C-K- Wu

A stealth Olympic summit

The International Olympic Committee held something of a stealth meeting of key power-brokers Sunday at its lakefront headquarters in  Lausanne, Switzerland, a move that illuminates the who's who and what's what behind the developing agenda of the recently elected president, Germany's Thomas Bach. Bach convened the meeting, not widely publicized beforehand and in an IOC release termed an "Olympic Summit," to address "the main topics of interest and concern" confronting the movement.

These the statement identified as the campaigns against doping and match-fixing, regulation of the sports calendar, autonomy of the sports movement and, finally, governance issues.

The scene Sunday at the IOC "summit" // photo courtesy of IOC/Richard Juilliart

Here, then, is a catalogue of how the new president intends to operate, his key list of action items and, perhaps most fascinatingly, a collection of advisers -- a kitchen cabinet, if you will -- that the release identified as "the senior representatives of the Olympic Movement's key stakeholders."

Like any list, it's not just who is on it but who is not that makes for the tell.

Among those who were there:

The three IOC vice presidents: Craig Reedie of Great Britain; Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco; John Coates of Australia.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, of course. Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and Sport Accord president, naturally. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president. C.K. Wu, the head of the international boxing federation.

In May, the aquatics and gymnastics federations were elevated to the top tier of Olympic revenues, joining the track and field federation, the IAAF. The IAAF president, Lamine Diack of Senegal, was there Sunday; so was Julio Maglione of Urugay, president of FINA, the aquatics federation. The gymnastics federation president, Italy's Bruno Grandi? No.

The entire winter sports scene was represented solely by René Fasel, president of both the ice hockey and winter sports federations.

More: the heads of the national Olympic committees of the United States, China and Russia were invited to the meeting. But -- not France. Hello, Paris 2024?

Beyond that, the important take-aways from the meeting are these:

Reasonable people can quibble with the notion of whether doping, match-fixing, the calendar, autonomy and governance make for the spectrum of pressing issues facing the movement.

The new president, for instance, is keenly aware that the Olympic Games are the IOC's franchise and that keeping the franchise relevant to young people has to be the IOC's No. 1 priority. Nowhere on that list, moreover, is an exploration of the values central to the Olympic movement and how they might, should or do play out in today's world.

The president "invited the participants to share their ideas on these subjects," and a wide range of others, "and to be part of the permanent dialogue and ongoing reflection that the IOC wishes to increase with its main stakeholders," according to the release.

Bach is super-smart. He understands concepts such as "relevance" and "values." For sure.

But the action-item catalogue clearly and unequivocally demonstrates -- as Bach suggested during the presidential campaign, which ended with his election Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires -- that his focus is in problem-solving.

That means: solving the problems, or at least trying to, that are there, directly and identifiably, in front of him and the IOC.

Look at what the release says:

-- The IOC will set up a task force to coordinate efforts against match-fixing and illegal betting.

-- The participants agreed to set up an "experts' network" that will focus on issues of autonomy and governance.

-- The IOC will set up a "consultative working group" to deal with the calendar.

This calendar group, and it should be highlighted that this panel will be "under the leadership of the IOC," obviously has two unspoken priorities:

One, for those thinking long-range, is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and whether -- as FIFA has been mulling, or not -- it can or should be moved to the winter. Such a move could well be problematic for a 2022 Winter Olympics. The IOC statement Sunday noted that the working group will discuss "the priority of current and future sports events within the global calendar."

Two, there's Vizer's suggestion, made when he was running last spring for SportAccord president, for a "Unified World Championships" that would feature 90-plus sports all going on at the same time. The group Sunday, Vizer included, the IOC statement said, agreed that "any new initiative has to respect the uniqueness of the Olympic Games."

Then there is the campaign against doping.

The release affirms the movement's "zero-tolerance" policy against drug cheats and backs the IOC's candidate for the presidency of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Reedie, who is expected to be affirmed at a meeting this month in South Africa. At the same time, it calls for WADA to become more of a "service organization," reflecting tensions with some international sports federations, who have suggested that the agency has been telling them what to do instead of serving their needs.

Whether this proves, in the long run, to actually be a good thing or not, and whether it actually gets played out, particularly with such real-world challenges such as the testing of Jamaican and Kenyan athletes now making headlines, remains to be seen.

Reedie, it should be noted, has consistently proven himself to be a shrewd player in sports politics across many constellations.

In the near term, meanwhile, all this shows conclusively that Bach is not only consolidating but demonstrating his own authority while simultaneously showing if not a bent, then at least a nod, toward collaboration.

It's of course absolutely a good thing that Bach seek the input of key constituent groups. In about a month, he will lead not only an executive board meeting in Lausanne but immediately afterward an EB retreat. Of course, how the EB and this new kitchen cabinet will mesh -- there is some overlap -- remains to be seen.

At the same time, as Jacques Rogge before him and Juan Antonio Samaranch before that proved, while the IOC is something of a democracy, the institution has traditionally functioned best when the president demonstrates a clear and decisive hand.

It took Rogge some time to figure this out. He made a show at the beginning of his first term of wanting the IOC to be far more democratic. The 2002 Mexico City session, which devolved into hours upon hours of democracy -- the members voicing all manner of opinion about baseball, softball and modern pentathlon, and their roles in the program, with nothing getting done -- put an end to that. After that, he started acting way more presidential.

Bach, it appears, gets from the start that he is the man. That's the way it should be.

One other thing that is notable is that the IOC, at the end of this one-day summit, had this multi-point action plan more or less ready to go. Anyone who has done committee work knows that committees don't do action work readily or easily. So this was already well in the works -- the deal points already hammered out, apparently via pre-meetings -- well before the new president summoned all "the senior representatives" to Lausanne for the face-to-face summit that produced the news release.

Note, by the way, the careful use of language. These were not "some senior representatives." The release pointedly makes use of the definite article, the word "the," before "senior representatives." The new president is by nature precise -- that's how that list of people got invited Sunday.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is called leadership.


Sheikh Ahmad on the record

BUENOS AIRES -- Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah laughed the laugh of a man who had accomplished everything here he had set out to do. "The media asked what I thought," he said. "And I said, 'Thank you for making me a hero.' "

This was last Tuesday afternoon here in the lobby of the Hilton hotel. Germany's Thomas Bach had just been elected the ninth International Olympic Committee president. Earlier in the session, wrestling had been put back on the program. Tokyo had won for 2020.

Some moments before, Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles had won election to the IOC's policy-making election board. This had delighted some. Some found it almost improbable. After all, without the sheikh in her corner, DeFrantz had managed just single-digits in prior campaigns over the past 12 years.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is still a long way from making a decision on a bid from 2024. The costs are staggering. Federal government is extremely unlikely. That said, if DeFrantz can win for the executive board with the sheikh's backing, a 2024 U.S. bid -- which he is known right now to support -- has to at least be considered.

125th IOC Session - IOC Presidential Election

The sheikh riffed some more: "The Americans asked me, 'Are you the most powerful man in sport?' I ask, 'Are you the most powerful country?' "

Then the sheikh got serious: "To ask if I am the most powerful man does a disservice to the power of Dr. Bach." He ticked off Bach's accomplishments: gold medal-winning fencer, IOC member for 22 years, veteran on the executive board, chair of the legal commission, chief of anti-doping investigations, negotiator of European television rights.

"Do not," he said, "do not make it look like Dr. Bach is not the power. He is the power."

Bach, 59, was elected last Tuesday the ninth IOC president.

Over the course of last week in Buenos Aires, meanwhile, the sheikh, head of the Olympic Council of Asia and of the 205-member Assn. of the National Olympic Committees, firmly established himself as the leading man of Olympic influence.

Tokyo, wrestling, Bach -- the sheikh completed a trifecta. Then, for good measure, DeFrantz.

The corollary questions:

How is this happening, and why? And is this concentration of influence in one man good for the Olympic movement?

Some are delighted. Here is a man who says he will get things done. They get done.

At the same time, others -- within and without the movement -- are wary.

And there are those, truth be told, who would would use stronger words still.

The al-Sabah family holds key positions in the Kuwaiti government and military; it has wide-ranging interests in the petroleum industry. The sheikh has made no secret of any of this. His Olympic biography, for instance, recounts his own military service as a Kuwaiti army officer (1985-90). It details, too, how he was OPEC chairman from 2003-05 as well as his country's energy minister and, since 2006, its minister of national security.

