Leadership and Success in Sports
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Apr 1985, p. 455-474
Ueberroth, Peter V., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Canada well represented by James Worrall and Dick Pound, two out of 80 members representing 150 nations for the Olympics. Therefore, also the best-represented country in the world. A brief review of the Olympic movement in recent years. Problems and issues with specific Olympic Games, for example, the boycott in 1984 by the Soviet Union of the games in Southern California. Responses to prediction of financial disasters. How private enterprise can work for the Olympics, and other business endeavours. The concept of volunteerism and how it worked and continues to work for the Olympics. The Torch Relay, with details of its inception. The successes of the 1984 Olympics. Some anecodtes, personal favourites, of the speaker, with regard to the Torch Relay. The Olympics and World Peace.
Date of Original
24 Apr 1985
Language of Item
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
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Full Text
April 24, 1985
Sheraton Centre, Grand Ballroom
The President Catherine R. Charlton, M.A., Chairman

C.R. Charlton

Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, sports enthusiasts: It is a great pleasure for the Empire Club to host this special dinner to introduce to Toronto, Mr. Peter Ueberroth. Since his appointment as the organizer of the 1984 Summer Olympics, his successes have been recorded in a progression of achievement: the first Olympic Games to be run as a privately managed event with no taxpayer money, no government funds and no donations; the historic income-producing sales of television rights for $225 million; the carrying of the Olympic torch across the entire country to light the Olympic flame in California; and now the first-ever profitable Olympics with a surplus of over $200 million which will be divided among amateur sports organizations.

Our guest represents what good business management can do for sports, and there are some who believe that Peter Ueberroth's appointment last year as the

Commissioner of Baseball is none-too-soon. Of twentysix baseball franchises, not all are profitable.

Mr. Ueberroth's proven business experience was one of the reasons for his appointment. After graduating from San Jose State University, he worked as Operations Manager for a non-scheduled airline flying out of Hawaii, and then went on to build his own company called First gavel. In 1978, when the Olympic Search Committee was seeking an organizer, his travel business had 200 offices worldwide and gross revenues in excess of $300 million, making it the largest U.S. travel company after American Express. His drive and initiative were the qualities the organizing committee wanted.

A successful entrepreneur, Mr. Ueberroth has become the sixth Commissioner of Baseball. As such, he is charged with the well-being of the continent's most popular professional summer sport. Mr. Ueberroth's predecessor, Bowie Kuhn, calls him "bright, constructive, courageous and tough". Others describe him as "calm, soft-spoken and self-effacing ... a hard-driving person who doesn't tolerate indecision." He claims no particular prowess in sport, but did try out for the U.S. Olympic water polo squad in 1956. He was not successful but he did succeed in leading his own college league in scoring. At high school and in college he played football, baseball and basketball in addition to his swimming. It is his determination to meet a challenge and to succeed that brought him to the Olympics and that led to his current appointment as Commissioner of Baseball.

Ladies and gentlemen, the man that Time magazine pronounced "Man of the Year", our guest tonight, the only baseball professional currently batting a 1,000, Mr. Peter Ueberroth.

Peter Ueberroth

Batting 1,000 - I think I have struck out about fourteen times so far, as I have visited the owners of baseball teams and made great friends around the country. At least the umpires are for me though, I will tell you that.

Madam President, Mr. Metro Chairman, honoured guests, Olympians, Toronto Blue Jays: It is a pleasure for me to be here this evening at the Empire Club of Canada. It is an honour to speak to leadership in a great community. That is what you are - the opinionmakers and leaders and future leaders of this city and this country; so it is my pleasure to be here.

Let me tell you that I enjoyed very much the introduction, but I must set the record straight about this individual standing before you. He certainly is nothing very special. To prove that, there was a phenomenon that took place in Southern California when he was elected as president of the Organizing Committee for the Olympics - an unknown. We have two major universities in Southern California which compete fiercely against one another - the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles - and the alumni clubs of both of those universities went quickly to each of their records, for surely this unknown had come from one of those two universities. They found no Ueberroth. Then they went up to Stanford - still no Ueberroth. Back to Harvard and other universities across the country - no Ueberroth. It took some six months to find San Jose State. And then as if to prove without a doubt no lack of intelligence, they went up to investigate my performance at San Jose State. It did not go well. They looked at the entrance examination itself - a little form that you had to fill out in the mid-fifties in order to enter that university - and evidently under the heading "church preference" I had carefully printed "red brick". But I did graduate. I graduated in the top eighty-three per cent of my class. Now that you know me, I would hope that you will invite me back anyway in mid-October to watch the Blue Jays play.

