Mario Vazquez Raña

$50 million profit on $51 billion is 0.098 percent


With so many positive stories to tell, it can be so mystifying to read what the International Olympic Committee considers the most important bits of its news in its releases. The IOC likes to say that athletes are at the core of everything it does. On Thursday, at a meeting of its policy-making executive board, it modified provisions together known as Rules 40 and 50 so that athletes can sport “generic” or “non-Olympic advertising” during the Games. If ultimately approved by the full IOC, this will likely amount to a major step forward for athletes, especially in track and field, who had protested over prior restrictions that had stopped them from mentioning their sponsors.

Instead of trumpeting this news in its release, what did the IOC lead off with?


The Sochi 2014 Games made an operating profit of $50 million.

The IOC executive board meeting in session Thursday in Rio de Janeiro // photo courtesy IOC

In its release, the IOC for sure did not mention that the $50 million figure is way below the $261 million surplus reported last June by the Russian organizers.

That drop can at least in part be explained by the ruble’s drop in value against the dollar.

Just a little math: $50 million is about a fifth as much as $261 million.

Just a little bit more math, and it’s only because the IOC brings this on itself: $50 million equals what percentage of $51 billion, the reported cost of staging the 2014 Winter Games?

That would be 0.098 percent.

This is the news the IOC seeks to spotlight for the world?

When it genuinely has good news about the athletes, its purported raison d’être?

Of course, there’s more. The IOC gets 20 percent of the $50 million surplus. Math: $10 million. It said it would transfer that $10 million to the Russian Olympic Committee for sports development, the newly approved Olympic Channel and an Olympic Museum in Russia.

Yay for Russia!

Imagine if the IOC gave the U.S. Olympic Committee $10 million just like that. How would that go over around the world?

But I digress.

In all, the IOC said, it contributed $833 million to the Sochi 2014 operating budget, which ultimately roughed out at a total of about $2 billion. This contribution marked an increase of $83 million over previous estimates.

The IOC then spent two full paragraphs agreeing that there remains a “misconception” around the costs of the Games — that is, what it costs to run them and all the stuff that gets built around them or because they came to town.

All recent editions of the Games have made an operating profit, it pointed out.

It also — correctly — noted that the operating budget of an Olympic Games, Summer or Winter, is privately funded, with a significant contribution from the IOC. For the Rio 2016 Games, that contribution will be on the order of $1.5 billion.

But then:

The “other part of the budget” is the “investment the host city authorities decide to make,” the IOC said.

This is where the IOC gets it totally, fundamentally wrong.

It’s not the “other part of the budget,” and this is why the IOC is saddled with the perception that Sochi cost $51 billion.

This perception is the thing that has dragged at the 2022 Winter Games race and is more or less the first thing almost anyone anywhere thinks about when they think about Sochi. Or, pretty much, the Games in general -- whoa, the Olympics are cool but, holy smokes, they are really, really expensive!

Here is the thing:

The infrastructure cost is totally, fundamentally separate.

It’s why for decades cities and countries all over the world have sought the Olympic Games — as a catalyst to get public policy works done in the hard-deadline of seven years, the date from which the IOC awards a Games to opening ceremony, instead of 20 or 30, which is what it would otherwise take if roads, bridges, sewage pipes, metro lines, airports and whatever else could even get done in the first instance.

For years and years, however, the IOC has allowed the infrastructure budget misconception to hang around.

The IOC says it’s too difficult to explain otherwise.

It’s not.

There are two distinct budgets. One is the operating budget. The other relates to the infrastructure numbers.

Is that difficult?


But even in Thursday's official IOC release, the IOC gets it wrong. Little wonder why when the IOC complains that Sochi didn’t really cost $51 billion, no one wants to hear it. Because it’s just “the other part of the budget.”

There’s so much more to chew on in this IOC release — for instance, the IOC executive board opting not to go in April to the SportAccord convention in Sochi, a clear slap at Marius Vizer, the key figure in that organization, and for what purpose?

The release ends, meanwhile, with a paragraph that aims to pay tribute to Mario Vazquez Raña, the longtime IOC member from Mexico who for more than 30 years also served as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees. He died earlier this month. The executive board, the release said, ended its meeting with a minute of silence in his memory.

Nowhere in that paragraph does it also mention that Vazquez Raña also served on that very same IOC executive board for a dozen years.

Back to the real lead — as we would say in journalism terms — of the day, and an observation.

The Olympic movement genuinely does good work all over this world. Much of it is not front-page stuff nor perhaps should it be. Much is one-to-one change. Plenty is the stuff of inspiration and dreams.

At the same time, the IOC itself has a huge image problem. Thursday's release from the executive board meeting in Rio de Janeiro is emblematic of this problem.

