Published on November 7th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
The recently elected president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, delivered a remarkable speech Wednesday to the United Nations Assembly, a signal declaration of the role of the IOC and what it can and can’t do to effect social and political change in these early years of the 21st century.
In essence, he laid out what future Olympic historians might well call the Bach Doctrine — at least as it relates to the complex and never-ending interplay between sport, government and politics.
Here was a clearly defined and articulated vision of the roles of both sport and political entities. Sometimes, as in the endorsement of the Olympic Truce, as the UN did Wednesday, or to promote certain sports projects in a conflict zone, it works to work together. Other times — when, for instance, it comes to changing the laws of a particular country — that’s beyond the IOC mandate.
IOC president Thomas Bach at the United Nations // photo IOC
“The IOC is above all a sports organization,” Bach said. “Sport is our first priority.”
That is the key, and Bach’s address ought to serve as mandatory reading for activists anywhere in the world seeking to ride the Olympic rings to advance their own interests, particularly when such activists wonder why the IOC can’t or seemingly won’t do more. (more…)
Published on November 3rd, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
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.
The scene Sunday at the IOC “summit” // photo courtesy of IOC/Richard Juilliart
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. (more…)
Published on October 31st, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Moscow Avenue runs for 10 kilometers. It starts at Victory Square, commemorating the sacrifices of World War II. The street sees the Russian National Library. It carries past the House of Soviets, a major command post during the 900-day siege; out front is a massive statue of Lenin. The boulevard runs over the Fontanka River and then, finally, ends at Sennaya Square.
Ten kilometers is roughly six miles. It rained on and off Sunday, the day the Olympic flame relay — as it is formally known — came to St. Petersburg. It was cold enough that already winter coats and hats were out. Even so, Moscow Avenue — in Russian, Moskovksky Prospekt — was jammed, the street lined on both sides, people everywhere and anywhere, just to get a glimpse of the flame.
They were literally hanging out of second-story windows. They were queueing at gas stations. They came sprinting out of a car dealership. Kids, and there were hundreds upon hundreds of kids, waved flags and danced and pointed excitedly to their parents and uncles and aunts and teachers and didn’t mind the rain and posed for pictures. The children acted — well, like kids everywhere.
It has been nearly 30 years since Sting suggested in song that the Russians must love their children, too. The relay offers powerful proof of what the Sochi 2014 Games, which this week ticked under 100 days away, mean to this enormous, incredible country — and, at the same time, an invitation to the rest of the world to find out about Russia beyond the well-worn stereotypes.
The Olympic flame in St. Petersburg, Russia // photo courtesy Sochi 2014
This has always been the power of the relay.
It symbolizes the better urge in the Olympic movement, the powerful impulse toward excellence, friendship and respect that is, in fact, universal. (more…)
Published on October 24th, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
The international sportswriters’ association, which goes by the acronym AIPS, held its two-day executive committee meeting this week in Doha, Qatar. The meeting’s guest of honor was Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the secretary general of the Qatar Olympic Committee, who is keenly sophisticated and moves fluidly between Arab and western cultures.
The Qataris bid — unsuccessfully — for the Summer Games of 2016 and 2020, cut early on in each round by the International Olympic Committee. Of course, soccer’s World Cup is set for Qatar in 2022.
His Excellency told the ladies and gentlemen of the press that sport is fundamentally one of the pillars of Qatar’s development plan. This year, the Qataris will organize 40 major sports events. By 2020, he said, the goal is to stage a big event every week of the year.
And, of course, he said, to bid again for the Olympics. Maybe for 2024. Possibly 2028.
If you have been to Doha, actually been on the ground, you know that there is serious commitment there. The new president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, has long had extensive ties to the Middle East, so one would imagine the climate — so to speak — for a Gulf bid would be as good as it could ever get.
There’s only one thing that could stop a Doha bid dead in its tracks, and it’s not the heat. Nor is it the capacity, infrastructure or even the impact on television schedules.
The start of the women’s 100-meter individual medley at the Doha World Cup event // photo courtesy Universal Sports Network
This photo offers irrefutable evidence of everything the Olympic values — friendship, excellence, respect — are not. (more…)
Published on October 21st, 2013 | by Alan Abrahamson
It has been just over four months since Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law a measure that purports to ban “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to those under 18. In the west, activists have howled. In Russia, those howls have left senior officials entirely unmoved.
The International Olympic Committee finds itself in the middle — akin to the position it found itself in five years ago, in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Games, when activists seeking to draw attention to a variety of issues in China, in particular in Tibet, wanted to know why the IOC wasn’t pressuring the Chinese government to do more.
The answer, then as now, is that the IOC is not a government. It is not even a quasi-government. Contrary to public opinion, its ability to exert “pressure” on a state authority is limited.
Russian president and IOC Sochi 2014 coordination commission chief Jean-Claude Killy of France at February 2013 one-year to-go ceremonies // Getty Images
At any rate, an equally intriguing question is why the Russian authorities found it if not necessary then at the least certainly important this past June to pass such a measure. They knew full well the Sochi Olympics were going to start Feb. 7, 2014.
The question is all the more compelling as the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media & Society on Tuesday opens a three-day conference in Los Angeles entitled, “Sports & The LGBT Experience.”
Surely the Russians had to know they were going to incite a furious reaction. Why invite such controversy? (more…)