A 2008 American embassy cable, disclosed by Wikileaks, proclaims that Sheikh Ahmad is "widely perceived as being corrupt." It offers no evidence for this assertion. It also offers this no-holds-barred compliment about him: "[Sheikh Ahmad] is clever and ambitious and is widely seen as being the only member of the ruling family having both the will and the capacity to rule."

At his very first news conference as president, just hours after being elected, Bach fielded questions from around the room about his relationship with the sheikh, whose support had been well-known.

"You can't win the elections for the IOC president with the support of one person alone," Bach said, adding a moment later and referring to the IOC members, "They are very strong individual personalities. You have to convince them individually. This is what I tried to do in my campaign."

Responding to another question, Bach said, "In all my conversations with the members, there was not a promise being made. This allows me next Tuesday, when I go to Lausanne," meaning IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, along Lake Geneva, "to start with a white sheet of paper."

Already, meanwhile, speculation is rampant that the sheikh might be interested in himself running one day for president of the IOC. Bach's term is for eight years, renewable for four more. The sheikh is just 50. There's plenty of time.

What so many want to know about the sheikh is whether is he a force for good, or otherwise.

All journalists learn early on that if one is suspicious one should think like the police or prosecutors do. If it's misconduct or wrongdoing you're looking for, look for evidence of sex, money, drugs, a lust for power or some combination thereof.

The sheikh's hangout in Lausanne is the upscale Beau Rivage hotel, along the lake. His money is for sure good there. But the same can be said of any number of IOC members.

The sheikh threw a party in Buenos Aires at the conclusion of the landmark 125th session. It was a private affair, invitation only at a super-fancy hotel. It probably was a pretty nice deal. A couple days earlier, at the same hotel, the wrestling people threw a really nice celebration party. It for sure was a really nice deal.

The sheik -- and his many, many supporters -- insist there's nothing to be suspicious about.

They say he is completely legit.

In fact, they assert, he is unequivocally committed in the Olympic sphere to best-practices good governance and transparency.

The sheikh took over ANOC last year. That role gives him oversight of the IOC's Solidarity Commission, a program that aims to provide financial, technical and administrative assistance to national Olympic committees, particularly those in developing nations.

Its 2009-13 budget: $435 million, up nearly 40 percent from the 2009-12 cycle's $311 million.

As one senior European IOC member, speaking on condition of anonymity said, "The sheikh is dedicated. The sheikh is active. The sheik is interested. It's a new order."

There endures an air of mystery about Sheikh Ahmad because of the part of the world he is from; because he is a member of his nation's royal family; because he moves in a circle to which access can be tightly controlled; and because he rarely gives on-the-record interviews.

The sheikh moves easily in Arab, western and Asian cultures. He is completely at ease in languages, including English.

It would be a fundamental mistake to underestimate Sheikh Ahmad. He is tireless. He is also keenly intelligent.

The skeptic would say it helps the sheikh considerably, as that formal Olympic bio notes, to have been minister of his country's national security's office for the past seven years. A more benign view would be that one doesn't get to that office in the first instance without first being shrewd and sophisticated about human beings, and what makes them tick.

The sheikh has been an IOC member since 1992; his father had been killed the year before, on the second day of the Iraqi invasion. The son learned a great deal from Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980 until 2001, particularly about the value of relationships. The outgoing president, Jacques Rogge, referred to him last Monday in a light moment as "someone who is like my younger brother."

This is a significant key to the sheikh's success in moving within the IOC.

It has been said many, many times about the IOC but bears repeating. Within the so-called Olympic family, relationships are everything.

So, too, the sheikh said, in trying to advance any campaign: "Logic."

And, he said: "Credibility."

And: "In the end, winning."

As simple as this seems, it's also elemental, and why so many want to jump aboard with him: "People like to win."

Before the presidential voting, the only issue was not whether Bach would win. It was whether he would steamroll to a first-round victory.


In a field of six, Bach needed 47 for victory. He got 43 -- itself a remarkable thing.

In the next round, again needing 47, Bach picked up six more votes, winning easily.

His nearest challenger, Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, managed 29. Ser Miang Ng of Singapore took six, Denis Oswald of Switzerland five, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine four. C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei had been eliminated in the first round.

Asked if non-believers ought to believe in him now, the sheikh said, "I think people ought to believe in those numbers."

He made a joke: "I am not competing for a spot in the international journalists' federation."

Then, again, seriously, "There [are] rumors, media, PR," adding a moment later, "In the end you have to accept. I think people are accepting me."


Bach wins the presidency

BUENOS AIRES -- Thomas Bach of Germany was elected president of the International Olympic Committee Tuesday, replacing Jacques Rogge of Belgium. Bach is a gold medal-winning fencer at the 1976 Montreal Games who went on to become a lawyer. He was made an IOC member in 1991 and has served in virtually every position but president. Over the years, he has made no secret of his ambition for the top job.

Now he has it, winning decisively in the second round of voting over five other candidates. He received 49 votes, two more than he needed. Combined, the other five got 44.

Bach, 59, becomes the IOC's ninth president. Eight of the nine have been Europeans. The only exception: the American Avery Brundage, who served from 1952 to 1972.

The new president will serve a term of at least eight years. IOC rules permit the possibility of a four-year second term. Bach said he hoped to lead according to his campaign motto, "Unity in diversity," and declared, "You should know that my door, my ears and my heart are always open for you.''

125th IOC Session - IOC Presidential Election

The intrigue in Tuesday's balloting underscored Bach's support -- completely overt -- from the Olympic world's new No. 1 power-broker, Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

Also manifestly at work Tuesday, indeed throughout this landmark 125th IOC session, at which Tokyo was selected host for the 2020 Games and wrestling was put back onto the program for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Olympics:  the influence of Russian president Vladimir Putin. As Bach was making his way down a line of reporters shortly after being elected, Dmitry Chernyshenko's phone rang. He heads the Sochi 2014 organizing committee. It was Putin calling, for Bach, with congratulations.

As one triangulates, let there be no doubt: Sheikh Ahmad is now unequivocally positioned as one of the most influential figures in international sport.

This, too: Bach is certainly European. But to have a key political backer who is head of the Olympic Council of Asia and head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees is perhaps evidence of a subtle shift in the Olympic worldview.

At any rate, about this there can be no misunderstanding: the IOC election Tuesday completed a turn that through 2013 has seen an older generation of leadership moved aside by younger personalities with different ideas and new energy.

This political master drama, a classical study that academics and operatives alike could learn much from as it played out in real life over more than 10 years, intensifying over the last 18 months, culminated Tuesday in Bach's emphatic ascent.

Out: Rogge, Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña and, in something of a rebuke to the outgoing president, his former associate, the former International Cycling Union president Hein Verbruggen of Holland. Verbruggen served Rogge in a variety of roles, including as chief of the Beijing 2008 Games coordination commission; he was also the former head of SportAccord, the umbrella group of international sport federations.

Vazquez Raña and Verbruggen have hardly disappeared from the scene, and to count them out completely -- each entirely accomplished and hugely intelligent -- might well, it is true, be premature. Now, though, the leverage and access are completely different.

In: Bach, the sheikh, the judo federation and new SportAccord president Marius Vizer, who lives in Hungary, and perhaps a handful of trusted others. This, as Bach's mandate gets underway, is the essential new power base of Olympic sport.

Bach defeated five other challengers: Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Denis Oswald of Switzerland, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore and C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei. Only Carrión, the IOC's finance chairman, managed even double-digits in the two rounds of voting.

In Bach, amid a world buffeted by economic, environmental and security challenges, the IOC signaled that it was not looking for transformational change.

While the other five candidates in their campaign manifestoes, or action plans, had proposed suggestions that put the IOC at the center of a variety of wide-ranging global sport and technology initiatives, Bach for the most part focused on the IOC's franchise, the Olympic Games.

"Considering the many challenges ahead, the IOC's focus must be safeguarding the uniqueness and relevance of the Olympic Games in an ever-changing world," Bach had said in his.

He also said that "keeping the Olympic Games the most attractive event in the world for all stakeholders is a top priority for the IOC."

This may not be especially bold. This might not be particularly opportunistic. Then again, the IOC tends to be traditional, especially at big moments. And, given the stakes, it makes fundamental sense when looked at in bright light.

Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016, for instance, are now being referred to in influential Olympic circles as "experiment" Olympics. The capital budget for Sochi is already north of $50 billion and the new anti-gay law there has raised concerns in several Western nations. In Rio, construction is running slow and over-budget and, moreover, it was disclosed here that sponsorships are proving hard to sell.

Thus: when the IOC members looked around at this moment in time, what -- most -- did they want?


The Rogge years will likely be viewed, most of all, by one word: stability.

Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain served before Rogge for 21 years. Samaranch is still largely a beloved figure within the IOC. Elsewhere, the first thing that often comes up is the Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which erupted in the late 1990s.

Rogge was elected in large measure to see the IOC through the Salt Lake reforms and to restore the institution's worldwide prestige.

"You have led us through those bad times," Princess Haya al Hussein of the United Arab Emirates, president of the International Equestrian Federation, told Rogge as the assembly closed late Monday, adding he "clearly understood" the IOC's way forward was rooted in "good governance."

She said he had brought "our family out of its darkest times into a good future," years that in time people will come to understand as truly remarkable fiscally, growing the IOC's financial reserves from $100 million to more than $900 million despite the global economic crisis -- enough to survive an entire four-year Olympic cycle, indeed to secure what the princess called a "clear future."

Rogge's response was classic: "I did no more than my duty,"  he said, adding, "What has been achieved is not one man. It is a team. Thank you very much."

Rogge, an orthopedic surgeon by training, came to office on a summer Monday in Moscow in 2001. He was then 59, an IOC member for 10 years, a man of distinct vigor, his hair still dark.

After 12 years in office, he steps down in winter on a Tuesday in Buenos Aires. He is now 71. His hair is grey.

"If you want to achieve something in the IOC, you have to age," he said wryly during the assembly late Monday to Christophe Dubi, the sports director and incoming Games executive director, whom Rogge has always called "young man."

Intensely European himself, Rogge nonetheless oversaw Games for the first time in China (2008) and the IOC's "new horizons" moves to South America (Rio 2016) and, for the Winter Games, Russia (2014) and South Korea (2018).

Rogge oversaw six editions of the Games, three Summer, three Winter and, as well, ushered in the Youth Games, the first Summer edition in Singapore in 2010, the first Winter product in Innsbruck in 2012.

"The fact that I could describe six Olympic Games and two Youth Games as being successful is for me the biggest reward I could have," he said here.

Beyond Salt Lake, Rogge also had to cope with unexpectedly intensified security concerns. The 9/11 attacks took place three months after Rogge took office, just five months before the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and would add security complications to those Olympics and thereafter.

He had to confront a multitude of financial issues. Some involved a lengthy dispute with the U.S. Olympic Committee over certain broadcasting and marketing revenues. They cut a new deal last year.

There were other issues as well: illicit doping and illegal match-fixing, in particular.

Throughout, Rogge remained typically calm, almost always implacable. His management style tended toward the technocratic. It was big on process.

This could be seen in the 12 years of back, forth and sideways over the Summer Games line-up which ended Sunday with the members' vote to reinstate wrestling.

It had been kicked out in February of what was called the "core" group of sports by the IOC's policy-making executive board, then forced to fight with squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball for a place.

Squash has been on the outside looking in for 10 years. Baseball and softball were both once in and now are out. Meanwhile, over the Rogge presidency, the only additions to the Summer Games sports line-up are that, come 2016, golf and rugby-sevens will be played.

Surfing? Skateboarding? Still waiting.

Virtually everyone associated with the Olympic movement agrees the program needs wholesale review.

So, too, the bid city process. The 2020 line-up produced just three finalists -- Tokyo, Madrid, Istanbul -- after four for 2016 and five of the world's great cities for 2012.

Mostly, what the movement needs is simply a dose of new energy.

There are those who say that in Bach, the sheikh and Vizer the movement is heading in ways no one can portend.

Then again, these three also say that they -- along with the head of the Summer Games' federations' association, which goes by the acronym ASOIF, currently Francesco Ricci Bitti of Italy, the international tennis federation president -- can foresee a new way. They say it might open up new avenues of governance and, to be candid, transparency.

Big picture, the IOC is caught in transition between 19th-century club and 21st-century multibillion-dollar business.

The way the IOC is structured, authority has been far too confined between the president, the director-general and remarkably few staff. The model would hardly pass many business-school studies.

Bach surely now has a mandate.

The sole question heading into Tuesday's vote was not whether Bach would win. It was whether he would win on the first round.

"People are turning," one of the soon-to-be defeated candidates had said late Monday night, acknowledging the obvious. "For months they tell you one thing. They look at you in the eye and now tonight they tell you something else. It's very disappointing."

It is an IOC maxim that in the first round members vote for their friends. In the second they get serious.

In the first-round, Bach carried 43. Carrión got 23, Bubka 8, Oswald 7, Ng and Wu 6 apiece. IOC rules put the tie to a run-off; Ng got 56, Wu 36; Ng moved on to the second round, Wu was eliminated.

In the second round, needing 47 votes to win, Bach got those 49. Carrión took 29, Ng 6, Oswald 5, Bubka 4.

The candidacies of both Ng and Wu were apparently hurt by Tokyo's win for 2020. Five times to Asia in 12 years ... Tokyo 2020 just three days ago ... the notion of an Asian president ... it was all, as the as the senior Canadian member Dick Pound put it, "too much Asia, too soon."

Twelve years ago, Rogge -- in a field of five -- won in the second round with 59 votes; runner-up Kim Un Young of South Korea got 23.

If it seems obvious, this is a lesson Samaranch taught, and the sheikh obviously took to heart: relationships are everything, and people like to know that they matter.

This is why the line-up to see Sheikh Ahmad in Room 532 of the Hilton Hotel here throughout the week was non-stop. What was he offering inside? Coffee. Tea. Water.

On Monday evening, wearing a paisley jeans and a shirt, he stopped in front of a coffee bar in the Hilton lobby. For a solid 10 minutes, a stream of well-wishers stopped to chat.

The sheikh, 50, first signaled his strength last year when he took over as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, deposing the venerable Vazquez Raña. ANOC represents the world's 204 national Olympic committees. The vote: 174 in his favor, one against, two abstentions.

Last year in London, he helped elect to the IOC executive board both Patrick Hickey of Ireland and one of Tuesday's presidential candidates, Wu.

Earlier this year, he and his team helped engineer Vizer's SportAccord election.

Then, earlier this summer, they saw to it that Buenos Aires won the 2018 Youth Games.

On Saturday, Tokyo 2020.

Tuesday, Bach.

In voting later Tuesday afternoon the sheikh helped elect Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles to the IOC's executive board. She had last served on the board in 2001.

One of the players in one of these dramas was in the Hilton lobby after the presidential election. He was willing to speak but not for the record:  "A new world is open now."


Wrestling is back

BUENOS AIRES -- The International Olympic Committee, recognizing the gravity of its error, reinstated wrestling to the 2020 Summer Games program. At the same time, the IOC rejected bids to put squash and a combined effort from baseball/softball onto the show at the Tokyo 2020 Games, underscoring the fix it has put itself in as it seeks to keep the program relevant.

"This was a mistake," the influential Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah said before the vote to reinstate wrestling, referring to the move last February by the IOC's policy-making executive board to take it off the 2020 program.

The IOC fixed the mistake in a one-and-done vote.

What next?

Maybe, perhaps, possibly finding a way for baseball/softball to be played in Tokyo, after all. That needs to wait, though, for the new president, and some other discussions -- none of which can even begin until after Tuesday, when part three of this landmark 125th IOC session transpires, the presidential election.

Sunday saw part two, the sports vote, following Saturday's part one, the election of Tokyo, which prevailed over Istanbul and Madrid.

Six candidates are running for president: Germany's Thomas Bach; Puerto Rico's Richard Carrión; Singapore's Ser Miang Ng; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Switzerland's Dennis Oswald; and Sergei Bubka of Ukraine.

With the sports vote out of the way, there are now two full days of mostly boring reports and mundane session business to keep the members from wondering what is the best steakhouse in Buenos Aires. The real action is elsewhere -- the presidential derby and re-hashing the 2020 vote, and triangulating the influence of Sheikh Ahmad, Bach and others such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.


For sure.

