KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — One rumor has him one day taking over FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. Another has it that he is simply biding his time and wants to be president of the International Olympic Committee. He is, after all, only 50 years old. Still remarkably young for a man at ease in so many intersections.
Yet another talking point has it that Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the former OPEC chairman who since 2006 has been his country’s national security minister, is cleverly aiming to parlay his Olympic, soccer and sports portfolio into a long-range hardball twist, back into the top echelon of Kuwaiti leadership. When, of course, the timing is right.
What does the sheikh want?
A year ago, this was the question on the minds of virtually everyone in the Olympic sphere.
Throughout the spring and summer, and then at the historic 125th IOC session in early September in Buenos Aires, he parlayed his behind-the-scenes political acumen into a magnificent triple-play, helping to effect the election of Thomas Bach as president; Tokyo as host of the 2020 Summer Games; and the reinstatement of wrestling onto the Summer Games program.
For good measure, he even saw to it that Anita DeFrantz of the United States was elected to the IOC executive board — this after she had secured single digits in two prior election runs.
When all was said and done in Buenos Aires, as the sheikh was — and remains — quick to underscore, there was zero question that Bach was indisputably in charge of all things IOC, indeed Olympic.
At the same time, there was no doubt, too, that the sheikh — head of the Olympic Council of Asia, the 204-member Association of National Olympic Committees and, as well, the IOC’s own Olympic Solidarity initiative, which carries oversight of a 2013-16 budget of $438 million — had positioned himself to be a man of significance, indeed.
The sheikh, for those who don't understand, practices grass-roots politics. Solidarity is a perfect example. It aims to provide financial, technical and administrative aid to national Olympic committees, particularly those in developing nations.
The 2013-2016 budget? Up more than 40 percent from the 2009-12 cycle, $311 million.
Since taking office, Bach, 60, has wasted little time making it plain that change is the order of the day. Bach has an eight-year mandate and, unless something extraordinary happens, will almost surely get four more years after that. He figures to be in office until 2025.
Even so, Sheikh Ahmad would by then only be in his early 60s, still plenty young enough to be -- the first Arabic -- IOC president. If that is what he wants.
Of course, 2025 is a long, long way away. The Bach years are just starting.
Last fall, Bach gave a speech at the United Nations outlining separate but important roles for the worlds of sport and politics, roles he again delineated at the Sochi Games. At the IOC session in Sochi, he invited comments from the floor, and got them — in all, 211 over a day and a half, an unheard-of number, the members weighing in on the make-up of the Olympic program, visits to bid cities and much, much more.
The IOC is due to study what — in nature and scope — will be done as part of what Bach has termed “Olympic Agenda 2020.” Another all-members assembly is planned for Monaco in early December.
For political junkies, this is all great stuff.
Thus, again the question: what does the sheikh want?
In his 18th-floor office, the waters of the Persian Gulf shimmering below as the sun set gently Friday in the west, the sheikh smiled. Over the course of this weekend, ANOC’s executive council is due to meet; dozens of IOC members are expected on hand; it is rumored Bach may make an appearance.
“I want to see the movement in a better situation,” the sheikh said.
“I want to see the movement flexible to receive everybody in it.
“I want to see the movement in a position which keeps the logo of the sport around the world and I don’t think this is [just] what Sheik Ahmad wants — I think this is what a lot of IOC members want,” he said, adding a moment later, “I think this is our dream.”
How, he was asked did he assess the state of the movement? Was it healthy? And how did he view prospects for Olympic Agenda 2020?
“I think it’s healthy, a healthy movement,” he said.
“My part should be two main roles. To show the wishes and the [desires] of the NOCs. Not all of them have a part of the IOC house. For that I have to be their ambassador …
“Then, as an IOC member, I have to support the president and be his supporter to achieve his goals.
"I have two different positions and be a supporter of both of them.”
Some, it was suggested, would say, yes, OK, but what about your own personal ambitions?
“I don’t think so,” Sheikh Ahmad said. “Otherwise, I will be in the EB of the IOC. I know everybody knows the story.”
So why so many rumors?
“I think the reality is not giving you witness for these rumors.”
“You know my way. I am an open man.”
“Maybe it makes people a little scared [that] he,” and here the sheikh was referring to himself, “is an open man.”