The eternal Don Mario

ACAPULCO -- There is no question, and there can be no doubt, that Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña is the most important and influential figure in the Olympic movement in the entire Western Hemisphere. No one in the United States, for instance, is even close.

No one anywhere on this side of the world is even close.

The proceedings here this week can only cement that fact. Vazquez Raña yet again presided over the assembly of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees; officials from roughly 200 countries were on hand. He was re-elected ANOC president. ANOC held a first-ever assembly with sports ministers from around the globe; some 100 government representatives showed up. ANOC held a joint meeting with the IOC's policy-making executive board.  And then Don Mario, as he is respectfully addressed by Spanish-speaking journalists in news conferences, took his place around the IOC executive board table for three days of closed-door meetings that started Sunday.

For all of that, Vazquez Raña's run is -- as is the case in all human endeavor -- nearing an end. And the issue framed here is both full of complexities but elegantly simple:

How does he go out?

Does Vazquez Raña get to choose? Or is that choice going to be made for him?

Vazquez Raña has been ANOC president for 31 years. He was re-elected here by acclaim. And not just acclaim. He got a standing ovation.

Asked at a news conference Friday if he thought election by acclaim fit with 21st-century versions of good governance and best practices, he said of course it did. No one ran against me, he said.

Unspoken was this reality: No one would dare run against Vazquez Raña.

No one could possibly remain atop an organization for so long, one that has seen such growth, without extraordinary political skill. Vazquez Raña is possessed of an incredibly keen understanding of the human condition.

He also has for years helped oversee the distribution of Olympic Solidarity funds to needy athletes around the world. All in, ANOC's budget now runs to nearly $8 million annually, according to a report available here.

Vazquez Raña is an extraordinary businessman. He runs an empire that extends to dozens of newspapers, television and radio outlets. Some of those newspapers reported his ANOC re-election with banner headlines of a sort that in the United States might have been reserved for the end of a world war.

Truthfully, such moments are rare. Vazquez Raña tends to operate with discretion. His contact list is vast. His connections -- in sports, business, politics, government -- are incredible. The contributions he has made to the Olympic movement are innumerable. No one will probably ever know, for instance, how many times he has sent a private jet to facilitate Olympic business of one sort or the other.

The challenge now is this:

An ANOC representative gets a seat at the IOC executive board. In returning Vazquez Raña to the presidency, delegates here took the additional step of formally passing a resolution that he continue his executive board service "during his mandate" -- that is, for all four years.

Vazquez Raña is now 78. His birthday is June 7, 1932.

As part of the reforms sparked by the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal, the IOC put in place age limits. One of the sub-parts to Rule 16 of the Olympic Charter now says you stop being an IOC member at the end of the calendar year in which you turn 70.

However, a Rule 16 bylaw grandfathers in -- so to speak -- those who became members before the close of the IOC's 110th all-members session, in December, 1999. For them the retirement rules play out this way:

A member "must retire" by the end of the calendar year in which he or she turns 80; retirement for one who is president, vice president or serving on the executive board takes effect "at the end of the next session" after turning 80.

Vazquez Raña became an IOC member in 1991. Pretty clearly, the rules would seem to suggest that his term on the executive board is going to come to an end in about two years, at the close of the London 2012 Olympics. That, though, is only halfway through his new four-year ANOC mandate.

Pretty clearly, too, he wants to stay on. He said Sunday at a news conference, "I feel like I [am] 60. As long as I can keep on working, I will keep on working, regardless of my chronological age."

The other IOC members re-elected Vazquez Raña to the executive board at the session in Beijing in 2008. Four years from that makes -- neatly, perhaps -- 2012.

There's a complication to the dynamic. If Vazquez Raña gets an exception at 80, what about those who became IOC members after December, 1999, and are now nearing 70?

Rio de Janeiro got the 2016 Games in large part because of the winning personality of Carlos Nuzman. He is IOC member, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and now head of the Rio 2016 organizing committee. Nuzman joined the IOC in 2000. He turns 70 on March 17, 2012. Should he get an exception, too?

IOC President Jacques Rogge on Sunday said the issue of Vazquez Raña's status on the executive board would be a matter for the board itself to study. Not here. Later.

Rules demand consistent application. Rogge himself said, albeit in a different context earlier Sunday, speaking to the ANOC delegates, "If we want to claim autonomy from the public authorities, we must be impeccable in terms of our governance."

Especially now. The FIFA bid scandal has rocked international sport. "Impeccable" is indeed the right word.

If an exception were to be carved out for Vazquez Raña, the IOC runs the risk of a major PR backlash. Those Salt Lake reforms were enacted for sound reason, and Rogge himself has consistently stressed the ongoing import of perhaps the key plank of the 50-point reform plan, the ban on member visits to cities bidding for the Games.

Samaranch stayed as president for 20 years. Rogge has given every indication that he plans to step aside when his term expires, in 2013 -- his two terms, 12 years in total, a further Salt Lake reform. Should the likes of Vazquez Raña get a break when the president himself is assuredly subject to term limits?

Finally, there's this:

It is a tenet of leadership school that you identify your successor. Who's next at ANOC? That's not clear. And that's not healthy, for ANOC, for the IOC or for Vazquez Raña's considerable legacy.

"I have always considered media in our movement as one of the strongholds, one of the pillars," Vazquez Raña said in closing Sunday's news conference. "Sometimes it's good to get your applause but it's also good to get your criticism. Criticism in sports is good as long as it's constructive and realistic."

In that spirit, Don Mario, and this English-speaking observer offers the honorific with the utmost respect, here it is:

Just because you might have to step away from the executive board and IOC membership does not mean the end. You now have two years to set yourself up for the next stage, to determine how to remain of service to the Olympic movement while further enhancing your legacy.

Who wouldn't want you to serve as, say, "special advisor"?

Make that transition on your terms. It's not realistic to stay longer. And it won't be constructive if someone else has to tell you it's time.