When Putin took office as Russian president for the second time, on May 7, 2012, with whom did he hold his first meeting?

With Jacques Rogge.

The presentations and the vote Sunday marked just the latest step in a long-running Olympic drama. It is far from over because the IOC, frankly, has not figured out the essentials in mixing the traditional sports it has to have on the program -- track and field, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling -- with others needed to keep it fresh and interesting not just for television but to teens and young adults.

Such as, for instance, surfing and skateboarding.

The IOC in many ways has done a commendable job of adding so-called "action sports" to the Winter Games program.

The Summer program?

Over the 12 years of the Rogge presidency, the only changes to the program have been that both baseball and softball have been kicked out -- there's a cogent argument to be made that some of it is rooted in either Eurocentricism or latent anti-Americanism, the latter of which is vehemently denied -- and golf and rugby-sevens added for 2016.

For both Summer and Winter, the IOC has undertaken a laborious process designed to assign metrics to each sport -- TV viewing, internet ratings, governance categories and more -- and then tried to drop them into a group it calls the "core."

After every Games, all the sports are to be reviewed. To simplify, there is to be a new "core" every four years.

The first review -- the thing that landed wrestling on the outside this time around -- came after London. Modern pentathlon stayed inside the core. Wrestling, no.

As part of an intriguing debate that preceded Sunday's vote and presentations, Russia's Alex Popov -- the champion swimmer -- asked whether the IOC was going to have to go through the entire drama all over again in four years.

That is, he asked, was there going to be another "core" review?

Yes, Rogge said.

North Korea's Ung Chang, who typically does not ask pointed questions at the IOC's assemblies, raised his hand. He took the obvious route -- why last February was wrestling told it had to fight for a spot?

With Italy's Franco Carraro, chairman of the program commission, standing at the lectern, ready to answer, Rogge said that question clearly carried political overtones -- would you like me to answer? Everyone laughed, especially Carraro, and away Rogge went:

The wrestling federation, Rogge said, suffered from poor governance and confusing rules, and Greco-Roman was not so popular, among just a few reasons.

Meanwhile, Canada's senior member, Dick Pound, said what so many members have said privately, that to reinstate wrestling -- which was where the day was manifestly heading -- was simply taking the IOC "back to where we [had] started." What was the point?

Pound suggested the IOC take the five months between this assembly in Buenos Aires and the IOC's next full meeting, at the Sochi Games next February, to come up with a better solution.

Thank you, Rogge said, but no: "We should respect our own decisions."

First up, then, was the vote to approve the "core" group of 25 sports.

A simple majority was required to carry the vote.

The tally: 77 yes, 16 no.

Each of the three sports then made their presentations.

Baseball/softball went first.

The historical arc of what the two sports are trying to accomplish in growing worldwide is plain to see.

The games came of age in the United States in the early 20th century. Then they spread to the western hemisphere and to such Asian nations as Japan and Chinese Taipei.

Now they are taking root in Europe, Africa and elsewhere in Asia. Just as with golf, the plan is to use the Olympics as a catalyst to get bigger in growing markets.

The emotional pitch came from Don Porter, the longtime head of the softball federation. He fought back tears as he told the IOC members about 511 letters he kept in a box on his desk -- letters from girls all over the world asking for softball to be put back into the Olympics.

"I hope today you will … help restore their dreams," Porter told the IOC members.

Squash went next.

N. Ramachandran, the federation's chief, made it plain in the first few moments: "Squash represents the future, not the past." Yo, wrestling!

A video showed how you could put a glass court anywhere. The sport would need only two courts for its 64 Olympic players -- 32 men, 32 women. You can rent a court for $3,000 a day or buy two for about $500,000, Ramachandran said -- cheap. The federation has been campaigning for an Olympic spot for a full 10 years, the sort of persistence the IOC says it likes.

A teenager from the Bronx, Andreina Benedith, the United States' under-19 champion, speaking in Spanish, no less, said, "Squash changed my life."

All this was well and good.

But these two sports were up against the weight of tradition, history and politics.

"This is the most important day in the 3,000-year history of our sport," Nenad Lalovic of Serbia, the new president of FILA, the wrestling federation, said at the start of its presentation, outlining the various changes it, and the sport, had taken over the year.

He emphasized, "We are not here to speak about the past. We are here to speak about the future."

Now, FILA is a "modern, effective member of the Olympic family," he said. It promised the IOC 15 new commissions; now it has 17. It will have at least one female vice-president and on its board three seats for women and one for an athlete.

The February action by the IOC executive board, Jim Scherr, a FILA bureau member and the former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was a "wake-up call," adding, "We have made extraordinary progress over the last six months, just extraordinary," including the addition of two weight classes in Rio 2016 for women, cutting out two classes for men.

"FILA," Scherr said, "understands its responsibilities."

So, too, did the IOC.

No way, especially after Tokyo won for 2020, was wresting going to be denied. Yes, baseball is big in Japan. But Japan won six wrestling medals in London last year, second-most.

Russia won 11. Those 11 medals made up 13 percent of the Russians' 82 total in London.

As Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, posted in a photo from inside the IOC assembly hall to his Twitter feed, "Wanna see the one who would say 'no' to the legendary Karelin!;-)"

Alexander Karelin, of course, is the legendary man-mountain Greco-Roman wrestler, winning three gold medals and one silver over his Olympic career.

Reality check: if Russia, the United States, Japan and others wanted it, it was going to happen.

Super-reality check: Putin, Putin, Putin. The Sochi Games are five months away, and though wrestling is not a Winter Games sport, don't think for a second that he doesn't exert considerable influence over what is happening here.

The vote, and in the first round, with 48 needed to get back in: 49 for wrestling, 24 for baseball/softball, 22 for squash.

Now comes the intriguing possibility that five months from now the new president -- whoever he is -- will carve out an exception to the rules to allow the runner-up to be allowed a place in the Tokyo program.

One might say that's unthinkable, that IOC rules don't allow for such a thing.

Then again, last February, who would have ever thought that wrestling would have had to fight in the first instance for its place in 2020?

If you were listening closely, you might have heard Rogge drop a fascinating signal as the meeting wrapped up Sunday afternoon. He said, "Hopefully, baseball is successful in the future."


Who do you love?


BUENOS AIRES -- As circuses go, this one is most excellent. The question: who will be the next ringleader and where is the next tent to be pitched? Here Friday morning in the corner of the Hilton Hotel lobby one could see Thomas Bach of Germany, the International Olympic Committee vice president running for the top job, talking very, very quietly with Cuba's Reynaldo González López.

A few feet away, in the main hotel lobby, Her Imperial Highness Takamado of Japan held court, meeting first with Italy's Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the international skating federation, then with His Royal Highness Prince Feisal al Hussein of Jordan.

On the big screen set up just a few more feet away, the international wrestling federation's press conference got underway, the changes the IOC had sought to see from the federation dramatically evident on the dais -- here were two female wrestlers along with the new FILA president, Serbia's Nenad Lalovic.

Speaking of royalty -- here was His Imperial Basketball Highness, the former Sacramento King, Vlade Divac, near the front door, now the president of the Serbian national Olympic committee. His luggage had been lost on the way down to Buenos Aires. What was a really tall guy to do in such a situation?

2013-09-06 15.37.18

You want a story? Every few feet, every different huddle held a different story, the soundtrack of the entire thing encapsulated in George Thorogood's brilliant tour de force: who do you love?

The scramble for votes was on in full force as the landmark 125th IOC session got underway Friday night.

The 2020 vote goes down Saturday. Tokyo and Madrid seemed the likeliest choices. That said, no one was by any means willing to rule Istanbul out, and its supporters insisted they were very much still in it.

With apologies to Divac and mixed metaphors, wrestling seemed all but a slam-dunk certainty to be reinstated in voting Sunday to the 2020 program.

Los Angeles Lakers alert! Here was Divac, who of course played for L.A. before exile to Charlotte and Sacramento and then a last season in Los Angeles. Was that Pau Gasol? The current Laker big man is part of the Madrid team.

The intrigue underpinning the sports vote: which of the other two, baseball/softball or squash, will run second? Due to a quirk in the calendar, the next IOC session comes just five months from now, in Sochi in February. An entirely plausible scenario floating in the ether had it that an exception could well be carved out -- there being a new president and all -- for the runner-up here to be added to the program come 2020.

