Mario Vazquez Raña, arguably the most influential figure in the Western Hemisphere in the Olympic movement, abruptly announced his resignation Thursday as a member of the International Olympic Committee.
In a four-page press release, Vazquez Raña, who will turn 80 in June, said he is stepping down from the IOC; from his spot on the IOC’s policy-making executive board; as president of Olympic Solidarity; and as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.
“It has been very difficult for me to take such a drastic decision,” he said, launching into a lengthy explanation and singling out two IOC political opponents — Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahah Al-Sabah of Kuwait and Patrick Hickey of Ireland — in an extraordinary document that lays bare some of the behind-the-scenes political infighting in the Olympic movement in a way that is almost never chronicled.
It has been clear since the ANOC general assembly in Acapulco in October, 2010, that Vazquez Raña was nearing the end of his Olympic days. In Acapulco he was re-elected to the ANOC presidency, for a term through 2014. The challenge is that the IOC imposes a mandatory age-80 retirement. Vazquez Raña’s 80th birthday is June 7; he would have stopped being an IOC member in December. Thus, the inevitable conflict — and the question of how he was going to go out.
On his terms?
Or someone else’s?
The answer came, unequivocally, in today’s blast.
Vazquez Raña did not get to power, and hold on to it, for some 30 years by being anything but clever and resourceful. He has been advisor and power-broker to former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch; to current IOC president Jacques Rogge; to kings, princes, statesmen, dignitaries, authorities, officials, and others. Even, on occasion, reporters.
If the United States, meaning in particular NBC and other corporate interests, has provided the financial underpinning of the Olympic movement — Vazquez Raña has been the political mover and shaker from this part of the world, reducing American political influence to the margins.
It has been a fascinating dynamic, really.
Vazquez Raña has not done it with stealth. Everyone in the movement knows full well who he is. But he has done his work, amazingly, speaking mostly Spanish – not so much English and not so much French.
He has always done things his way. To use an American colloquialism — there’s his way or the highway.
Not surprisingly, over the years not everyone has fully appreciated the Mario Vazquez Raña way.
Hence, as he has approached 80, the challenges, and in particular from Al-Sabah and from Hickey, who understandably saw opportunity.
Hickey serves as president of the European Olympic Committees; he is head of the Irish Olympic committee. He would appear to be in line to take over Vazquez Raña’s seat on the IOC executive board pending an ANOC meeting in Moscow in April.
Al-Sabah is believed to be next in line for the ANOC presidency.
“This particular circumstance and the conclusion of my mandate as ANOC president in 2014 have given rise to an outrageous and aggressive race for my succession,” Vazquez Raña said in the first page of the release, in the sixth paragraph, naming both Al-Sabah and Hickey by name, and the release goes on from there to become even more incendiary.
The last two ANOC executive council meetings, in Lausanne in December, 2011, and in London last February, Vazquez Raña said in the release, were the “stages chosen by these persons and their allies to express their personal ambitions, disloyalty, obscure alliances and lack of ethics and principles.”
He added, “This situation is very reprehensible and dangerous for any organization that considers itself democratic and transparent, even more so for a sports organization, where fair play and ethics should prevail.”
The “urgency of this kind of pressure” to put Hickey on the IOC board, Vazquez Raña said, “may only be explained by an excessive personal ambition and the craving for power of their promoters.” Moroever, “I clearly pointed out that I do not consider him a person with the minimum ethical and moral qualities to fulfill that responsibility. His behavior in these events reaffirms my conviction.”
Efforts to reach Hickey, reportedly traveling Thursday in Asia, proved unsuccessful.
As for Al-Sabah, Vazquez Raña alleged that at a meeting held in connection with the Asian Beach Games in Dubai in November 2011, it “is commented, quite strongly, that in order to secure support to his ambitious plans and be able to count with the necessary votes, the Sheikh delivered 50 thousand ‘convincing reasons’ to some sports leaders and it is speculated as well that he used the same procedure at the meetings held in December in Lausanne and in February in London.”
Vazquez Raña added that Kuwait’s national Olympic Committee has been suspended by the IOC for several years because of political interference by the government there with the Kuwaiti sports movement: “The Sheikh would have to be asked with what moral authority he intends to lead the National Olympic Committees worldwide.”
The sheikh could not be reached for comment.
“… As a result of shady alliances and questionable procedures, the betrayal and assault to ANOC and its governing structures were hatched,” Vazquez Raña summed up, leading him to “take the only responsible, serious and honorable road: resign,” a word he wrote in all capital letters,” resign for love and respect to sport, to ANOC, to the NOCs and the Olympic movement. I may never accept and much less tolerate disloyalty and a lack of principles.”
It should be noted that Vazquez Raña is a media mogul. He knows us, and well, in the press. He is so sophisticated that he sent out this release in all four pages in beautiful English — again, not his language.
Tomorrow is another day. Hickey and Al-Sabah will get their turn, and their say.
But on his way out let it be noted that Mario Vazquez Raña did it on his terms. He went out swinging. Hard. The Olympic movement has perhaps never seen anyone like him, or any release quite like this one.
There will be consequences.
See the comments section below for the full four-page statement.