U.S. role in IOC at stake in elections

Updated: February 7, 2006, 12:22 PM ET
Associated Press

TURIN, Italy - America's diminished influence in the international Olympic movement could be even further eroded this week. By Friday, the United States could be left without a single voice on the Olympics' most powerful body.

Jim Easton and Anita DeFrantz are both running for seats on the policy-making executive board of the International Olympic Committee. Members say they run the risk of splitting the vote and both losing.

Other U.S. interests will also be at stake at the three-day IOC general assembly opening Wednesday on the eve of the Torino Games. Softball and baseball, voted out of the Olympics seven months ago, are hoping to win reinstatement for the 2012 London Games.

Friday's IOC executive board elections shape up as among the most significant and tightly contested in years.

Easton, whose four-year term as vice president is expiring, is running again for the post in a three-way heavyweight contest with Italy's Mario Pescante and Germany's Thomas Bach.

"It's what I would call a battle royal," IOC president Jacques Rogge said Tuesday.

Easton has been an IOC member since 1994 and vice president since 2002. He's the former president of the international archery federation.

Pescante, a longtime influential European member and the Italian government's supervisor of the Torino Games, figures to benefit from being on home turf in the host country.

Bach, a 52-year-old lawyer and former Olympic fencer, is a former vice president who heads the IOC's legal commission. His candidacy is seen as a move to put him in line for a future run for the presidency.

Pescante would appear to have a narrow edge for the vice presidency. Whatever happens, the two losers are expected to then seek a regular spot on the executive board.

Also up for that post are the incumbent, Lebanon's Toni Khoury, and DeFrantz. That could set up a head-to-head between Los Angeles residents Easton and DeFrantz.

It's virtually unheard of in IOC politics for two members from the same country to contest posts on the board at the same time. The board comprises the president and 14 members - four vice presidents and 10 regular members.

"I'm one of those who like to have a North American presence on the board," said senior Australian member Kevan Gosper, a former vice president. "It's a pity two candidates are coming from the same country. There's a risk they'll split the votes. That would be unfortunate."

A second regular board spot is also at stake. That post, being vacated by Alpha Ibrahim Diallo of Guinea, is unofficially reserved for another African member. The sole candidate is Gen. Lassana Palenfo of the Ivory Coast.

Rogge, who stays neutral in elections, declined to comment on the dual U.S. candidacies.

"I would be happy with any of the candidates that will go for the executive board," he said. "They would be perfect colleagues. May the best one win."

DeFrantz, a 54-year-old former Olympic rower, has been a member since 1986. She became the first woman elected as an IOC vice president in 1997. She ran for the presidency in 2001, but finished a distant last in the four-person race.

DeFrantz, who heads the Amateur Athletic Foundation in Los Angeles and is vice president of the international rowing federation, has been a leading advocate for women athletes and administrators in the Olympics.

"I've been a member for 20 years," she said. "I worked hard during those years. I had the responsibility of leading our work to have women fully involved. I'm a vice president of an IF (international federation) and I used to row. It's time for important decisions to be made. I feel I could be a great help in that process."

DeFrantz has resisted pressure to step aside in favor of Easton. She said she had discussed the issue with Easton, but declined to give details.

"It's an election, not a referendum on anybody or anything," she said.

Easton returned to Los Angeles over the weekend for the birth of a grandchild and wasn't available for comment. He was expected back in Torino by Wednesday.

The third U.S. member on the IOC, former volleyball player Robert Ctvrtlik, has been caught in the middle.

"I wish it hadn't happened," he said. "I've talked with both of them and let them know I don't think it would be helpful to have two people in the race."

Ctvrtlik said it's vital for the United States to strengthen its role in the IOC, which is increasingly dominated by Europeans.

"We really need to focus on our relationship with the world a bit more," he said. "We need to be much better and much stronger in that direction."

Meanwhile, the IOC may reconsider its decision in July to drop softball and baseball after the 2008 Beijing Games. Softball fell one vote short of making the cut - 52-52, with one abstention. Baseball missed out 54-50 against.

It will take a motion supported by one-third of the members to get the issue on the agenda, and a majority vote to win reinstatement.

"If voted on, I think they'll both have a good chance," Ctvrtlik said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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