Everyone close to the Olympic scene -- repeat, everyone -- acknowledges that the process by which wrestling was first dropped and now appears on the verge of being reinstated needs wholesale review.

If Tokyo wins, imagine how easy it would be to imagine adding baseball/softball to the program.

Or adding squash, no matter which of the cities prevails.

The presidential vote -- which trumps all others, with six candidates -- happens Tuesday. That means Monday, an off day if you will, is likely to be rife with all manner of speculation, rumor, gossip and prevarications. Joining Bach on the ballot: C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Sergei Bubka of Ukraine; Denis Oswald of Switzerland.

IOC presidential elections have traditionally been subdued affairs. In the 24/7, TMZ-style world in which we now live, with camera crews scrambling for any image, the IOC is determined to keep it subdued.

This is the challenge:

The IOC received 1,846 media requests. A full 600 came from Japan; 300 from Spain; 180 from Turkey.

On Thursday, Bubka, the 1980s and '90s pole-vault champion who is now the head of his nation's Olympic committee and a vice president of the track and field international governing body, was sitting near where Bach would find himself Friday. When Bubka got up, that so stirred the camera crews that they madly began clicking and clacking.

This so unnerved the security and hotel staff that they thereupon drew the shades.

On Friday morning, the shades were still down.

This makes for an apt -- here comes that word again -- metaphor. The IOC votes in secret.

Thus here is the one absolute truth about such IOC elections:

The only thing predictable about an IOC election is that it is entirely unpredictable.

The candidate city votes happen every other year. The presidential vote is a generational thing -- every eight or 12 years, depending.

About the outcomes of either or both, this means -- as was sagely noted in the lobby -- the following:

Some people are guessing. Some pretend to know. Some assume. Some hope. No one knows.

A great many people are only too happy to lie, or maybe at least stretch the truth, or not just do what their kindergarten teacher would find wholesome.

Why do they act this way?

That's easy.

Because they can.

A skeptic would say the system encourages the members to be unaccountable.


In truth, one figures out fairly consistently who votes for what -- though, to be fair, not with 100 percent accuracy. The IOC is a club, and clubs have certain discretions. What keeps the members accountable is that -- this is for real -- they are accountable to each other. Because there are votes for bid cities every two years, and votes for the policy-making executive board every year, there are favors and counter-favors and so on. One screws someone else at one's peril because, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you.

The 2018 vote, won by Pyeongchang, was a runaway, which pretty much everyone -- except for a few affiliated with runner-up Munich -- knew going in.

The 2016 vote, won by Rio de Janeiro, was also a runaway, which Rio knew, even if others did not.

This 2020 vote does not appear to have a clear favorite. Thus the tension Friday in the Hilton lobby was very, very real, and theories fast and furious.

Right now there are, including the outgoing president Jacques Rogge, 103 IOC members. He does not vote. That means the vote count is a maximum 102. It likely will prove less because some members won't show up  -- because of illness or duties of business or state -- and because of IOC rules that prevent a member from Country X for voting from a candidate from the same nation. It is widely assumed that the winning vote total here -- majority plus one -- is going to be 48 or 49.

Because the balloting is secret, the members cheerfully tell each other whatever. In tallying up support, the denominator of 100 votes can quickly seem more like 200, indeed -- laughably -- more like 300.

"I support you," in IOC jargon, it must be understood, does not mean, "I'm going to vote for you."

"You have my vote," does not mean "in a round you want me to." Or "any particular round."

Indeed, in 2009, in balloting for the 2016 Summer Games site, the U.S. Olympic Committee felt sure before voting commenced that it had more than 30 rock-solid votes in the first round for Chicago. To the USOC's surprise, Chicago was booted in the first round with but 18 votes.

This is why, as one of the presidential contenders, surveying the scene Friday mid-afternoon, said, "Who the heck knows?" And he didn't say "heck."

This was a little bit after Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, the head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, walked in the lobby and the center of gravity seemed to shift, all eyes turning the sheik's direction. As has been speculated many times since he has become one of the Olympic world's most influential figures, with no definitive answer: how many votes does his excellency truly "control"? Any? Many?

As for the sheikh and 2020:

Does he support Tokyo? After all, he is also the longtime head of the Olympic Council of Asia. Within Olympic circles, it is hardly a secret that Tsunekazu Takeda, Japan's IOC member and the leader of the Tokyo 2020 bid, has been known to ride with the sheikh to important meetings on the sheikh's private plane.

Does he back Madrid? He and Alejandro Blanco, the head of the Spanish Olympic Committee, are known to be close through an association with Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation and, as well, the recently elected head of SportAccord, the umbrella organization for the international sports federations.

Or might the sheikh prefer Istanbul? An Istanbul win probably knocks Doha, Qatar, out of the running for the Summer Games for many years. Given the intricacies of politics in the Middle East, might the sheikh find that a play worth exploring?

The sheikh is believed to be a supporter of Bach's presidential candidacy. Ultimately -- will he be?

The sheikh likes, most of all, winning.

Actually, two more things can be said for certain about an IOC election:

One, Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, is here, lobbying for the baseball/softball project. His translator speaks English so beautifully that Shakespeare himself might want to give a listen.

Two, Sheikh Ahmad controls his own vote.


The vision thing


BUENOS AIRES -- The intrigue, the mystery, the drama of the history-making 125th International Olympic Committee session got underway Wednesday, and though there are three essential decisions to be taken here -- the 2020 Summer Games site, wrestling's all-but-inevitable reinstatement and the election of the new president -- there is one that overrides everything. It's that last one, the selection of the new president. Jacques Rogge's 12 years as president are all but done. The IOC is about to turn to a new era.

Everything else that happens here must be viewed in that context, through that prism. True, the presidential election comes last on the docket, after the 2020 and wrestling votes, but it's first in import.

To not understand that is to fail to understand the obvious, and to comprehend the cascade of deal-making and possibilities at work throughout the coming week here at the Hilton hotel.

2013-09-04 18.36.48

Big picture:

Jacques Rogge is a sober, sensible man. He tends to process things in an orderly way, and to define challenges through bureaucratic, indeed technocratic, systems. His worldview is entirely Eurocentric -- though, true enough, he has overseen the IOC's "new horizons" Summer Games moves for the first time into China (2008) and South America (Brazil 2016) and the Winter Games to Russia (2014) and South Korea (2018).

About his presidency, he reflected Wednesday, "Have I enjoyed it? Not always. Was it exciting? Definitely. Was it a privilege to be able to do that? Of course it was."

Rogge, as he further made crystal-clear at a news conference Wednesday marking the final meeting during his term of the IOC's policy-making executive board, defined the success of his 12 years as the rendition of various editions of the Games, Summer, Winter and Youth -- that is, the instrument by which the values of the movement are executed.

In all, starting with Salt Lake City in 2002 and ending with London last year, there were three Winter, three Summer and two Youth Games during the Rogge years. He said, "The fact that I could describe six Olympic Games and two Youth Games as being successful is for me the biggest reward I could have."

This, then, is both the challenge and the opportunity facing the other 102 members of the IOC as they gather here in Buenos Aires for the votes ahead.

The IOC is facing an extraordinary moment in time.

The salient question it -- that is, the members -- must confront is elemental:

Is the movement mostly about the Games?

Or it is about more -- indeed, in an increasingly connected world, much, much more?

The IOC, alone in the world not just among sports bodies but every other organization, has the opportunity to re-frame what it does so that it becomes not just a once-every-two-year organization but an entity -- and by extension, the international sports federations and the national Olympic committees -- that is part and parcel of the day-to-day lives, indeed the dreams, of billions of people across planet earth.

That is not hyperbole.

The members should be asking, as they wander around the Hilton lobby and, alone in their rooms at night, read -- or, re-read -- the manifestoes of the six presidential candidates: what is it you want?

That is: what do you want the organization to be? What role do you want for yourselves within it?

And more:

Where is the IOC going to be when this next president's eight years -- that is, in 2021 -- are up? If you choose a candidate who gets or wants another four years, that takes him -- and the IOC -- to 2025. As seemingly unimaginable as that might be: imagine the role you want the IOC to play across and in our world by then. Does it involve more than the Games? Or is that it?

That is what is at stake in this presidential election.

This is also in a fundamental way what is at issue in what has, in IOC jargon, come to be known as the "ABB" movement -- that is, "anyone but Bach."

