Carrión lights his flame


It was a couple days before the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. The British Columbia weather was, as usual for that time of year, unpleasant -- rain and sleet. All the more charming, it was hardly 7:30 in the morning. And yet -- people were lined up three-deep to watch the Olympic flame go by. Those who had  prime viewing locations made way so that some in wheelchairs could get a look. People who had babies held them up high and said, out loud, to the little ones, "There it is."

Taking all this in that morning was the man who, for a couple minutes, ran with the flame, then handed it off on its next leg toward the cauldron and the opening ceremony -- Richard Carrión, the International Olympic Committee member from Puerto Rico.

On Wednesday, Carrión announced he is a candidate for the IOC presidency. Much will inevitably be made in the weeks and months to come about how Carrión is a banker, a businessman who has negotiated the IOC's major television rights deals, indeed arguably the IOC's key financier -- all of that -- and how he would bring best-practices sensibilities to the office.

That, though, is not why he is running.

Thinking back to that morning now more than three years ago, Carrión said, "The people were there to watch the torch -- not the guy.

"That flame evokes an emotion. That is the most powerful thing we have going for us. The minute we think this a business or a professional meeting, we are lost.

"This is fundamentally an organization built around universal values that tries to bring out the best of us in every way. That is what makes me feel privileged to give the organization the time I have given it the past 23 years. I feel it is a privilege -- not something I should be compensated for. That is what stirs the passion in me."

Carrión, 60, is third to announce his candidacy, joining Germany's Thomas Bach and Singapore's Ser Miang Ng.

C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and Denis Oswald of Switzerland are other likely or potential candidates. The IOC will vote Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires. The winner will replace Jacques Rogge, who has served for 12 years.

Carrión, as he noted, has been an IOC member since 1990. He served as a member of the policy-making executive board from 2004 until last year. He has been chair of the IOC finance commission since 2002.

Though the global economic downturn has rocked governments and businesses worldwide, the IOC has over the past 10 years increased its reserves from $100 to some $900 million, guaranteeing funds sufficient to withstand an entire four-year cycle without Games.

How? Finance stuff -- opening up the bidding process itself for the sale of broadcast rights, holding more country-by-country TV bidding and readjusting the pay-out to Games' organizing committees to an inflation-based formula.

Over the course of the campaign, the two challenges Carrión is most likely to hear most often -- which he straight-up acknowledges -- are, first, his demeanor, and two, the fact that unlike some of the others, he was not an Olympian, professional athlete or even sport functionary before a business career.

To take the second one first, perhaps only within the IOC would that even remotely grasp at logic. Carrión has been chief executive (since 1989) and then chairman (since 1993) of Popular, Inc., the financial institution that now claims $37 billion in assets.

Meanwhile, an easy check of the website for FIBA, the international basketball association, would show Carrión's name there as a central board member. It's hardly as if he doesn't know or understand sport -- he serves now on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro coordination commission and pulled similar duty on the 1996 Atlanta commission.

As for his personality -- Carrión can command a room but does not easily glad-hand it. This can sometimes create the wrong impression. At first, he can seem shy. Beneath the reserve, it turns out, he is not just sensible and level but, indeed, gracious and personable.

As for campaigning, he said, "I just have to do it. i just have to go out and sit down and say, 'This is what I think, you are important to me and your ideas are important to me. I am a listener. You can talk to me all day long. That doesn't mean I will do what you say -- but it will weigh in my mind.

"I am not subject to any kind of pressures. I have resisted pressures. I have dealt with large companies and large organizations all my life. I have a global perspective. I am independent, in the sense that I am not subject to any kind of pressure."

The IOC, Carrión made plain, finds itself now in good standing. At the same time, this election sees much at stake.

Why? Economic strains threaten sports across countries of all sizes. The Olympic Games themselves have become increasingly complex to stage. Doping and illegal betting represent significant threats. And, as a social trend, there is the growing rate of inactivity and obesity among young people in certain countries.

A key point: it's not just the Olympic movement of 2013 that's at issue. It's what the movement will look like in 2021 or, given the way things really work, with the next president on deck to serve not just the standard first eight-year term but a full 12 years, 2025. Moreover, it's not just about the Games -- it's about the movement and its reach to the big cities and little villages of the world alike.

Carrión outlined some broad themes and, at the same time, some potential action steps. The IOC, he said, should:

-- Use a "multi-partner approach" to better achieve what it calls "universality," or worldwide inclusion. A foundation of the Olympic movement is that sport is a human right. But governments -- which largely fund sport -- are facing tough choices. Carrión's notion? The IOC's United Nation observer status and added partnerships with non-governmental organizations can help. "We have a treasure trove of knowledge of what is working," he said, "so that at the community level we can put plans in place."

-- Create a special new fund for grass-roots sports education and development, one that complements the existing Olympic Solidarity program, which aims more at elite sport. Last month, in Lima, Peru, the IOC held a conference on "Sport for All." This was the IOC's 15th such conference; it went on for four days; 500 leading experts from almost 90 nations attended. Now, as a point of contrast: the IOC's "Sport for All" budget for the 2009-2012 cycle -- $2.2 million. If that sounds like a decent sum, consider that there are 204 national Olympic committees. Consider, too, that Solidarity's budget for the same period was $311 million. Which means that Sport for All's budget for the same period was 0.7074 percent of Solidarity's.

-- Lessen the burden of hosting the Games or run the risk -- as is already perhaps being seen -- in limiting future bids to a handful of countries. One way: bring in-house some Olympic Games functions. This sort of non-sexy, but essential, idea actually could save big dollars. The IOC already knows this, because it has the model in place: Olympic Broadcasting Services. OBS has shown that with the same teams in place you can gain greater efficiencies, higher quality and greater productivity.

-- Take a broad look at the reforms enacted in the wake of the late 1990s Salt Lake City crisis. Carrión served on the commission that pushed for the reforms, which include an age-70 age limit. Now, he says, "The important thing is we need to review these things. Twelve years later, we can better gauge the effect of some of these things," noting the members' skills and diversity are not being tapped to their fullest.

-- Urge for the inclusion of women at management and executive positions throughout the IOC and the movement. "We do," he said, "need to show some leadership and increase that."

Others will of course have held a news conference to mark their presidential candidacies. Not Carrión, who is sending a letter and his "manifesto," or to-do plan, to the members. For him -- that's enough.

"It is part of my style," he said. "It drives most of the things that I do -- let's be as efficient as possible."