International, U.S. Olympic Heads Speak at USC Annenberg Conference

By Jeremy Rosenberg

An overflow crowd of more than 300 people gathered at USC’s Town & Gown on Wednesday evening 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 the president of the International Olympic Committee; Abrahamson is a USC Annenberg journalism professor and renowned Olympic movement reporter and best-selling author.

Abrahamson then interviewed another dignitary, Scott Blackmun, the chief executive officer of the United States Olympic Committee. An audience question-and-answer period followed.

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

The evening's conversation was titled “The State of The Games.” It was part of the 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 is also part of the ongoing “Sports & Social Change Speakers Series,” funded by a grant from Nike.

Rogge, 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 U.S. to win a bid to host the 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 U.S., Rogge reminded his interlocutor of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

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

While 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 4x400 team.

The IOC and USOC have unresolved issues regarding revenue 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.

Blackmun discussed topics such as how the USOC operates 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).

Blackmun also explained how the USOC's annual financial support for Paralympics athletes ($2-3,000) 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.

Prior to the Rogge and Blackmun conversations, Dean Wilson welcomed those assembled. Host Durbin then introduced the program.

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

The “USC Conference on Sports: The Olympics” conference – a mix of athletes, academics, administrators and broadcasters – was scheduled to include eight other events during its run, ranging in topics from "The Olympics and International Diplomacy" to "Selling the Games: Marketers and Executives Discuss the Business of the 1984 Olympic Games."

Thursday's events 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 USC alumni Allyson Felix (2008, track & field) and Ous Mellouli (2008, swimming).