U.S. Athletic Trust Founder: ‘New Model Needed in Sport Philanthropy’
Shot putter Augie Wolf graduated college in 1983 with the talent and the ambition to compete in the Olympic Games. In 1984, he achieved a personal best: 71 feet, three and a half inches. He came to the Games in Los Angeles as the U.S. national champion. Despite this, “I found myself with no financial support,” Wolf says. He had had to postpone his career and depend on family and friends for handouts. By contrast, his competition included athletes from countries whose governments or national Olympic committees had provided them with generous stipends for training, travel, and living expenses. Today, Wolf is a successful Wall Street executive. But for U.S. Olympic hopefuls, he says, “The inadequate state of funding hasn’t changed at all.” Until now. Wolf founded U.S. Athletic Trust in 2000 for two reasons: to raise money for college graduates with good prospects for an Olympic berth and to serve as a role model for reform of American Olympic athlete support. “U.S. Athletic Trust is the first American ‘sport NGO’ [nongovernmental organization],” says Wolf. “Our goal is to influence and eventually transform public policy to overcome the financially uneven playing field on which American Olympic athletes compete.”
A German Model
U.S. Athletic Trust is the first American nonprofit whose mission is to provide direct financial support for Olympic-class athletes. But it’s not the first organization of its kind. In Germany, the Stiftung Deutsche Sporthilfe (German Sport Support) helps 3,500 German athletes achieve their Olympic goals. Since its founding in 1967 by industrialist and five-time Olympic medalist Josef Neckermann, Sporthilfe has provided more than $500 million in direct financial support. “We see the success of Sporthilfe as an inspiration and goal for The United States to emulate,” says Augie Wolf, who in 2014 was named Trustee of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, the development arm of the USOC. “The USOC has made great strides over the last five years in increasing its direct support of athletes but there is materially more to be done. It can only happen only with the support of the whole United States.”
Maya Lawrence is a world-class fencer who has trained for the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Her hard work paid off in 2012 as she represented the USA in London. Her expenses have included fencing-club dues, a coach, and travel to international tournaments. And equipment: fencers need five blades at all times, and blades break several times in a season. Replacement cost: $100 per blade.
Maya isn’t alone. Training to compete in the Olympic Games in any sport is dauntingly expensive. Coaching, equipment, travel, and living expenses typically run as much as $30,000 a year. And that figure doesn’t include the hidden costs of a deferred career. In many other countries, athletes can depend on financial support from clubs, national governing bodies, national Olympic committees, and sports foundations. In the United States, unless you’re a star in a high-profile sport benefiting from endorsement contracts, you are probably on your own.
U.S. Athletic Trust will work to provide a model of reform for direct athlete support, and work with American sports governing bodies to advocate for greater focus on the need for direct athlete support. Our own support program provides basic financial assistance to cover athletes’ living and training expenses. Post-sport career planning and mentoring to help athletes minimize the impact of delayed professional careers.
Our 4 Goals
- Direct Olympic Athlete Support: Since 2000, USAT has supported nearly 50 college graduates training for the Olympic Games. Our 2016 athletes included Heather Miller-Koch (Heptathlon, 2nd at U.S. Olympic Trials and made finals at Rio), Justin Frick (High Jump, participant in U.S. Olympic Trials), Chelsea Carrier-Eades (Heptathlon, aspired to U.S. Olympic Trials but suffered injury one week prior to event), and Donn Cabral (Steeplechase, 8th in Rio Olympic final, USAT provided Hi-Lo Assist).We will continue to connect deserving athletes with donors. However and more importantly, we will re-position our focus to broader initiatives that will impact thousands rather than dozens.
- Direct Olympic Athlete Support Foundation Research: Our ultimate goal was and is to provide a sustained method of supporting all qualified Olympic athletes. With the advent of the “Giving Pledge” the desire of the ultra-wealthy to leave impressive legacies has been heightened. We see an independent “American Olympic Trust” bearing the donor’s name as a very compelling concept for one or more of these philanthropists. We are preparing research and business plans for this concept and hope to engage several prospective donors by Rio 2016.
- Hi-Lo Assist: We believe the broad application of our “live high, train low” approach will dramatically boost American competitiveness in a number of Olympic sports. In 2014-5, we intend to support a number of athletes from sports including track, cycling, rowing, and triathlon with expertise and equipment to improve their performance and get on the podium in 2016 (Rio).
- NGB and USOC Policy Research: For the most part, American National Governing Bodies, or NGBs, such as USA Track & Field and others, as well as the USOC, are self-funding and governing. There is no third party policy and efficacy examination of these organizations. Over time, USAT will develop an on-line presence to provide constructive critique and policy prescriptions of these organizations.
Thanks to the support of our donors and volunteers, USAT continues to offera unique and effective model of sport philanthropy and training. We look forward to sharing some very rewarding and exciting moments with you and our athletes in the future.