The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee chose Gene Sykes as its next chairman on Friday, elevating the former CEO of the Los Angeles 2028 organizing committee to a role that will shape policy across America’s Olympic movement for the next four years and in addition.
Details of the board’s vote were not immediately released. Sykes was vying for the seat with Dexter Paine, a current board member with deep ties to the ski community and the more than 50 national government bodies that administer individual sports across America.
But the board chose Sykes, who has built relationships in the international community during a process that began with LA trying out for the 2024 Games and then landing at the 2028 Olympics. in a complicated deal with the IOC that overhauled the bidding process. Some will see the choice as a way to further weave an already symbiotic relationship between the USOPC and the LA offering.
Sykes, a longtime Goldman Sachs executive who has a seat on the LA28 board, will take over from Susanne Lyons when her term expires at the end of the year.
“I am inspired by the opportunity before me and am grateful to Susanne for leaving the organization so well positioned to achieve holistic success – on and off the playing field,” Sykes said in a statement released by the USOPC.
The 17-person council’s decision is expected to be met with apprehension by leaders of national government bodies (NGBs), who have recently criticized the USOPC’s leadership.mainly because of what they say have been steady revenues and lapses in communication.
Two key groups, athletes and NGBs, overwhelmingly favored Paine in a handful of informal polls last month about who should be the next president.
Ultimately, the decision rested with the current board members, and they chose Sykes, who has been highly regarded in Olympic circles thanks to his work with the Los Angeles committee. He left office in 2018 but has maintained ties to the Olympic world, which he disclosed in several meetings with different groups at the USOPC assembly last month.
He will have to overcome some internal political challenges. The management team led by CEO Sarah Hirshland is expected to shuffle the priorities of athlete safety, athlete performance, fundraising, a potential bid for the Salt Lake City Winter Games, and the direction of the LA organizing committee, which now manages sponsorship and revenue initiatives.
The conflicts inherent in all these competing agendas — for example, the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, which prompted the USOPC to assign greater responsibilities to NGBs despite essentially flat budgets — came to a head last month at the federation’s annual meeting.
A recurring theme of the NGB leaders was that they were being asked to do more with less, and that the USOPC leadership was not agreeing with them on how the money is divided.
“We didn’t give them extra money to hire a lot of employees,” Lyons told The Associated Press in an interview last month. “So they’re trying to make do with the same money, but they have more to do. So, you have to grow the pie.”
Marketing for the USOPC is now in the hands of the LA 2028 committee, which makes the former leader of the company at large a seemingly natural fit. Sykes’ election could also bring some loose connections to Peter Ueberroth’s tenure as president. But Ueberroth became president two decades after shaping the successful Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 — the games that restored a faltering Olympic movement across the world.
Nearly four decades later, the Olympics are under pressure again – a reality best illustrated by dismal TV ratings for last year’s Summer Games in Tokyo and for this year’s Winter Games in Beijing.
Everyone at the USOPC is well aware that a dwindling fan base will eventually cause major problems for both the US team and the movement in general. It’s the key issue Sykes will take on when he officially takes office on January 1.