By LAURA CRIMALDI, Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The founder of a nonprofit sport institute being investigated in Rhode Island has been lauded as a captivating figure and visionary for uniting thousands of young people worldwide over 25 years through athletics and the arts.
But a series of unflattering revelations about the finances and operations of the Institute for International Sport has founder Daniel E. Doyle Jr. facing criticism that he built his vision upon a shaky foundation. A state audit said the nonprofit had a “general lack of financial accountability” while it brought in millions of dollars in taxpayer and charitable funds.
The institute is best known for its World Scholar-Athlete Games, which attracts young athletes and artists from around the world to participate. It has featured prominent speakers including former President Bill Clinton and Olympic skier Bode Miller.
State police started investigating the institute last month after a state audit found that the nonprofit, which received more than $7.3 million from the state between 1988 and 2011, could not account for how it spent most of a $575,000 legislative grant in 2007 to construct a building on the University of Rhode Island campus. The building has no heat, electricity or plumbing.
The audit also found that the institute owed URI $380,846 in unreimbursed payroll costs and other expenses.
URI said this month that it received two checks from the institute totaling that amount.
The audit and investigation have stunned people who know Doyle and left major donors seeking to set the record straight on their ties to him and the institute. Doyle declined to comment through an institute spokeswoman and did not return messages.
As improbable as the financial and legal problems facing the institute are to its supporters, so too is the path of Doyle, a former college basketball player and coach whose nonprofit touched young people from Rhode Island to Ireland to Burundi.
He grew up in Worcester, Mass., and used sports and his magnetic personality to forge connections around the world, friends and acquaintances said.
“Dan Doyle is one of the most mesmerizing people that I’ve ever met,” said David Esty, a former member of the institute’s board. “He’s a warm, passionate– almost a pied piper.”
Basketball is how Doyle got into the sports world, playing at Bates College and later coaching at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
“Dan was always sort of a go-getter, always seemed to be on the move,” said former state Democratic Party chairman Bill Lynch. Lynch said he met Doyle when he was being recruited to play basketball at Brown University as a high school student and Doyle was the team’s assistant coach.
The game gave Doyle a chance to travel in Europe, where he started to think about how sports could bridge religious, racial and ethnic differences, according to a biography prepared to honor Doyle at his alma mater, St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Mass.
He firmed up his vision in his thesis for a master of arts degree that he earned from Tufts University, the school said. The thesis served as the blueprint for the institute, Doyle’s biography says.
Doyle had connections that served the institute as well. His brother was the top aide to then-Gov. Edward DiPrete, who signed off on the deal to establish the institute in 1986 after meeting with Doyle and a URI official. DiPrete said Doyle was given $40,000 to get his idea off the ground.
Doyle was interested in seeing peace between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, said Lynch, who has also done legal work for the institute. Doyle assembled Protestant and Catholic young people to participate in sport and cultural activities, according to the institute’s website.
He also worked on other projects while running the institute. He helped found the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, ran summer camps, established a small publishing house, wrote a novel about intercollegiate sport and co-wrote a book about sports parenting.
Both the institute and those projects benefited from Doyle’s personality, a mix of charisma and humility.
“He’s so low-key,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “You wouldn’t know this was the guy who masterminded the whole event.”
The audit and investigation have left some who know Doyle reeling.
“I’m shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the allegations,” said former University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Dee Rowe, who has known Doyle since he was a teenager and whom Doyle describes on the institute’s website as his “coach for life.”
“Dan Doyle dared to dream and so many of his projects, particularly the World Scholar-Athlete Games, encouraged a peaceful coexistence through sport,” Rowe said in a telephone interview from Storrs, Conn.
Others have wondered for years where the institute was going.
Philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein gave the institute a $1 million gift to help construct the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame on the URI campus that bears Feinstein’s name.
But his relationship with the institute went sour because the young scholar-athletes attending the games were not completing community service projects as he had requested when he made the donation.
“People love you when they come asking you for money,” said Feinstein, 80. “But when they have it, they don’t love you as much.”
Esty noted the board of directors didn’t meet and said he resigned his position years ago after he began feeling “uneasy.” He declined to elaborate.
Russell Hogg, 84, former president and chief executive of MasterCard International, said he expressed doubts about starting a World Youth Peace Summit given the weak economy. The first was held last summer in conjunction with the World Scholar-Athlete Games and featured an address by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“It’s too much to try to do,” Hogg said in an interview. He added he resigned from the board of directors 3 1/2 years ago.
Doyle does have steadfast supporters, including Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy. Cousy, who has known Doyle since he was a teenager, said he considers him to be “completely above-board” and gives him “my vote against the government.”
“It’s a big, nasty world out there,” Cousy said in a telephone interview from West Palm Beach, Fla. “A lot of people are accused of a lot of things. Some of them are true and some of them are not.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)