... you are the best represented country in the Olympic movement, in the whole world ...

I have three simple points to share with you this evening and I hope you will judge them as being sincere, because they are indeed. My first point is that you should be very proud. All of you in this room should be very proud, and I am in a position to know. Why should you be proud? In the Olympic world that I dealt with for five years, there are eighty some members, representing the 150 nations of the world. A few countries, only a few - about a dozen - have two members out of the eighty. You have two - James Worrall and Dick Pound and you are the best represented country in the Olympic movement, in the whole world. When we had to seek some support for our ideas in 1979, 1980 and 1981, when they were not very popular, we had strength more than anywhere else - more than in our own country - from those two gentlemen one of whom is here at the head table. Also, I have watched your team compete around the world and I do not know why you don't talk about it because it is very special. You rank, in my opinion, in the way you organize amateur sports, with two or three other countries in the world. You rank with the East German team, which is easily the best or one of the best organized teams in the world. I remember the Pan Am Games in Caracas and the fact that they had some real troubles financially down there and were very courageous to host the games. They put on good games, but the dormitories and housing were not ready for any of the athletes. The athletes from all the Pan American countries arrived, many of them complaining, many of them not pleased that the facilities were not ready. Some of the plumbing was not even attached. Three days later, I visited the village after the athletes had arrived and there was one facility that was spectacular. It was yours. Rather than complain and worry, your athletes said, "let's make this place beautiful". Somehow your people cleaned from top to bottom, put up drapes where there were no windows; commandeered some plumbing contractors; you put a whole village to work. Most of the others throughout that village were still just complaining. It is a very special thing around the world to watch your athletes compete and then watch all your athletes and officials get together in the familiar red. And the spirit of your team is something that athletes of the world know and you should be proud of that. You should be proud of Roger Jackson and what he is doing for your athletes. You should be proud of Frank King, here at this dais, and the Calgary Games. They are going to be great games and will set a new tradition for winter games.

Never in the history of baseball has a franchise come from nothing in eight years, to being one of the most competitive teams in all of professional sport. You have two great ballplayers here at the dinner and many others. I went out today to watch them play and it looks like an easy game for them. It was ten to nothing in the third inning, and I was wondering if baseball had become that simple. Sports Illustrated ranked Peter Hardy, Vice Chairman of the Blue Jays, as the finest baseball executive in all of baseball. I will let their judgement stand. And there are fans, out of nowhere again, over two million in number. There are many cities twice this size with ten times the tradition and ten times the history, that look upon Toronto with great envy.

... Never in the history of baseball has a franchise come from nothing in eight years, to being one of the most competitive teams in all of professional sport ...

You should also be proud because you are such a vital city. Again, I am in a position to judge; in a position to judge baseball teams; in a position to judge Olympic involvement; and in a position to judge a city because my job takes me to the major cities in North America. There is a vitality here, an ability to mix tradition with the future that is very impressive to me. The Blue Jays are a major part of your community, and major league baseball brings some hundred million dollars a year in turn-over and vitality into a metropolis; more importantly, it brings a lot of great athletes, for your youngsters to get to know and your city to follow.

I would like to share with you a few ideas; maybe for Calgary, maybe for charity, maybe for important municipal projects, maybe for government. The games of 1984, the XXIII Olympiad in Southern California, were not in Los Angeles but were actually held in twenty-nine cities in nine counties and three states in the United States. We spread the games and we had to develop working agreements with all forms of government to do that. Let me share a little bit of what happened in 1984, let me take you back to just a year ago. I should tell you it is an emotional subject for me to talk about, so I apologize in advance. About a year ago today, we began to realize that we did not have just a big project, a big sporting project, where we would have thirty stadiums and sell millions of tickets with two and a half billion people from all over the world watching us - the largest television audience in the history of man. Over half the living, breathing people on earth would focus on these games at the same time.

We were a small committee - just a few hundred people - and we realized that we had the reputation of a nation at stake. We were staging the first private games ever - totally private. And why was that? It was because the voters of Southern California voted to throw the games out if they were going to use government money. There were seventy-three per cent of the voters on the ballot, so it was a public challenge. Of course, we took no government money, which is popularly known. We paid for every policeman that stood on a street corner and we paid all forms of government for their services. But, what is not commonly known, is that we did not take a penny of donation from any corporation or any individual. Why is that? We felt it was improper, inappropriate and unfair to take money for a sporting event that competes with donated money for a church or a synagogue or a hospital, or a cultural event or youth group. We wanted to put on the games without donations, and we did.

