Questions threaten sport institute's legacy

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Associated Press

Posted on February 24, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 24 at 4:32 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Created in 1986 to foster goodwill through sportsmanship, Daniel Doyle's Institute for International Sport now stands accused of not playing by the rules.

Rhode Island officials want to know what happened to a $575,000 grant. A major state philanthropist says a signature purported to be his on a 2009 institute document is a forgery. In recent years the institute listed a board of directors that included a man who was already dead and another who says he never served on the board.

The questions threaten to tarnish Doyle's achievements in creating the Institute and its World Scholar-Athlete Games. The games have brought together thousands of young student athletes from around the world and visits by dignitaries including former President Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We had kids from Pakistan, Argentina, Northern Ireland, Africa, all over the world, playing together and talking together," said Scot Enge, a physical education teacher and tennis coach in Overland Park, Kan. Enge is a longtime coach at the World Scholar-Athlete Games. "We need more of these kinds of programs for children. It would just be such a shame if it ends."

Russell Hogg, 84, former president and chief executive of MasterCard International, Inc., said he served on the institute board of directors until 3½ years ago. He recalled being touched by the connections formed by Catholic and Protestant youth from Northern Ireland that participated in programs organized by Doyle.

He said he knew the institute's finances were sometimes shaky.

Doyle "always owed somebody something," but also "always seemed to have money coming from somewhere," Hogg said. "He always said, "Rich people are giving me money.' There were people always funding us from Europe."

Doyle created the Institute in 1986 after approaching state and university leaders with his vision of using youth sports to bridge cultural, geographic and political differences.

Then-Gov. Edward DiPrete signed off the deal after meeting with a university leader and Doyle, whose brother Michael was DiPrete's top aide at the time. DiPrete said Doyle was given $40,000 to get his idea off the ground. Doyle, of West Hartford, Conn., did not respond to attempts to reach him by telephone or email.

"The theory sounded good," DiPrete recalled during a recent interview with The Associated Press. "I looked at it being a 'people-to-people' program with international sports being the medium."

The Institute grew quickly, and in 1993 Doyle opened the first World Scholar-Athlete Games, welcoming high-school aged athletes from all 50 states and more than 100 nations.

Unlike other international sporting events where one national team plays another, athletes at the games were placed on teams with participants from other nations. Once a day the student-athletes would break into small groups for discussions on world peace, hunger, cultural understanding or other topics.

Jenny Swank was a standout high school swimmer from Montana when she attended the 2001 games in Rhode Island. She said she still keeps in contact with some of the friends she met during her 10-day trip.

"I was from this small town and the woman swimming next to me had been in the Olympics," said Swank, now a 26-year-old New York fashion designer. "It was the first time I had a taste of meeting people from around the world. It was such a great experience."

In 1999, Doyle opened the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame at the URI campus, thanks to a $1 million gift from philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein. The hall of fame now houses the institute's main office.

In 2007, the institute won a $575,000 state grant for a new building at its URI site. The building was constructed, but it sits empty with no electricity, plumbing or heat. The state was able to obtain documentation for only $163,000 in expenses, according to an audit released earlier this month.

The institute has received more than $5 million from the state since 1999, according to the audit.

The audit also determined that the institute owed URI $380,846 for payroll and other services as of January. URI had agreed to let the institute use its payroll system to compensate Doyle, but university officials said the money was not paid back.

In statements released to the media, institute chairman Michael Healy has said the state's money was properly spent and that any irregularities are the result of bookkeeping errors.

Just before the audit was released, the institute announced plans to leave Rhode Island for another state later this year. But officials said the decision was unrelated to questions regarding the organization's finances.

Rod Steier, a current member of the institute's board of directors, acknowledged the institute's affairs became "sloppy," but said Doyle's vision still has relevance.

"We're focusing on the financial and bookkeeping and the record and not on the good deeds it did and those are numerous," Steier told the AP.

Following the release of the audit, philanthropist and former Hasbro Inc. CEO Alan Hassenfeld told media outlets that a signature purported to be his on a 2009 annual report filed with state officials is a forgery. That same year, Hassenfeld was listed on federal tax documents as the institute's president. Hassenfeld has been traveling and was unavailable for comment, an assistant said.

The institute has acknowledged the signature appears to be a forgery.

The Associated Press reviewed recent government records filed by the institute and determined that some of those listed as board members did not actually serve on the panel.

Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence was listed as a member of the board of directors for three consecutive years after his death in 2005. Lawrence's widow, Diane Wilcox Lawrence, confirmed her late husband served on the board, but said she didn't recall any details of his involvement.

Another man, Robert Fiondella, said he never served on the board even though his name appears as a board member on federal tax documents. Fiondella, former chairman and CEO of The Phoenix Companies, a life insurance company in Hartford, Conn., said Doyle has a "very engaging personality" and recalled attending three institute events.

"This is too bad. This is really amounting to a tragedy," said Fiondella in a telephone interview from Florida.

Last year, Doyle moved the games to Connecticut and added a second event, the World Youth Peace Summit, which featured a keynote address by Powell. Archbishop Desmond Tutu led a peace march in May to support the event.

Hogg said he left the institute board when Doyle started talking about organizing the summit. "I just felt that the task, the promotion, was too great for the economy at the time," he said.

___

Associated Press writer Laura Crimaldi contributed to this report.

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