Patt Morrison Asks

Anita L. DeFrantz, America's powerful Olympic presence

A bronze medalist in 1976 in the first Games that allowed female rowers, she's now a member of the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Anita L. DeFrantz has her bags packed for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — but heck, she's had her bags packed for athletic events around the world for the last 40 years, as a competitor and as a member of the International Olympic Committee (currently on the executive board) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (board member). DeFrantz was a bronze medalist in the first Olympics that allowed female rowers, in 1976. In her "free" time, she heads the LA84 Foundation, a legacy of L.A.'s 1984 Olympic Games that has brought sports opportunities to more than 2 million children. The executive who's been called the most powerful woman in sports has a few thoughts before dashing off to Sochi.

Sochi was chosen seven years ago. That's a long time in the spotlight for a country and its leaders. Russia passed what's being called an anti-gay law. President Vladimir Putin freed Greenpeace protesters and the Pussy Riot women, evidently to make himself look better ahead of the Games.

I don't think he'd say that!

That's a good reason to host the Games — you get to release political prisoners! A good reason to host the Games in Beijing was that child labor laws went into effect. We could not allow them to be using kids that way [under the Olympic charter and contracts], and we kept saying, "How are your children being treated?"

We can't demand that they change the law in Russia; that's not the way we work. But look what we have done: They had to forgo the use of the law. We're able to [accomplish] things differently.

In October, the USOC explicitly included sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination rules.

We've never cared about sexual orientation. We wanted to make sure the athletes knew that for us there would be no discrimination at the Games. We got many interpretations of the [Russian] law [which limits discussion of "nontraditional sexual relations"], and no one is really clear. We wanted to be clear to the world and to the people of Russia, the host, that sexual orientation is not an issue for us and must not be the basis of discrimination.

What does the IOC look for in a host city? Some cities have everything the Games need, and others, like Sochi, are underdeveloped.

The Russians said: "We do not have a training center for winter sports. [The USSR] built facilities in the [old Soviet] republics and now the republics are on their own, so Russia doesn't have those facilities. [Getting the Games] is important for the future of winter sports in Russia. That's how they pitched their Games. The investment will be there for many years; it's not just for two weeks.

Everyone knew there was not much in Sochi; it would have to be built. The estimate for how much it would cost was, shall we say, off the mark. [Early estimate, $12 billion; current estimate, $51 billion.] One IOC member famously said the bid documents are the most amazing fiction you'll ever read!

Now Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Games, is having water-quality problems.

Rio also said it had all the money in the world. The fiction of the bids is all the more painful when I think about what Chicago had to offer. We believe [after seeing the bids], the chosen city has the capability of producing the Games, so it's up to the city. They can solve that water problem, and they have to.

How did the 1984 Games change L.A.?

They brought the democratization of the Games. They were able to [successfully] reach out to sources other than government. The private sector can be more generous with funds for their own purposes; they're doing it for business reasons. The surplus [went] back into sports. And the city has continued to grow with major venues for sports. L.A. could host the Games this year if we had to; we would only use the Coliseum and Rose Bowl [from 1984]. It's amazing for a city to be able to say that.

One of your goals is upping the number of women in sports at every level; it was 44% in London in 2012.

Between 1988 and 2012, we more than doubled the number of women who had competed from 1900 to 1984. Every Olympic nation is expected to have women Olympians.

It's far too slow for my liking. There's a group of women in Saudi Arabia playing basketball. They're learning to play now so that someday they will be able to play at the Olympic level. My next goal is to help women athletes become part of the governance of sports.

When you were an athlete, you sued the USOC over the 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Did the boycott accomplish anything?

Alas, the Soviets didn't come [to L.A.] in 1984, so that was absolutely payback. By the way, those [Moscow] Games were very successful. I can now say that even if some countries misbehave, we are pretty good at making sure athletes can compete [anyway]. Many countries in 1980 competed under the Olympic flag instead of their national flag.

Other governments invest directly in the Olympics, but not the U.S.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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