The IOC says it wants to be transparent and accountable. It wants to reach out to young people so they can understand what it is and what it does.


Here is a challenge. Read these paragraphs from the release and — no fair if you have had years of experience in the Olympic scene — decipher them.

“Proposed advertising changes

“The EB agreed to two proposals regarding changes to Rule 40 and Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, both of which will be presented to the next IOC Session this July in Kuala Lumpur for final approval.

“In regard to the application of Rule 40, the IOC would, following Session approval, allow generic (non-Olympic) advertising during the period of the Games. The change to Rule 50 would increase the maximum size of a manufacturer’s identification while respecting the clean field of play to prevent conspicuous advertising.”

Seriously, there has to be a better way. It's athletes first. At least if the IOC genuinely means it: explain what Rules 40 and 50 say, in plain English, and what these changes — assuming a forthcoming OK in Kuala Lumpur — would mean for the athletes. It’s not difficult.

And put all of that first, ahead of stuff that translates to 0.098 percent. That should not be difficult to figure out, either.

Mario Vazquez Raña dies: the passing of an era


Mario Vazquez Raña of Mexico died Sunday. He was 82. With him goes an era. Don Mario was indisputably the most important man in the Olympic movement in the entire western hemisphere. His ways may have been old-fashioned but his love for the movement and the so-called “Olympic family” were unquestioned. His counsel served International Olympic Committee presidents Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge. His jet, too.

Unclear now is who is positioned to take Vazquez Raña’s place in the Americas, if anyone. The 2016 Summer Games are of course in Brazil. The United States is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, with that election in 2017. The 2015 Pan American Games are in Canada.

There are four primary languages at issue — Spanish, English, Portuguese and French.

The central issue is that there is no one — no one— quite like Don Mario.

Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña // photo courtesy OEM

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told Associated Press “we will always remember him as a great Olympic leader,” declaring the Olympic flag at IOC headquarters at the lakeshore Chateau de Vidy would be flown at half-mast in his honor.

"The Olympic family in Mexico and indeed the world are mourning this loss,” the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, Carlos Padilla Becerra, said in a statement.

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Vazquez Raña’s passing. “Mario,” he said, “served the Olympic movement for the majority of his adult life, and advanced Olympic sport in the western hemisphere like few before him.”

“Mario was a legendary leader, a dear friend and an esteemed colleague,” added Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Vazquez Raña was much-misunderstood by many.

In part, that is because he preferred to operate almost exclusively in Spanish. In part, that is because he was an operator, in every sense of the word. In part, it is because — though he was a media magnate and himself interviewed hundreds if not thousands of world leaders, dignitaries and celebrities, enough to fill a nine-volume set of hardbound books and more — he permitted only a handful of English-speaking reporters, if that many, into his inner circle.

When he was in Mexico City, that circle invariably met for lunch every day in his offices. This was where the matters of the world, the state, the Olympic movement, the Olympic family and, perhaps most important, family were discussed.

To Don Mario, if you were in his circle of trust, you were in.

Criticism was OK — it was a part of life, as long as it was fair, reasoned and straightforward. He knew and accepted criticism.

Indeed, he sometimes sought criticism. Only fools, he would say, did not want criticism. Nobody got along with just yes people.

Trust — now trust was a commodity to be earned, over time.

Don Mario had the trust of Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001, and then Rogge, president from 2001-13.

Samaranch used to say that the harmony of the Olympic movement used to depend on three “pillars” — the IOC itself , the international federations and the national Olympic committees. But when Vazquez Raña took over the Assn. of National Olympic Committees in 1979, that third pillar was comparatively weak.

Under his leadership, it became a force. Him, too.

For years he oversaw the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity commission, which oversaw the disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to developing nations in a bid to get promising athletes to the Games.

He served as ANOC head for 33 years.

“An anecdote may illustrate his love for sports,” said Eduardo Palomo, president of the El Salvador Olympic Committee.

Just two years ago, on a tour of four South American countries in six days to evaluate sites for the 2019 Pan Am Games, Palomo said, Vazquez Raña “shared his middle school years.” He told how when “during recess he went to his family’s store to work, his classmates made fun of him.

“Later, he hired them to work for him.”

The intensity of the four-countries-in-six-days trip, Palomo said, “left no room for mistakes or leisure.” Vazquez Raña was “always punctual, always focused on demanding excellence for the Games in the same proportion he was giving of himself.”

Two and a half years ago, the winds of change finally caught up with Don Mario. He gave up control of ANOC; it is now headed by Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, who is arguably now the consummate IOC insider.

Vazquez Raña, meanwhile, stayed on in the Olympic world as head of the Pan American Sports Organization.

Recently, he missed a PASO meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — a sign he truly was ailing.

