The International Olympic Committee held something of a stealth meeting of key power-brokers Sunday at its lakefront headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, a move that illuminates the who’s who and what’s what behind the developing agenda of the recently elected president, Germany’s Thomas Bach.
Bach convened the meeting, not widely publicized beforehand and in an IOC release termed an “Olympic Summit,” to address “the main topics of interest and concern” confronting the movement.
These the statement identified as the campaigns against doping and match-fixing, regulation of the sports calendar, autonomy of the sports movement and, finally, governance issues.
Here, then, is a catalogue of how the new president intends to operate, his key list of action items and, perhaps most fascinatingly, a collection of advisers — a kitchen cabinet, if you will — that the release identified as “the senior representatives of the Olympic Movement’s key stakeholders.”
Like any list, it’s not just who is on it but who is not that makes for the tell.
Among those who were there:
The three IOC vice presidents: Craig Reedie of Great Britain; Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco; John Coates of Australia.
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, of course. Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and Sport Accord president, naturally. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president. C.K. Wu, the head of the international boxing federation.
In May, the aquatics and gymnastics federations were elevated to the top tier of Olympic revenues, joining the track and field federation, the IAAF. The IAAF president, Lamine Diack of Senegal, was there Sunday; so was Julio Maglione of Urugay, president of FINA, the aquatics federation. The gymnastics federation president, Italy’s Bruno Grandi? No.
The entire winter sports scene was represented solely by René Fasel, president of both the ice hockey and winter sports federations.
More: the heads of the national Olympic committees of the United States, China and Russia were invited to the meeting. But — not France. Hello, Paris 2024?
Beyond that, the important take-aways from the meeting are these:
Reasonable people can quibble with the notion of whether doping, match-fixing, the calendar, autonomy and governance make for the spectrum of pressing issues facing the movement.
The new president, for instance, is keenly aware that the Olympic Games are the IOC’s franchise and that keeping the franchise relevant to young people has to be the IOC’s No. 1 priority. Nowhere on that list, moreover, is an exploration of the values central to the Olympic movement and how they might, should or do play out in today’s world.
The president “invited the participants to share their ideas on these subjects,” and a wide range of others, “and to be part of the permanent dialogue and ongoing reflection that the IOC wishes to increase with its main stakeholders,” according to the release.
Bach is super-smart. He understands concepts such as “relevance” and “values.” For sure.
But the action-item catalogue clearly and unequivocally demonstrates — as Bach suggested during the presidential campaign, which ended with his election Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires — that his focus is in problem-solving.
That means: solving the problems, or at least trying to, that are there, directly and identifiably, in front of him and the IOC.
Look at what the release says:
— The IOC will set up a task force to coordinate efforts against match-fixing and illegal betting.
— The participants agreed to set up an “experts’ network” that will focus on issues of autonomy and governance.
— The IOC will set up a “consultative working group” to deal with the calendar.
This calendar group, and it should be highlighted that this panel will be “under the leadership of the IOC,” obviously has two unspoken priorities:
One, for those thinking long-range, is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and whether — as FIFA has been mulling, or not — it can or should be moved to the winter. Such a move could well be problematic for a 2022 Winter Olympics. The IOC statement Sunday noted that the working group will discuss “the priority of current and future sports events within the global calendar.”
Two, there’s Vizer’s suggestion, made when he was running last spring for SportAccord president, for a “Unified World Championships” that would feature 90-plus sports all going on at the same time. The group Sunday, Vizer included, the IOC statement said, agreed that “any new initiative has to respect the uniqueness of the Olympic Games.”
Then there is the campaign against doping.
The release affirms the movement’s “zero-tolerance” policy against drug cheats and backs the IOC’s candidate for the presidency of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Reedie, who is expected to be affirmed at a meeting this month in South Africa. At the same time, it calls for WADA to become more of a “service organization,” reflecting tensions with some international sports federations, who have suggested that the agency has been telling them what to do instead of serving their needs.
Whether this proves, in the long run, to actually be a good thing or not, and whether it actually gets played out, particularly with such real-world challenges such as the testing of Jamaican and Kenyan athletes now making headlines, remains to be seen.
Reedie, it should be noted, has consistently proven himself to be a shrewd player in sports politics across many constellations.
In the near term, meanwhile, all this shows conclusively that Bach is not only consolidating but demonstrating his own authority while simultaneously showing if not a bent, then at least a nod, toward collaboration.
It’s of course absolutely a good thing that Bach seek the input of key constituent groups. In about a month, he will lead not only an executive board meeting in Lausanne but immediately afterward an EB retreat. Of course, how the EB and this new kitchen cabinet will mesh — there is some overlap — remains to be seen.
At the same time, as Jacques Rogge before him and Juan Antonio Samaranch before that proved, while the IOC is something of a democracy, the institution has traditionally functioned best when the president demonstrates a clear and decisive hand.
It took Rogge some time to figure this out. He made a show at the beginning of his first term of wanting the IOC to be far more democratic. The 2002 Mexico City session, which devolved into hours upon hours of democracy — the members voicing all manner of opinion about baseball, softball and modern pentathlon, and their roles in the program, with nothing getting done — put an end to that. After that, he started acting way more presidential.
Bach, it appears, gets from the start that he is the man. That’s the way it should be.
One other thing that is notable is that the IOC, at the end of this one-day summit, had this multi-point action plan more or less ready to go. Anyone who has done committee work knows that committees don’t do action work readily or easily. So this was already well in the works — the deal points already hammered out, apparently via pre-meetings — well before the new president summoned all “the senior representatives” to Lausanne for the face-to-face summit that produced the news release.
Note, by the way, the careful use of language. These were not “some senior representatives.” The release pointedly makes use of the definite article, the word “the,” before “senior representatives.” The new president is by nature precise — that’s how that list of people got invited Sunday.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is called leadership.