What were the headlines saying a year ago? I hope you remember them; I remember them well. They were saying that the smog was going to be so bad in Southern California that it would affect people's lives and damage athletes permanently. They were saying that terrorism would be the will of the day in Southern California, the laid-back society that could not stand up to an immense project. They were saying that it would be a financial debacle; that we would have deficits larger than Montreal, larger than other Olympic cities that had had deficits in the past. They said we would have traffic that would come to a standstill. In fact, I was in a hotel room about three weeks ago and I watched a re-run of a Johnny Carson show. I did not realize it was a re-run until I heard his monologue and he was saying, "You know, there's bad news and good news. The bad news is that General Motors is going to have to recall a million automobiles. The good news is they've got a way to do it: they're going to have all those people drive their cars to the Olympic Games, they'll all be stuck at a standstill and they'll repair them all at once." That was the opinion of the people, of the media and rightly so - they had only history to look at. And what happened?

First of all we had three concepts which I hope will give you a glimmer of an idea to use on some kind of projects for the betterment of your own province or your" own country, or city, or whatever. One concept was that' private enterprise works. In our country our President talks about having private enterprise and corporations pick up the slack. Well, I disagree, because he is suggesting they pick up the slack with a donated dollar. Corporations, as you know, in this country and in my country get profits of two per cent, one per cent and less; that is not what energizes them, that is not what gets them excited. If you want to get corporations involved, as we did, do it on a profit basis, do it on an incentive basis, do it on a basis where they can make money. If you encourage a McDonald's fast food chain to build a stadium or finance a stadium, figure out a way that they can make a profit by their involvement with the stadium as they did with us. If you do that you get the energies of a business excited and going forward and that is the way to solve a problem - that is the way to build hospitals. The government has to provide the incentives or the private sector must get together and provide their own incentives. A quick example of a current one; I am doing a little work on the Statue of Liberty refurbishment. We could go around, and we are going around to corporations asking for donations. How much better was the American Express project where they had a system that American Express could be a sponsor and with the increase of sales - every time someone used their American Express card - there would be money appropriated to the Statue of Liberty fund. American Express raised their sales in comparison with their competitor by twenty-three per cent - that is real stuff. That gets their attention. And that is the way to get money - dealing as partners with the private sector.

That is really the way to solve hunger in this world. You hear all about the hunger and you see the films of Ethiopia. Then you find out that it costs, to move that block of food, bag of grain, the last five hundred yards from the harbour to the dock - more money than it costs to grow it, package it, and transport it all the way across the ocean to Ethiopia. Systems do not work. Things do not get delivered. If you want to solve hunger in this world, get the private sector in your country and in my country to get together, and put in the proper incentives. I spoke to a group of leaders in food and I said, "If I could put you all together from our two countries here in North America, and lock the door, we could solve hunger. The way we would do it is as follows: I would say you can't get out of the room until you come up with six areas where the governments of the two countries are holding you back from doing what you want to do. It is your business to make a profit." I would leave them locked up and I would go to the leadership in your country and mine and I would say, "Here is a list of six. Pick three that do not impact government or the environment negatively. You have your choice - pick three." I would take those three choices back and offer them to the food companies, the manufacturers, packagers and transporters of food. And with that kind of a set-up, just three of the list, they would solve the food problem in Africa in a very short period of time. So that was one concept; private sector - energize them, energize them for what they believe in. And that is making a profit so that they can make their business grow, employ, more people, pay more taxes.

The second thing we proved in the games is the concept of volunteerism - Darcea Hiltz was introduced earlier. I had to be shown that volunteerism would work. I did not believe that 72,000 people would stand out in the hot sun for a month and work for free and work for sixteen hour days. For a short duration, for a project with a goal, a volunteer is the best employee you can get - better than you can hire, and it works. Thirty days and 72,000 people - I lived in fear that they would be walking off the jobs after the first few days, after the opening ceremonies or when it became real difficult, or when there was a mishap or a problem. It did not happen. There is another concept of volunteerism that is called "super volunteerism". When you have that many people, you need leaders and you can get leaders out of any walk of life. We got leaders out of the churches, from education, from business, from government, from all walks of life, who came and helped us run the games. Indeed, they came from Canada - many people from Canada. You had something called the World University Games in Edmonton. We went up there and "cherry picked" if you will, what we thought were the top ten or fifteen leaders and they came down to help us run the games a year later. We went to Montreal and other parts of the world and found leaders who could help us.