Jimena Saldaña worked with Don Mario for — to be precise — 30 years and two months. She is now first vice-president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, secretary-general of PASO, a member of the executive committee of PASO and a member, too, of the IOC Solidarity Commission.

When Vazquez Raña could not go to Puerto Vallarta, she said, he “called me and said, how is everybody, are they happy with their accommodations, that kind of thing — the Olympic family, is the transportation doing fine, the little details.

“I don’t think that in his mind anything gave him such satisfaction as the Olympic movement.”

She had last seen him, along with her husband, on Friday.

“He woke up and greeted me. We shook hands, he smiled. We said it was such a beautiful day, said we were happy he could look out on such a beautiful garden. We asked how he was doing. He said, ’So-so.’

“I kissed him and said, ‘See you tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ ”

“I was happy I could see him again.”

Don Mario died at 1 p.m. Sunday.

ANOC gets big-time professionalized


KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — When you are living it in the moment, it is of course a challenge indeed to know whether a three-day meeting spread across a hotel complex and an office tower makes for a turning point, the sort of thing that accounts for the sort of thing Olympic historians can one day point to with distinct accuracy and say, this was when it all came together. As it drew Monday night to a close, however, it seemed abundantly evident that the time is now for the 204-member Association of National Olympic Committees.

Headed by the charismatic Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, ANOC seems poised to assert itself on the Olympic scene as never before.

ANOC dignitaries, with Sheikh Ahmad at the center, before Monday's news conference

Against the backdrop of the International Olympic Committee’s own 2014 review process, dubbed “Olympic Agenda 2020,” with the international sports federations due next week to meet in Turkey at the SportAccord conference under the leadership of the influential Marius Vizer, ANOC — first on the post-Sochi calendar — made the most of the timing.

IOC president Thomas Bach, and Vizer, among others, were in attendance here in Kuwait.

In all, 41 of the 106 IOC members were drawn to this desert meeting.

Actually, three separate sessions took place:

— ANOC, overseen by Sheikh Ahmad since a revolution of sorts in Moscow in 2012. The organization had been headed — since its June 1979 founding — by Mexico’s Mario Vazquez Raña.

— Olympic Council of Asia, the regional confederation, overseen by Sheikh Ahmad since 1991.

— Olympic Solidarity, the IOC initiative, overseen now as well by Sheikh Ahmad, that aims to identify and train promising athletes from around the world. It carries a 2013-2016 budget of $438 million.

The trip to Kuwait marked Bach’s first to the region since becoming IOC president last September. In a news conference Saturday, noting the participation of ANOC, OCA and others in Olympic Agenda 2020, he called these meetings an “important step in the procedure.”

ANOC, meanwhile, kicked things off Saturday with a series of commission meetings.

So what?

So often the volunteers who make up the Olympic movement are derided for what is depicted as the desire to belly up to some trough and pig out on all the free food and booze imaginable.

One, this is Kuwait. There wasn’t booze.

Two, these meetings were held in the second floor of the Missoni hotel, or alternatively at the Olympic Council of Asia complex, starting at 9 a.m. sharp. It was like being in a hotel room in Buffalo, or Cleveland, or anywhere. The doors were locked and no one got out, except for a coffee break, for three hours. The afternoon sessions? Same deal. Three hours, if not longer.

Three, the nine commissions were a first — specialized task-forces created, 30-some years after ANOC itself got launched, to, as a press statement would put it, “add fresh impetus to ANOC’s ongoing process of reform and modernization at a time when the IOC is calling on all stakeholders within the Olympic movement to undergo a process of self-analysis and self-evaluation.”

Here, for instance, was a “marketing and new sources of finance” commission, headed by Larry Probst, the U.S. Olympic Committee board chair and new IOC member.

“He’s a professional,” Sheikh Ahmad was saying Sunday night of Probst. “For that I was very happy when I was hearing all those reports. The road map is very clear. It’s never too late, as I was mentioning in the beginning.”

There was a “modernization follow-up commission.”

There were, among others, finance, juridical and medical panels.

Too, here was an athletes’ commission, headed by Barbara Kendall, winner of gold, silver and bronze medals in windsurfing, also an IOC member and, moreover, runner-up in 2009 in the New Zealand version of “Dancing with the Stars.”

And so on — all part of the professionalization of ANOC.

ANOC also approved a new logo, the design soon to be made public.

It authorized plans, at a one-time cost of $20 million, for new headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sheikh Ahmad said at a news conference Monday night he was confident the bid would be brought in under budget.

Plans are in the works for a world Beach Games, perhaps as soon as 2015; interest has been solicited from a number of cities; a final report on the project is due at a meeting, set for Lausanne of the ANOC executive council in July, the sheikh said.

Another project — a gala awards ceremony. This is now set for Nov. 7, at the ANOC general assembly, in Bangkok. The concept — they’re thinking big — is for this gala is in very short order to become the sports Oscars, and with all due respect to every other show out there, ANOC has ambition and resource.