Thomas Bach is the German IOC vice president typically described in media accounts as the front-runner in the presidential race. To be clear: Bach is thoroughly qualified to be the next president, having served the movement over his lifetime -- beginning with his gold medal-winning career as a fencer -- in virtually every role but the presidency.

In his manifesto, Bach says, "Considering the many challenges ahead, the IOC's focus must be safeguarding the uniqueness and relevance of the Olympic Games in an ever-changing world." He adds that "keeping the Olympic Games the most attractive event in the world for all stakeholders is a top priority for the IOC."

The other candidates -- Singapore's Ser Miang Ng, Puerto Rico's Richard Carrión, C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and Denis Oswald of Switzerland -- have sought to define their visions in broader terms.

Oswald, for instance: the IOC must be the "moral authority of world sport."

Wu has proposed a variety of education-based initiatives to actively engage the world's young people.

Bubka's 28-page manifesto is punctuated with novel ideas, including an "Olympic Future Project," a "Council of Elders," an IOC "Youth Council" and "Icons Council," the creation of so-called "Olympic Global Citizens" and the enhancement of the Cultural Olympiad.

Ng asserts the movement's "fundamental calling" is to "instill the eternal values of Olympism in the youth of the world," and calls for a variety of values-oriented partnerships and initiatives -- with the members themselves, corporate partners and "like minded organizations and governments."

In a like manner, Carrión's manifesto says the IOC finds itself on the cusp of a "Great Olympic Era" well beyond just the Games. He, too, calls for values-centered partnerships and projects with the members as well as with athletes, the United Nations and others.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with first-rate Games. That is the foundation. That is what Rogge has done, and brought -- stability.

When Rogge was elected in 2001, elected in Moscow, succeeding Juan Antonio Samaranch, who had been president for 21 years, the IOC was still reeling from the effects of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. The prestige and standing of the IOC worldwide was very much at issue.

Too, the IOC was facing a world in which security concerns -- paramount since the 1972 Munich Games, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists -- would be newly intensified in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Doping issues made for a major challenge. How, for instance, would the World Anti-Doping Agency be integrated into the international sports scene? Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong and others would test resolve, patience and systems.

Moreover, the IOC had to confront a multitude of financial issues. Some involved a longstanding dispute with the U.S. Olympic Committee over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue. Others revolved around the IOC's own financial stability, in particular its reserves, which needed to be grown significantly.

In large measure, the IOC addressed each of these concerns and, through Rogge's term, delivered successful -- and in the case of Beijing 2008, historic -- Games.

There were, too, as Rogge has said, reasons for sorrow, as in the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili before the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Rogge said Wednesday that was the "worst" moment of his tenure.

Rogge also said he believes the challenges his successor will face "will not differ very much" from those he inherited.

In this respect, he is partly right -- security, doping, finance -- and partly wrong.

Rogge does not know what the world will look like in 2021, much less 2025. No one can.

Twelve years after Moscow, here now in Buenos Aires, the record shows that Jacques Rogge absolutely brought stability and a steady hand.

"I'm wary of pompous words and big declarations and big descriptions," Rogge said. "I did my duty. I did what I had to do. If it has benefitted the IOC, I'm happy."

Now the IOC needs more. It needs a president with the vision thing, someone with creativity, resource and imagination to engage with a world that wants more from the IOC -- a world that is changing, and changing fast.

Doing one's duty is absolutely admirable, and not to be diminished. Of course, the IOC still needs stability. But there is more, so much more, that can be done. That is what is on the table, and nothing less, as election season gets going here in Buenos Aires.


Here's one way to be more relevant

All six International Olympic Committee presidential candidates have, to varying degrees, called on the organization to play a bigger role in the world. In a word, to be more -- relevant. Each has stressed the key Olympic values: friendship, excellence, respect.

Now comes Friday's episode in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a television station and the National Transportation Safety Board have had to apologize for their roles in the broadcast of fake, racially insensitive names of the pilots flying Asiana Flight 214. A third person died Friday in connection with crash and more than 180 were hurt when the Boeing 777 slammed last Saturday into a seawall and then skidded down the runway at San Francisco International Airport.

In a segment that aired at noon Friday, station KTVU identified the pilots as "Ho Lee Fuk," "Wi Tu Low," "Sum Ting Wong" and "Bang Ding Ow."

In a written explanation, the station later said it "never read the names out loud, phonetically sounding them out," and on air, KTVU anchor Frank Somerville added, "There's just no other way to say it -- we made a mistake … we offer our sincerest apology."  The NTSB, meanwhile, said a summer intern confirmed the "names" to KTVU when a station reporter called with an inquiry; it added its apology as well.

Asiana has identified the pilot and co-pilot as Lee Kang Kook and Lee Jung Min.

What does this have to do with the Olympics?

The smart candidate would immediately see the opportunity for an Olympic-themed dialogue on advancing cultural understanding and tolerance -- and the right person to foster it is already one of the key members of the so-called Olympic family, Korean Air chairman Yang Ho Cho, who as it happens is one of the world's foremost experts in one of the hardest things to both define and put into practice, the notion of enterprise culture.

Among the six presidential candidates, for instance, Singapore's Ser Miang Ng has repeatedly called for inclusive dialogue while stressing the notion of being a "universal, unifying" leader as the IOC faces "new realities and opportunities." Another, C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei, the president of the international boxing federation, has highlighted the value of education in schools worldwide to showcase the Olympic values. Ukraine's Sergei Bubka, in his wide-ranging 28-page manifesto, says the time is now for the IOC to take the "lead role" in ensuring the movement becomes "even more relevant."

Almost without exception, reports last week about the crash of Asiana 214 -- apparently aiming to build in background -- sought to frame the crash as a wider indictment of South Korean aviation. Time and again, there were references to fatal crashes in the 1980s and to the crash of Korean Air flight 801 in Guam in 1997, which killed 228 passengers and crew.

As readers of Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 best-selling book "Outliers" know well, Cho effected a massive cultural change at Korean Air after the Guam crash. Junior pilots were encouraged to speak up to their seniors, to whom they previously might have shown considerable deference, even if the senior pilot might well be on course for disaster. All pilots had to learn to speak English, the language of the global control tower, better.

Cho tends to run on the quiet side. Even so, he is a first-rate thought leader.

For many years now, Korean Air's record has been spotless. Of course, every day is a new day. An accident can happen at any time.

Even so, again and for emphasis, Korean Air's record has not been accident-free, it has been an industry leader.

In 2006, for instance, as the Wall Street Journal noted recently, the International Air Transport Assn., a trade group for the world's major airlines, certified that Korean Air had achieved the "highest standards and best practices for safety."

At the same time, Korean Air has also become a major player in other areas of interest. The company recently announced plans to construct a 73-story, $1-billion tower in downtown Los Angeles, for example, that would be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and, as the LA Times noted, a "symbol of South Korea's status as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse."

Just blocks from Staples Center, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings, the building would further enhance the ongoing re-development of downtown LA. At 1,100 feet, the tower would be one of the tallest in the United States -- taller even than the Chrysler Building in New York.

Two years ago, Cho led Pyeongchang's bid for the 2018 Winter Games.

The 2018 bid followed narrow Korean losses for 2014 and 2010.

With Cho directing, the 2018 bid fashioned a hugely winning culture.

Of course, he did not do it alone. The prior bids were ever-so-close, led by the-then provincial governor, J.S. Kim. The Korean Olympic Committee's leadership, with Y.S. Park, proved considerable as well.

Backstage, perhaps, there might have been, well, let's say "discussions" among the various bid factions, which included the various levels of government, corporate supporters including Samsung and the KOC. When it came to showtime, however, Cho understood that there had to be one person indisputably in front, that everyone had to be all smiles, that there had to be way more women involved and that everyone had to speak English, a radical change from the 2014 and 2010 bids.

Behind probably the best Olympic bid tagline ever, "new horizons,"  Pyeongchang rolled to a massive victory over Munich and Annecy, with a whopping 63 votes, the highest total ever recorded for a first-round win.

Last week at the extraordinary session in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC reached out for nine new members. Only one was Asian, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.

The new president -- whoever he is -- could do the institution a lot of good by looking anew at Cho's credentials.

