— Published 11 July 2022

Gene Sykes returns through the front door

A comeback. In force and in the front line. Gene Sykes, the former CEO of the Los Angeles bid for the 2024-2028 Games, who has been off the radar for over three years, is back in the spotlight. He was elected at the end of last week to the presidency of the American Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

The election was expected to be close. Face to face, two heavyweights. Gene Sykes, returned to the business world, within the bank Goldman Sachs, since January 2019. And Dexter Paine, already a member of the board of directors of the USOPC, former president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Federation, also presented as a crack in the business world.

Tight, therefore. But the result of the vote of the 16 members of the board of directors was not revealed. The vote was held by secret ballot.

Elected on Friday, July 8, during an extraordinary board meeting held online, Gene Sykes will wait until January 1 to take the presidential chair and officially begin his first four-year term. The current incumbent, Susanne Lyons, will complete her term at the end of December. Under the USOPC bylaws, Gene Sykes will be eligible for a second term in 2026.

According to several sources, Gene Sykes would have benefited from the strong support of a key player in the Olympic movement in the United States: Casey Wasserman, the president of the organizing committee of the Los Angeles 2028 Games. The two men worked together during the bidding phase of the Californian city. They have notably led the discussions with the IOC on the double vote and the counterparts to receive from the Olympic body in exchange for a renunciation of the 2024 edition.

Casey Wasserman was, not surprisingly, one of the first to publicly congratulate Gene Sykes on his election. “The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is an integral partner for the LA28 Games, and I look forward to collaborating with Gene over the coming years to celebrate and strengthen the Olympic and Paralympic movement in the U.S” he suggested in a statement.

Gene Sykes had jumped ship from LA 2028 in December 2018, just over a year after the Lima session, to return to the business world. But he had remained on the board of directors of the Summer Games in California. During his campaign for the USOPC presidency, he frequently emphasized the strong ties he maintained in Olympic circles, both nationally and internationally.

With six years to go before the Los Angeles 2028 Games, his victory seems logical. The USOPC has chosen to play the synergy card with the organizing committee. The American authority sees in Gene Sykes the man best placed to manage the inevitable conflicts that could arise between the USOPC and LA 2028 on marketing issues, the commercial rights of the first being now in the hands of the second.

But Gene Sykes is not arriving on conquered ground. According to the Associated Press, citing “informal polls” conducted last month, athletes and national federations were leaning toward Dexter Paine. The American sports movement, in particular, has been highly critical of the USOPC’s governance for several months, blaming it for poor revenue sharing and a lack of communication. Dexter Paine seemed a more reassuring choice, having chaired the US Ski Federation for 13 years.

“I am pleased to accept this role and thankful for the confidence placed in me by the board and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community” said Gene Sykes in an official USOPC statement. “I am inspired by the opportunity in front of me and am grateful to Susanne for leaving the organization so well positioned to achieve holistic success – on and off the field of play – as Team USA marches toward Paris 2024, Milan-Cortina 2026 and Los Angeles 2028.

Gene Sykes won’t officially take office until next year, but he won’t wait until January 1 to get to work. He is scheduled to be in Eugene this weekend for the World Athletics Championships, where the USOPC is to host a reception for World Athletics leaders.

The new strong man of the American Olympic movement will then take the road of Los Angeles, his native city, where Thomas Bach planned to go next week for a day of visit to the organizing committee of the Games in 2028.