 2030 or 2034.


Thank you. Our last question comes from the line of Lisa Roche, with Deseret News.Please go ahead.

Lisa Roche:

Hi, thank you. Gene, I just wanted to follow up on the possibility of a decision coming on targeted dialogue as soon as October. Given that the IOC session will also, in addition to rotating the Winter Games, talk about a dual award, is your anticipation, if the decision comes in October, that it would be for 2030 rather than 2034? What would it mean to have that happen, moving from continuous to targeted dialogue? This is a new process, I think I understand the mechanics of it, but I'm interested, from the USOPC perspective, what that would mean. Thank you.

Gene Sykes:

Well, targeted dialogue is a significant step toward being engaged as the host of the games. Targeted dialogue means that there isn't somebody else who's in that discussion, just the one host that's been engaged. I think that's very encouraging, and it makes the entire conversation and interaction a lot more focused and serious with the IOC. I think there's an advantage there. To be honest with you, we don't really know 2030 or 2034 until we know whether there is an alternative 2030 host. That, I think, is still something that's being developed by the IOC. I think we have a lot left to learn before we can speculate, but we'll know soon enough. I think the encouraging news here is that Salt Lake City's on a very good track, with tremendous support from the IOC, and very deep, persistent and positive, really constructive engagement. I think all of us in the United States, and certainly all of the people in the city of Salt Lake City and the state of Utah should feel confident, and I think encouraged by everything that we're learning.


It appears that we have no further questions at this time. I'll now turn the program back over to our presenters, for any additional or closing remarks.

Kate Hartman:

Thank you all, and thank you for joining us this morning. We will be back for our third quarter overview media in September, following our general assembly. As always, we will post the transcript from this call on, either later today or early tomorrow. Thanks again, and we hope to see you out at some sporting events this summer. Bye.

Sarah Hirshland:

Thanks everybody.

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