The IOC's week along the beach

ACAPULCO -- For a week, the Olympic world moved itself to the Fairmont Princess hotel along this resort's palm-strewn beaches. The indelible image:

Vlade Divac, the former NBA star who is now president of the Serbian Olympic Committee, taking to the sand after the meetings were done for the day, the sun creeping lower and lower in the west, to play beach volleyball.

Funny how everyone wanted to be on Vlade's team.

Inside, with Vlade very much in attendance, the Assn. of National Olympic Committees met -- the largest gathering of Olympic figures outside the Games themselves, with officials from more than 200 nations on hand. Amid dozens of presentations, ANOC re-elected as its president Mario Vazquez Raña, the Mexican media mogul and senior International Olympic Committee figure.

Moreover, ANOC convened a first-ever joint session with government sports ministers; some 100 showed up. ANOC held a joint session with the IOC's policy-making executive board. And then, finally, the IOC board wrapped it all up with a three-day meeting of its own.

The highlights:

-- Each of the three 2018 bid cities appeared before the ANOC assembly; these marked their first public presentations. Munich, with two-time Olympic figure skating champion Katarina Witt and polished videos, unveiled its "festival of friendship" while Pyeongchang, seeking to bring the Winter Games to Korea for the first time, promoted "new horizons" with indisputable government and business support.

The presentations by those two seemed to most a cut above that of the third city in the race, Annecy, France. But it would be foolish, particularly at this early stage, to count Annecy out. The IOC in recent years has shown a distinct preference for bids with a single figure the members want to do business with; the head of the Annecy bid is the eminently genuine Edgar Grospiron, himself a gold-medalist in freestyle skiing.

The IOC will make its 2018 choice next July at an all-delegates session in Durban, South Africa.

-- The IOC said it is "looking favorably" at the inclusion of women's ski jumping and several other events, among them the extreme sports favorite slopestyle, for the Sochi 2014 Games. But it stopped short of saying yes -- for now.

Instead, the IOC gave president Jacque Rogge the authority to say yes (or no) after the world championships this coming winter. The women's ski jumpers have been fighting for inclusion for years. In slopestyle, the competitors go through "features" such as rails and bumps.

The full under-consideration list of new events: women's ski jumping; ski slopestyle (men's and women's); snowboard slopestyle (men's and women's); ski halfpipe (men's and women's); biathlon mixed-team relay; figure-skating team event; luge team relay.

"They said they were favorably looking at the sport," the 2009 women's world ski jump champion, American Lindsey Van, said in a telephone interview from Park City, Utah.

"I have to think positively. They didn't say no. So we're headed in the right direction."

-- Sri Lanka's Olympic committee proposed that technology or laser shows could replace fireworks at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer and Winter Games, citing environmental concerns.

Rogge said the IOC would review the issue. He also said it would be considered "seriously."

The likelihood of fireworks going away from the Olympic scene seems improbable. The gala banquet that Señor and Señora Vazquez Raña threw here for ANOC delegates, for instance, was preceded by a beach-side fireworks show.

Improbable, however, is not impossible. It used to be that live doves, symbolizing peace, were released as part of the opening ceremony. That was until a bunch of doves got cooked by the cauldron at the 1988 Seoul Games. Now the doves are featured symbolically -- and sometimes memorably indeed, as was the case with the stylization by acrobats at the Torino 2006 Winter Games.

-- Vazquez Raña was elected by acclaim to another four-year term as ANOC president. ANOC gets a representative on the IOC executive board. That's now Vazquez Raña. He turns 80 in two years. That creates a conflict with IOC age-limit rules that say that's when he has to step down as IOC member, and thus from the executive board.

The IOC adopted those age-limit rules as part of its response to the Salt Lake City corruption scandal some 10 years ago. The Vazquez Raña case thus promises to make for an intriguing test of the IOC's commitment to those reforms. Unclear is how, if at all, the FIFA bid scandal -- and the closer look at governance issues it surely will prompt in many Olympic and international sports offices -- may affect Vazquez Raña's status.

Rogge said the executive board will study the issue. A decision is likely in 2011.

-- At the news conference wrapping up the week, Rogge urged FIFA to follow the same sort of path the IOC did in the wake of the Salt Lake scandal.

Rogge said FIFA president Sepp Blatter "was so kind to call me" to discuss vote-buying allegations in the race for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the IOC president adding he suggested that Blatter "do exactly what he has done and try to clean out as much as possible."

The IOC ended up ousting 10 members and enacting a 50-point reform plan amid allegations of offers of cash and other inducements linked to Salt Lake's winning 1995 bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Asked if he could be sure the IOC was not itself now in line for another major corruption case, Rogge responded, "Could it happen to the IOC? I hope not. I believe the rules we put into place protect us as much as possible. But you can never say never in life. Cheating is embedded in human nature."

Ultimately, the import of these Acapulco meetings may prove to be the joint session with government ministers. It was a coup for Vazquez Raña to get so many here and while little constructive came out of this first give-and-take -- despite the fact that the speech-making ran on for 11 hours -- little was expected.

A next logical step, much discussed in the open-air bar of the Fairmont:

The possibility of convening a working group to draft a code of conduct for both sides, government and sports officials. Sports officials want government to contribute resource, primarily financial. It's entirely reasonable for governments to know where those funds might be going and then spent. Unclear, however, is whether misconduct -- whatever that might be -- should or could lead to sanction.

For now, just getting together -- sports and government -- makes for an entry in the history books.

In its way -- like seeing Vlade patrol the net.


This column appeared first on the AIPS website. That site is full of useful and interesting stuff, including reports from around the world you can't find anywhere else. AIPS, founded in 1924, is the international sports press association.