In the meantime, in the aftermath of Pyeongchang's victory, they launched an initiative in Seoul called the International Sport Cooperation conference. Recent attendees have included Ng; Wu; Rio 2016 coordination commission chairwoman and the IOC member from Morocco, Nawal el-Moutawakel; and Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations' special advisor on sport for development and peace.

The ISC series is designed to be relevant and hugely topical. Here's a suggestion for the next conference: the importance in the real world of friendship, excellence, respect, tolerance, diversity and enterprise culture and the IOC's lead role in moving all of that forward.


[Disclaimer: Korean Air advertises on this website. I have had no contact with anyone from the company in writing this column.]


A reflective Jacques Rogge

There are precisely two months to go in Jacques Rogge's term as president of the International Olympic Committee. He is not, at least in public, particularly reflective. History will be as it is. At the end of a teleconference Wednesday with reporters from around the world, the president was asked to assess the highlights and disappointments of his 12 years in office. For once, he seized the moment.

The "biggest satisfaction," he allowed, was that he was "able to positively describe" the six editions of the Games on his watch, three Summer and three Winter, as well as the inaugural Summer and Winter Youth Olympic Games, as "magnificent Games or exceptional Games."

He added, in a nod to his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who served for 21 years, "You know I will never say, 'The best-ever.' "

Rogge then went on, "The worst day was definitely the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili," the Georgian luger killed in a training accident before the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, adding, "This is definitely something I will not forget."

At an all-members assembly Sept. 10, the IOC will elect Rogge's successor. Six candidates are in the running to replace him: Ukraine's Sergei Bubka; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Switzerland's Denis Oswald; Germany's Thomas Bach; Singapore's Ser Miang Ng; Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion.

Two of the presidential candidates are Asian; Carrion is from the Western Hemisphere. All but one of the IOC's presidents -- Avery Brundage, an American -- have been European. Asked by a reporter from Singapore if it would "be good for the IOC to have a non-European president," Rogge replied:

"I don't think this factor will play in the election of my successor. My colleagues will go for the man they think is the most able to lead the IOC. They will not not [factor in] nationality or continent."

Asked a few minutes later about the influence of the IOC member and power-broker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, the president of the Assn. of the National Olympic Committees, who has played a key role in several recent IOC elections and is widely believed to have close ties with Bach, Rogge said, "I have no reason of concern," adding, "I have a very good relationship with him."

Under IOC rules, Rogge is eligible to stay on as a member until 2022, when he would be 80. He said Wednesday, however, that when his successor is elected he will resign his IOC membership and become an honorary member.

It would "not be wise or advisable," he said, to have the incumbent and past IOC president both "running around … and making comments."

He also said he would "not seek to … intervene in the business of the IOC and my successor."

He added, "I will be probably an elder statesman but probably not more than that."

In other developments, Rogge said:

-- The deal sealed last year between the U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC on certain revenue-sharing matters "definitely paved the way" for the nomination announced last week of USOC board chairman Larry Probst to IOC membership. Probst is expected to be made an IOC member at the Buenos Aires session, along with eight others, among them Russian Olympic Committee boss Alexander Zhukov. "We absolutely want a good relationship with the USOC," Rogge said.

--  The three 2020 bids -- Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul -- are "very close to each other" and the final weeks "will be important." The IOC will pick the 2020 city on Sept. 7, also at the Buenos Aires assembly.

-- Expressed confidence in the operational readiness and security preparations for the 2014 Sochi Olympics: "I am sure they will deliver."

-- Observed that while the leaders of the international wrestling federation, which goes by the acronym FILA, had done "good things," it "remains to be seen" whether wrestling, squash or the combined baseball and softball bid will make it onto the 2020 program. "You understand I will be neutral," he said. This, too, is a decision to be taken in Buenos Aires.

-- Said that while the IOC has "encouraged our friends" at the 2016 Rio organizing committee to "accelerate" preparations, "there is no concern whatsoever" with the Games there just three years away.

Rogge was also asked an intriguing question -- by a Brazilian reporter -- about the recent demonstrations there linked to the Confederations Cup soccer tournament. Were those protests a sign that "big sporting events will have to change as well?"

"Well," Rogge said, "definitely we have to explain very clearly to all the public that the investment made in the Olympic Games is going to be for sustainable legacy for generations to come.

"That is the message that we are sending. We will declare it very clearly in the future. Yes, the Games are a force for the good. Yes, the Games improve society.

"… Most people," he said, "don't know exactly what the investments are."


Looking presidential

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- At every edition of the Olympic Games, Summer or Winter, the International Olympic Committee president stands up before a global television audience of billions of people to say a few words. The cameras, like it or not, take the measure of the man.

The president, for lack of a better word, has to look -- presidential. He has to match the moment. He has to appear calm, confident, in control. This is what Jacques Rogge has done for the past 12 years and Juan Antonio Samaranch for the 21 before that.

The six candidates running for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee took Thursday to the lectern here at the Beaulieu conference hall, each seeking to make the case that he has what it takes -- the gravitas, the stage presence, the know-how.

This was uncharted territory for the IOC. It had never before asked the presidential contenders to get up and speak before the assembled members like this. Thus the pressure was on. While it was evident the race was surely not going to be won -- obviously there were no ballots cast Thursday for the presidency -- it could, like any campaign, with a misstep of some sort, be lost.

The early returns:

"You think -- how would this person look standing at the front of the world representing the organization? It's a helpful exercise," Canadian member Dick Pound said. "It's far better than sort of, 'Let's have a coffee.' This is a kind of a platform."

Denis Oswald of Switzerland, one of the six: "I wouldn't say it will change the course of the election. It probably will position each of the candidates better."

The presentations wrapped up a two-day so-called "extraordinary session" at which the IOC heard from the three 2020 bid city candidates -- Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo -- and selected Buenos Aires to play host to the 2018 Summer Youth Games.

The Argentinian capital defeated Medellin, Colombia, in the final round of voting, 49-39.

The IOC will be in Buenos Aires in just two months for the historic assembly at which it will pick the 2020 site and its next president. The 2020 vote will come Sept. 7; the presidential vote goes down Sept. 10.

The six candidates spoke Thursday in this order: Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion; Singapore's Ser Miang Ng; Germany's Thomas Bach; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Oswald; and Ukraine's Sergei Bubka.

Bach has long been considered the front-runner. Even so, there's a current that insiders have taken to calling "ABB" -- "anyone but Bach," a term that has gained traction within the last several weeks. Will it come to define the race?

For his part, Bach is completely sanguine about the entire thing. He has said many times and in many ways that he is not running against anyone; rather, he is running on his own record and in favor of his own ideas.

"This is not about being the favorite," he told reporters after emerging from the auditorium. "I'm an athlete," a fencing gold medalist at the 1976 Montreal Games. "This is like a sports competition. It does not mean anything if you feel well in the warm-up rounds or the test competitions. It's about [being] fit on the day of the big final. And the big final is on the 10th of September."

Another element in the campaign: what role will the Kuwaiti power-broker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the IOC member and president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, want -- or seek? He and Bach have long enjoyed a cordial relationship. Is that a plus for Bach -- or given the sheikh's hand in several recent winning elections, not so much, with some members perhaps cautious about the perception of too much of a two-for-one deal?

One more dynamic: what role, if any, will Rogge play in the election? He has sworn to be studiously neutral. For sure he will be publicly. Behind the scenes? And especially in the final couple weeks? This remains to be seen -- though it must be said, and for emphasis, that the president's record suggests he would do nothing that would even hint at impropriety.

All six, meanwhile, aim to take over an IOC at a crossroads:

Young people increasingly have alternatives other than sport.

The world's population centers are shifting to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Though the IOC made it first to post-Soviet Russia and China, FIFA in 2010 staged a World Cup in South Africa and is due to go to Qatar in 2022.

It's uncertain how many more years the IOC's longstanding revenue model -- which depends on roughly a dozen top-tier marketing sponsors and a U.S.-based broadcaster -- can remain reliable.

These, and other, concerns mean one thing:

The next president must have the vision thing.

Ng, for instance, said, "In this rapidly changing world, the IOC will need a new leader with fresh ideas and new energy to carry our flame."

Carrion, too: "The next leader will have to face challenges that are clearly on the horizon and many more challenges that have not revealed themselves yet. That's the leader you want.