Another concept is Torch Relay. I hope it is adopted by the Olympic movement. A year ago today it was the most criticized thing in your papers and papers whose editorials are the major respected articles in our country. What was our idea? Normally, they run the torch from the largest nearby city to the Olympic City - in our case we would have flown the flame from Greece to San M-ancisco, run down the coast and opened the games. It was our idea to run zigzagging all across our country, letting thousands of people have a chance to run. How do you pick runners, when there are about 100,000 or so people who want to run? Our concept was that anybody could run or you could have somebody run for you, and everyone who ran could keep a torch. We would make very special torches and just pass the flame from runner to runner, but you had to give $3,000 to your own town to a charity for youth. That is all you had to do. You would not give us a penny, but give it to the Special Olympics for handicapped children; give it to the YMCA; give it to the boys' clubs, girls' clubs, scouting. If you could give $3,000 in your own community, then you could run the torch! In an Eastern European country, if they would do it, it could be just a blanket. The concept of giving in your own community might get the community excited about doing something for itself.

... The concept ofgiving in your own community might get the community excited about doing something for itself...

Those were our three concepts: private sector, volunteers, and the torch relay.

Let me conclude with the games. What happened? The games started for me on May 8. They might have started for you on July 28 - but for me, on May 8 in New York City. I was awakened in the morning to learn about the Soviet boycott. And much like the misguided Carter boycott in 1980, they were projecting to me that, out of the 150 some-odd countries, there would be only seventy countries show up for the Olympic Games. They told me that the African countries would not come - not a one; all the Communist countries would not come, and many other countries would sympathize with them around the world. That was the beginning on May 8. Then I went down to start the torch relay on the very same day: whether they selected that day because we were starting our torch after they had criticized it so much, I don't know. I had bought the first kilometre. You did not have to run if you did not want to - you could have somebody else run for you - and I had asked a young lady to run for me the first leg of the relay: her name is Gina Hemphill. Evidentally, Gina's not a household word here, but I will tell you that you might know her grandfather. Her grandfather went to the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 when there was a fellow named Hitler who talked about white supremacy and her grandfather proved that to be a lie - the late, great Jesse Owens!

Also on May 8 we made a phone call. We had set up almost like a mini state department - again, volunteers and leaders who had an affinity with all the countries of the world. We had a leadership group assigned to each country; usually one or two people and we would have three or four staff people with them. We dispatched them all over the world to try and convince people not to boycott. The International Olympic Committee co-operated with us, and your Olympic leaders co-operated with us; everybody co-operated with us to prevent only seventy countries showing up to mar the games. The torch relay continued throughout the country and I was not sure it was going to be a success, until some twelve days out when I received a phone call that a huge electrical storm had broken out and they had to take the torch relay off the roadside in Kentucky. (We ran the torch from 7.00 a.m. until 9.00 p.m. and if we fell behind we had to catch up.) So, we were off the road about five hours while the storm passed, and they had to run into the wee hours of the morning. When they finished with the runner who had donated $3,000 from the little town of Pineville, Kentucky - which has 2,800 people - as that torch was run into that community at 1:45 in the morning, with television crews from NBC, ABC and CBC filming it all the way, it showed 1,000 people lining the roads - little children in bathrobes, all holding candles, welcoming the torch into Pineville. Then, last if not least, to prove without any shade of a doubt that this thing worked to get our country - a country that doesn't show its pride enough - to rescratch the basic patriotism which is important in any nation, I will tell you one other torch story - and there are thousands. I would get the films every day from the three networks. About 9.00 p.m. they would bring them in and I would see the film of the day before. One morning early they came in and said, "We want you to see a film on the torch". I said I had seen it the night before, but they said this was a private one, but insisted that I see it. They had made a little cassette and put it on the television set in my office. We turned it on and it showed a nine year-old girl bent over, severely handicapped, holding on to a torch with both hands, waiting for the next runner from behind to come up. The camera panned down the road and there was a runner with a full stride, carrying the Olympic flame in his torch. He came and he lit her torch and it took him awhile because she was obviously very handicapped. Up came a motorcycle policeman - a heavy guy with one of those big aerospace plastic things in front of his face - and he was unhappy and gunning the engines at this delay. And I was wondering, why am I seeing this film? Then this little youngster started, and took a step and slowly but surely she started to make motion to start her kilometre. I noticed it was a little uphill - I was later told that she could not walk on flat land, she had to walk against the gravity - and she picked up speed. I was going through an emotion that was very difficult, and then I saw the reason they had the film for me - because her head came up. Her smile was as big as this whole room! From one ear to another! And she kept running, and she kept running - step by step by step - and then I noticed people were about eight deep on both sides in this little town in New Mexico. They were waving flags, cheering, all carrying flags saying, "Run, Amy run". She kept running and I watched her go by NBC and CBC and the ABC camera crews with their cameras at their sides. Somehow her smile got bigger and bigger and she was wringing wet and she kept going until she finished the kilometre. She made it! She lit the next torch and the runner was off on the dash. The cheers were virtually deafening for this little youngster who was so proud - such a great moment for her. Just before the film went off, the cameraman turned to a motorcycle policeman who was on the side of the road with his plastic thing up and a handkerchief out wiping his eyes. And we knew we had one beginning success for our games.

