SOCHI, Russia — If you thought Marius Vizer, the president of SportAccord, was going to go gently into the Russian good night as the convention wound down here Thursday, you might also believe that Vladimir Putin paid for the 2014 Winter Games with $24 worth of, like, beads and matryoshka, those Russian stacking dolls. “I don’t give up,” Vizer said after an incredible news conference Thursday in which he asserted repeatedly that the attack he launched Monday on the International Olympic Committee system, with IOC president Thomas Bach right up front, was assuredly designed to be “constructive.”
Vizer is like rock legend Tom Petty. He does not back down.
On Thursday, asked about his motto, Vizer said, “My life for sport,” adding, “But I have seen in here this week a lot of people and a lot of decisions of people which the sport is for their life,” leaving no doubt in his mind that for them sport is a vehicle to buffet lines, big cars and other perks with little or no consideration for athletes.
He said, “I wish to work and collaborate with everybody in harmony when somebody tells the truth and is the voice of sport. But when somebody brings his voice it does not mean it is war or [an] earthquake. It is just an opinion, an expression of sport life, activity, experience …
“Of course, some of us, most of us, agree with reality. But there are not many which have the courage [to speak out].”
The speech Monday triggered a contentious week of sports politics.
The end game is far from clear.
In something of an ironic twist, meanwhile, the IOC won for "governance and transparency" from the SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Federation Awards, it was announced Thursday by SportBusiness Intelligence at SportAccord. Judging was conducted an independent panel.
In Monday’s speech, Vizer described the IOC system as “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.” In more than 100 countries, he asserted, sport is “in misery,” with athletes “lacking the necessary basic elements — food, medication, equipment, preparation, facilities and possibility to participate to competitions.”
Almost straight thereafter, in a point that almost everyone has missed throughout the entire week of controversy that has followed, Vizer was re-elected SportAccord president for a full four-year term. SportAccord represents more than 100 Olympic and non-Olympic federations.
It wasn’t until later that day — after he had been re-elected, and intriguingly while the IOC leadership was still in town — that a letter signed by more than a dozen of the heavyweights of the Olympic sphere began circulating expressing their “disagreement” with Vizer’s remarks and their “strong support” for the IOC, for Bach and Bach’s Agenda 2020 reform plan.
On Tuesday, in an interview broadcast on SportAccord’s TV network partner, Euronews, Vizer said of the Olympic establishment, “We don’t need cardinals of sport. We don’t need popes.”
The 28-member Assn. of Summer Olympic international Federations, minus judo, of which Vizer is the president, voted Wednesday to suspend relations with SportAccord pending review.
Later in the day, ASOIF reviewed a formula under which the 28 entities would split up $550 million in revenues from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
The track and field and shooting federations, meanwhile, pulled straight out of SportAccord.
Lamine Diack, the longtime president of the IAAF, the international track and field federation, told Associated Press Tuesday that Vizer evoked “a chief or dictator coming from nowhere.”
On Thursday, Vizer, asked about Diack, said, “I want to make just one comment on this subject. I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for the sport,” adding, “In my eyes, he’s a person who sacrifices the sport for his family. No other comment.”
The reference was apparently to Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack, who left his role as an IAAF marketing consultant in December pending an investigation into ethics allegations.
The winter Olympic sports association, which goes by the acronym AIOWF, called this week for “constructive dialogue.” A group called ARISF, which represents 35 non-Olympic sports, did the same -- “constructive dialogue.”
In private, there was considerable talk that Vizer’s comments might just merit some constructive dialogue.
In public, of course, there was consistent talk from the Summer Games sports federations that what Vizer had said was too much — way too much — for the diplomacy-heavy Olympic sphere.
Who, after all, invites a guest to their house — as Bach was such a guest at the SportAccord convention — and then scolds him so?
Vizer said he had repeatedly sent Bach letters asking for discussion but had been consistently been rebuffed. The IOC executive board opted not to come to SportAccord, meanwhile, which it had every year since 2003; the IOC told the two candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games not to make presentations at SportAccord, even though bid-city presentations have been a SportAccord tradition.
Who, Vizer suggested, was snubbing who?
The IOC president, to his enormous credit, handled Vizer’s speech Monday with great grace, calling it when it was his turn at the lectern a “friendly welcome.”
Bach also drew an unmistakeable bright line:
“And when you say that the IOC and SportAccord have to cooperate in order to have a new model for the Olympic Games, for the organization and for the generation and distribution of the money, then I have to say very clearly, ‘No.’ “
Bach also said, “We have to avoid working in a parallel way that if somebody starts something and the next one is coming and saying, ‘Oh, I could do something in this respect.’ In this way, we are wasting time, we are wasting human resources, we are losing efficiency and in the end, and this is the worst of all, we are losing credibility.
‘And what we need for for our sports, if we want to promote our values, if we want to be a respected part of society, if we want to grow our sport, if we want to attract our young people, if we want to show to the world that sport has values and can do something for society, if we want to do all this, if we want then there to achieve our mission of organizing sport and to put at the same time sport at the service of society, then what we need altogether is credibility.
“And this credibility we can only achieve if we have some unity in all our diversity.”
At the ASOIF assembly Wednesday, the organization’s chief, International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti, had said that it was essential first to agree — only then could there be unity.
On Thursday, Vizer said, "I don’t think I have to restore something. The world of sport has to restore something, not me,” emphasizing that SportAccord would remain “the house and the partner of the international federations — those which want to stay, understand our vision, our activities, our hopes, they are welcome.
“We don’t oblige people, we don’t oblige organizations, we are open, we are welcome.”
It could be little surprise that the Summer Games federations rallied around the IOC and Bach.
“In the Summer Olympics, if there are 28 international federations from which more or less four or five are not dependent from the IOC, from the Olympic dividends, they could express their voice. That’s one thing,” Vizer said.
“But don’t forget that 24 or 25, I can not tell you exactly, international federations, Olympic Summer federations, depend totally on the IOC and IOC dividends. The area how to manipulate these federations I don’t have to explain to you.
“Everybody has to understand that sport can not exist only every four years. Sport has to exist daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Sport — it’s a chance for millions, for hundreds of millions, of people. Sport — it’s a chance for discipline, for integration into society, for a better life.
“Don’t,” he said, offering up one final hit at the IOC as the news conference closed, ”take that for millions of people — this hope, this chance — for ego, for ambition. For billions that stay in the bank. And millions of athletes are suffering. For ego, power and control of the world of sport.
“Nobody has this right, ever.”