"… It is about the trust in the leadership position. That's a decision each and every member gets to make, and I know they will do it carefully and wisely."

Twelve years ago, when Rogge was elected, the IOC was just emerging from the scandal tied to Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. The IOC needed a steady hand. To use the obvious metaphor, the Belgian sailor gave the movement calm waters -- he delivered credibility and consistency.

Now the movement needs that, and more. It needs energy, vitality and innovation.

Just to take one of those examples from above -- how does the pie get divided between the national Olympic committees, international federations and organizing committees? It has not been anyone's experience that any of these entities are lining up to turn money back in.

It's a positive that whoever takes office will not be coming in at a time of crisis. The IOC is, as all six have pointed out in their so-called manifestoes, on solid footing after the Rogge years.

Then again, consider:

The last three editions of the Olympics have taken place in Beijing, Vancouver and London.

The next three: Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang. Compare the name value of those three against the prior paragraph and ask, how to keep sponsors and broadcasters invigorated against that line-up? That's just one many reasons why this next president has to be innovative.

It would be hugely relevant to know, exactly, what kinds of innovation the candidates highlighted Thursday to their colleagues -- or just how presidential they looked at the lectern.

To see, for instance, the reaction to the proposal in Wu's manifesto that the IOC reinstate visits to bid cities -- that is, in groups, along with involvement from national Olympic committee and international federation representatives. Or his emphasis on the power of education.

Or Bubka's proposals for an "Olympic Future Project" -- a detailed study about the impact of the movement -- as well as the "Council of Elders," an idea drawn from the ancients of Sparta, and an IOC Youth Council and Icon Council, among intriguing notions in his manifesto.

But the IOC opted to run Thursday's presidential presentations behind closed doors.

This is, to be gentle, counter-productive.

Best practices and good governance demands transparency. Why? Because transparency increases public confidence. Simply put, that confidence then enhances relevance.

Not only did the IOC keep out the media, the process it designed also had the effect of keeping out some of the contenders themselves. Once a contender spoke, he was allowed to sit in the room and listen to the others. Until then, he was kept out. So, for instance, Carrion, who went first, heard all the other five presentations. Oswald, who went fifth, heard only Bubka's. Bubka heard nobody's. Does that make sense?

Asked at a very short news conference Thursday evening a general question about the afternoon's events, Rogge said, "I think it was an innovative and a good idea to have the candidates present their programs. The membership liked it very much."

The IOC's next chance to go through this presidential election process will come either eight or 12 years from now. With so much at stake, it seems anachronistic -- at best -- for it to go through key parts of the system in 2013 behind closed doors.

There are so many stakeholders: the NOCs, the IFs, sponsors, broadcasters, athletes, fans. You're not just talking to 100 people. You're talking to billions. What's to hide?


What does the sheikh want?


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Marius Vizer was elected president Friday of SportAccord, the umbrella organization of international sports federations. Ordinarily, this development would be consigned to the sports section's back pages, and understandably.

In this instance, however, Vizer's election signals the undeniable emergence of significant trends and personalities with increasingly significant roles within the international sports movement in this year of even more important elections and, looking out to the coming years, beyond.

Vizer, 54, a Romanian-born Hungarian who is president of the international judo federation, defeated Bernard Lapasset of France, president of the international rugby board. The tally: 52-37.


SportAccord represents both Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations.

Vizer succeeds Hein Verbruggen, the former international cycling federation president, who had been SportAccord president since 2004.

Verbruggen has long been seen within the movement as a close associate of the current IOC president, Jacques Rogge. An element in Friday's voting is that Lapasset was seen, rightly or wrongly, as the candidate more likely to be affiliated with the establishment.

The core of Vizer's winning platform: the notion of transforming SportAccord into a new power base. He envisions a "United World Championships" every four years for both Olympic and non-Olympic sports. He said he hopes the first such event, with 91 sports, could be organized in 2017.

Such an event could, of course, be seen as a direct threat to the Games themselves.

Moreover, that summer of 2017, per their regular cycles, the swimming and track and field federations -- among others -- are due to stage their own world championships.

The allure of a new mega-event, particularly for federations not affiliated with the Olympics, is easy to understand: the possibility of more money.

That said, it remains to be seen whether such an event can -- or will -- be organized, and what the IOC's response over time will be.

At a news conference wrapping up the 2013 SportAccord convention, noting that his 12 years as IOC president will end in about three months, Rogge said Friday he expects Vizer and his successor -- whoever it will be -- to "come together and to discuss collaboration."

Then he added, "if you ask my personal opinion," cautioning, "I am nearing the level of my irrelevance" because his term is so close to ending, the sports calendar is already too crowded -- as another sports body, the Assn. of Summer Olympic International Federations, suggested just a few days ago.

In the minutes after the vote, Vizer told reporters, "The Olympic spirit and Olympic Games are something very different and special.

"They have to be happy with my plan to bring additional resources to sport and finance the base of sport. They don't have to worry because it's a different event with a different background, a different strategy."

Voting Friday was done by secret ballot.

And the balloting showed -- yet again -- the political strength within the movement, indeed international sports, of Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait. Just moments after the election results were announced, the two hugged in victory.

An obvious question raised by many Olympic insiders -- with no immediate answer -- is what Friday's results mean for the sheikh and the role he will play, or wants to play, in the IOC presidential election Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.

Six candidates have declared for the post: Thomas Bach of Germany; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Denis Oswald of Switzerland; and Sergei Bubka of Ukraine.

At issue is how many of them can claim allegiances to the sheikh, or want to -- or, for that matter, would want to.

Also this: what does the sheikh want? And why?

Such matters, understandably, can prove delicate as the politics of the moment unwind.

Even so, some connections are hardly a secret. Bach, for instance, is up front on his Olympic C.V. about the fact that he is president of the Ghorfa Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with ties throughout the Gulf region. "They are good colleagues," said a Bach spokesman.

The sheikh, 49, has been an IOC member since 1992. He was chairman of OPEC from 2003-2005 and has served in various Kuwaiti ministries for years, since 2006 as its minister of national security.

Since 1991, he has been president of the Olympic Council of Asia; last year, at a meeting in Moscow, he took over as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, replacing the venerable Mario Vazquez Raña of Mexico. ANOC represents the world's 204 national Olympic bodies. The vote: 174 in his favor, one against, two abstentions.

He said then that his leadership would include a "vision to help the underdeveloped countries' national Olympic committees."

In his new role, the sheikh also now oversees the IOC"s Olympic Solidarity Commission, a program that aims to provide financial, technical and administrative assistance to national Olympic committees, particularly those in developing nations.

Its 2009-2013 budget: $435 million, up nearly 40 percent from the 2009-12 cycle's $311 million.

Again, and for emphasis, the sheikh has been president of the confederation of the world's largest continent, a group that obviously includes Japan and China, and has done so non-stop since 1991, when he was still in his 20s, from Kuwait, where in an apparent nod to his influence, the IOC held an executive board meeting in 2006.

Last November, Bach publicly noted the import of the OCA, saying in a statement issued by the confederation, "The OCA is a very flourishing continental association with many activities."

Making matters all the more remarkable, the national Olympic committee of Kuwait was suspended for two years -- from early in 2010 until just before last year's London Games -- because of complexities relating to what the IOC perceived as governmental interference in committee autonomy.

In recent years, the sheikh is widely believed to have played a significant role in electing Wu to the IOC's policy-making executive board, as well as Patrick Hickey of Ireland.

Earlier this month, the sheikh played a pivotal role in seeing Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa become the top figure in Asian soccer circles -- at elections in Malaysia, first becoming president of the Asian Football Confederation, then defeating Qatar 2022 World Cup organizing committee chief Hassan al-Thawadi to claim a vacant spot on the FIFA executive committee.

In both cases, Sheikh Salman had to defeat the friends and former associates of a longtime Qatari rival, Mohamed bin Hammam, whom FIFA had expelled for alleged corruption.

Now Vizer.

Bach, asked about Vizer and his plan for a super-sized world championships, like Rogge cited the ASOIF opposition to the already jam-packed calendar and said, "From the IOC, the point of view, the IOC will not agree to any kind of idea which would dilute the uniqueness and the image of the Olympic Games.

"We will have to see what the ideas of Mr. Vizier, whom I congratulate on his elections, will be now after the elections. Sometimes," he said, "there are slight differences in the attitudes before and after the elections."