Our second success was the opening ceremonies, when 140 nations - not seventy - came into the opening ceremony. But it was You- people from North America - that made the great moment, and it has not been written about. I will describe a couple of incidents. The first was when a country came in, the announcer said just three words - "People's Republic of China" - and 90,000 people from all parts of the world, mostly from North America, stood up and gave a standing ovation, a huge cheer for this country that had never gone to the Olympic Games in its history, and had defied the Soviet boycott. They had never participated in all the history of the Olympic Games. And here they were coming on that field to play. The crowd had delivered a message; you see, that film has been shown in China a hundred times and because they cannot reach all the people in their country with television yet, they show it in big halls throughout the country, over and over again. They show the friendship of the people of North America, the friendship of the people of the West. All the propagandists of the future cannot erase that in the minds of the people, and there are children not yet born who will be shown that film. Then Yugoslavia came in as well as forty nations from Africa - over double any prior Olympic Games - and it made people proud.

There is another incident that touched me greatly: I had asked a young lady, well known to all of you in the Montreal games, to come over as my guest. I was in the box with the President and other dignitaries and I excused myself and went and asked this young lady to go out into the middle of the crowd. Her name is Nadia Comaneci. I said, "Nadia, you ought to listen to

... The legacies of the games, I hope, and know, will work for you in Calgary ...

what happens when your country comes in." When Nadia was about half way onto the field, the announcer said, "Romania" and 90,000 people understood. They understood world politics; understood how this nation, under the thumb of the Soviets, had made a big statement - not only for sports, but for a lot of other things with perhaps deeper meanings - by coming to the Olympic Games. This young lady who performed so well in Montreal had tears streaming down her face. And that is an act of friendship that is being talked about and shown freely, and not so freely, in countries around the world. So the opening ceremonies worked, as did the competition itself. The legacies of the games, I hope, and know, will work for you in Calgary. Every system is a little different, but the concepts are the same. The private sector works. It was a proud day for us in law enforcement. Law enforcement stood very tall. Law officers put aside their jurisdictional differences and all the pettiness and worked very hard to accomplish, in a friendly way, so no one was bothered by them, but helped by them. These officers were professional, and yet friendly.

Yes, there was a large surplus - a surplus o£ $250 million. The only reason I bring this up is that in our country it is important that we remember that surplus is simply the opposite word of deficit. We rekindled a pride in patriotism which had been scoffed about, sometimes in our own country. And that means a great deal to me. But most importantly, we showed the true face of the free world and North America especially - to the world. We talk so much about military and money, but we showed the true face. Twenty thousand athletes have gone back to their countries as ambassadors of goodwill, and hopefully will be the leaders of tomorrow. It is a small step toward the most important words that can be on your mind and mine - World Peace.

I began this talk by saying that you should be very, very proud. I would like to conclude by saying that I am proud to be your neighbour.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Dennis Flynn, Honorary Secretary of the Club.

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Leadership and Success in Sports

Canada well represented by James Worrall and Dick Pound, two out of 80 members representing 150 nations for the Olympics. Therefore, also the best-represented country in the world. A brief review of the Olympic movement in recent years. Problems and issues with specific Olympic Games, for example, the boycott in 1984 by the Soviet Union of the games in Southern California. Responses to prediction of financial disasters. How private enterprise can work for the Olympics, and other business endeavours. The concept of volunteerism and how it worked and continues to work for the Olympics. The Torch Relay, with details of its inception. The successes of the 1984 Olympics. Some anecodtes, personal favourites, of the speaker, with regard to the Torch Relay. The Olympics and World Peace.