François Carrard

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

BUDAPEST — Here is the short version of a contentious campaign that dragged on for months inside FINA, the aquatics federation, and that culminated in Saturday’s election:

A rival sought to execute an Olympic power play. In the end, though, it was like Milorad Cavic and Michael Phelps. A lot of drama, maybe. But you knew who was going to win.

Because when it comes to executing a show of authority in Olympic circles, you have to go a long way to get past the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, especially when what’s at issue is the power of the IOC president and his key allies.

IOC's Urs Lacotte resigns

The press facilities at the Chateau de Vidy, the International Olympic Committee's lakefront headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, used to be an after-thought. Whatever little closet they could squeeze us into -- that's where we went. Now, though, thanks to a recent remodel at Vidy, there's a real press room, with pretty much everything you'd want, even space to just hang around after the news conferences that are held there break up, and that's what the IOC director general, Urs Lacotte, and I were doing after the most recent executive board meeting, this past January.

For a good long while, he and I talked about matters philosophical. Lacotte, and this may surprise anyone who doesn't know him well, who knows only that he came to the IOC after years at the top echelon of the Swiss military, can be a surprisingly gentle, indeed soulful, guy. He cares deeply about the values that underpin the Olympic movement.

We talked about the ancient Games, and then generally about the state of the movement now, about threats such as doping and gambling, and then about the IOC's myriad social responsibilities. Then, though, he excused himself because he had another meeting to make, and as I always did after such conversations, I thought it a very good thing indeed that someone with such conviction played such a central role in IOC decision-making.

The IOC on Monday announced Lacotte would be resigning from his post, effective Thursday, for health reasons.

The bad news is that his day-to-day counsel will surely be missed.

“Urs Lacotte has performed his functions with competence, integrity and loyalty, and the IOC looks forward to benefiting from his commitment and experience in the future," the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said in a statement, adding, "The IOC thanks Urs Lacotte and extends its best wishes for his health.”

The good news is that Lacotte will continue to serve. In that same statement, the IOC said the position would be called "assignments adviser." In a phone call, Lacotte said his new role might best be described in French as chargé d'affaires, in English as special adviser.

It is certainly a positive that Lacotte will continue to be around, in his low-key way.

"I have tried," he said, "to manage the organization from the backstage."

Lacotte joined the IOC in 2003, taking over from François Carrard. The director general's job is to oversee the IOC's administrative offices in Lausanne.

Carrard served as something of a highly visible prime minister in the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch -- that is, Carrard was often in front of the cameras and microphones, in measure because Samaranch was far more shy, because the IOC during those years could be less press-savvy and because Carrard was not only fluent but fluid in American-style English. Also, as a general rule, Carrard kind of liked hanging out with the press gaggle, and vice-versa.

Lacotte, from the outset, was far more of a -- as he aptly put it -- backstage presence. He would seek you out to talk one-on-one, quietly.

And make no mistake. He was, and is, a man of distinct values.

To be sure, the IOC president and others in his cabinet, among them Christophe de Kepper, arguably Rogge's key adviser, understand fully and wholly, with moral and ethical certainty, the raison d'être of the Olympic movement. So did Samaranch. So, too, does Carrard.

To offer praise of Lacotte is by no means to diminish Rogge or anyone else, even by implication.

"Let's face it," Lacotte said in our phone call Monday. "The Games are the engine of the movement. We need a healthy Games. It's a big business," meaning the movement.

"But for me, it's absolutely clear the movement survives when we are clear and credible," in particular on challenging issues such as those he and I discussed in that quiet corner of the press room in January, doping and gambling.

The reason for the IOC's announcement Monday was hardly a surprise. In 2007, Lacotte underwent bypass surgery. The next year a neurological issue emerged.

Lacotte is 58. He and his wife, France, have two children, a 27-year-old son who is an engineer, and a 24-year-old daughter who restores antique furniture. They were trying to balance his work life with his health and their personal lives.

"I didn't imagine to step down," he told me. But in the end, he said, "I had no choice."

De Kepper will take over Lacotte's duties, and it's unlikely Lacotte will make an appearance at SportAccord, the convention at which the IOC's executive board will next convene, in London early next month.

He may well be afforded the opportunity to address the IOC session in Durban, South Africa, in July.

If so, and for the record, I will be among those keenly interested in what he has to say that day from the lectern. The wisdom he has offered in those quiet corners fully deserves that wider audience.