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Olympic heads speak at USC Annenberg conference

Olympic Heads Speak at USC Annenberg Conference
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, left, speaks with USC Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III.

An overflow crowd of more than 300 people gathered at Town & Gown on Feb. 15 for back-to-back conversations worthy of the citius, altius, fortius, or “swifter, higher, stronger” Olympic motto.

The evening’s keynote discussion took place between Jacques Rogge and Alan Abrahamson. Rogge is president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); Abrahamson is a USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor and renowned Olympic reporter and best-selling author.

Abrahamson then interviewed another dignitary, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). A Q&A session followed.

The evening’s conversation with Rogge was titled “The State of the Games,” part of a three-day USC Conference on Sports: The Olympics, organized by communication professor Dan Durbin in his capacity as director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society. The institute partnered with the University of Paris – Sorbonne Nouvelle and the USC athletic department to produce the event, which also is part of the ongoing Sports & Social Change Speaker Series, funded by a grant from Nike.

“In some ways, this evening marks a high point of a vision that was born four years ago,” said USC Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III of the idea to create the world’s leading institute for sports, media and culture. “Tonight I think we are well on our way.”

Rogge, who was visiting Los Angeles in part to participate in the World Conference on Women and Sport, drew laughs by providing often deadpan replies to a comprehensive list of business, athletic and other queries from Abrahamson, and later, members of the audience.

For example, when Abrahamson asked Rogge how Americans will know when it’s time for the United States to win a bid to host the Olympic Games again, Rogge said, “When I open the envelope and read out the name.”

When Abrahamson asked for a further explanation of the IOC’s recent expanded emphasis on anti-gambling initiatives, which he said hasn’t been big news in the United States, Rogge reminded his interlocutor of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

And when the professor asked the administrator – whose term is scheduled to conclude in 2013 – what advice he might offer to his successor, Rogge said, “Learn to listen and shut up.”

Though Rogge may not have broken major news while on stage, he, Blackmun and Abrahamson did cover much ground rapidly, in the manner of, say, a medal-winning 4×400 team.

The IOC and USOC have unresolved issues regarding sharing of television and marketing revenues. Blackmun said no U.S. cities would bid to host any upcoming Olympics until the issue is resolved. The CEO did note that four U.S. cities have expressed interest in the 2022 Winter Games: Denver, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe and Bozeman, Mont.

Blackmun discussed various topics, such as how the USOC operated since streamlining its board of directors; how the organization is funded (television rights, corporate sponsorships and small and large individual donors) and how often he travels (135 days last year).

He also explained how the USOC’s annual financial support for Paralympics athletes ($2,000 to $3,000) is growing but pales compared with the $18,000 received by Olympic athletes.

“We have a lot of room to grow in what we can do for our Paralympics athletes,” Blackmun said.

An early and boisterous standing ovation went to the evening’s distinguished guest, Sammy Lee ’47, a 1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist in diving and a pioneering Los Angeles athlete.

The USC conference – which attracted athletes, academics, administrators and broadcasters – included eight other events, such as “The Olympics and International Diplomacy” and “Selling the Games: Marketers and Executives Discuss the Business of the 1984 Olympic Games.”

Events on Feb. 16 included “Stories From the Booth: Broadcasters and the Games,” featuring Al Michaels, Jim Lampley and Jim Nantz with moderator Jeff Fellenzer, an adjunct journalism professor; and “The Road to London: Olympic Athletes Discuss the Games,” with five gold medal winners, world champions and world-record holders, including Allyson Felix ’08 (2008, track & field) and Ous Mellouli ’07 (2008, swimming).

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