“I think this the reality of the NOCs,” Sheikh Ahmad said Monday night at that same news conference. “I think the NOCs have a good role to play in the movement …

“The head is the IOC. At the right hand should the NOCs. The left hand should be the IFs," meaning the international sports federations. "This, I believe, is the summary of the situation.

“For that we have to work because we lost 30 years of our movement.

“We have to work in a very speedy way to reach exactly all our demands. This is the demand of our NOCs.

“What we promised in the Moscow general assembly [in 2012], I think we will achieve it all in Bangkok.

“In two years we will have achieved everything. Then we will have a stable situation to develop and achieve our success.”


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."


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."


Mario Vazquez Raña resigns

Mario Vazquez Raña, arguably the most influential figure in the Western Hemisphere in the Olympic movement, abruptly announced his resignation Thursday as a member of the International Olympic Committee. In a four-page press release, Vazquez Raña, who will turn 80 in June, said he is stepping down from the IOC; from his spot on the IOC's policy-making executive board; as president of Olympic Solidarity; and as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

"It has been very difficult for me to take such a drastic decision," he said, launching into a lengthy explanation and singling out two IOC political opponents -- Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahah Al-Sabah of Kuwait and Patrick Hickey of Ireland -- in an extraordinary document that lays bare some of the behind-the-scenes political infighting in the Olympic movement in a way that is almost never chronicled.

It has been clear since the ANOC general assembly in Acapulco in October, 2010, that Vazquez Raña was nearing the end of his Olympic days. In Acapulco he was re-elected to the ANOC presidency, for a term through 2014. The challenge is that the IOC imposes a mandatory age-80 retirement. Vazquez Raña's 80th birthday is June 7; he would have stopped being an IOC member in December. Thus, the inevitable conflict -- and the question of how he was going to go out.

On his terms?

Or someone else's?

The answer came, unequivocally, in today's blast.

Vazquez Raña did not get to power, and hold on to it, for some 30 years by being anything but clever and resourceful. He has been advisor and power-broker to former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch;  to current IOC president Jacques Rogge; to kings, princes, statesmen, dignitaries, authorities, officials, and others. Even, on occasion, reporters.

If the United States, meaning in particular NBC and other corporate interests, has provided the financial underpinning of the Olympic movement -- Vazquez Raña has been the political mover and shaker from this part of the world, reducing American political influence to the margins.

It has been a fascinating dynamic, really.

Vazquez Raña has not done it with stealth. Everyone in the movement knows full well who he is. But he has done his work, amazingly, speaking mostly Spanish - not so much English and not so much French.

He has always done things his way. To use an American colloquialism -- there's his way or the highway.

Not surprisingly, over the years not everyone has fully appreciated the Mario Vazquez Raña way.

Hence, as he has approached 80, the challenges, and in particular from Al-Sabah and from Hickey, who understandably saw opportunity.

Hickey serves as president of the European Olympic Committees; he is head of the Irish Olympic committee. He would appear to be in line to take over Vazquez Raña's seat on the IOC executive board pending an ANOC meeting in Moscow in April.

Al-Sabah is believed to be next in line for the ANOC presidency.

"This particular circumstance and the conclusion of my mandate as ANOC president in 2014 have given rise to an outrageous and aggressive race for my succession," Vazquez Raña said in the first page of the release, in the sixth paragraph, naming both Al-Sabah and Hickey by name, and the release goes on from there to become even more incendiary.

The last two ANOC executive council meetings, in Lausanne in December, 2011, and in London last February, Vazquez Raña said in the release, were the "stages chosen by these persons and their allies to express their personal ambitions, disloyalty, obscure alliances and lack of ethics and principles."

He added, "This situation is very reprehensible and dangerous for any organization that considers itself democratic and transparent, even more so for a sports organization, where fair play and ethics should prevail."

The "urgency of this kind of pressure" to put Hickey on the IOC board, Vazquez Raña said, "may only be explained by an excessive personal ambition and the craving for power of their promoters." Moroever, "I clearly pointed out that I do not consider him a person with the minimum ethical and moral qualities to fulfill that responsibility. His behavior in these events reaffirms my conviction."

Efforts to reach Hickey, reportedly traveling Thursday in Asia, proved unsuccessful.

As for Al-Sabah, Vazquez Raña alleged that at a meeting held in connection with the Asian Beach Games in Dubai in November 2011, it "is commented, quite strongly, that in order to secure support to his ambitious plans and be able to count with the necessary votes, the Sheikh delivered 50 thousand 'convincing reasons' to some sports leaders and it is speculated as well that he used the same procedure at the meetings held in December in Lausanne and in February in London."

Vazquez Raña added that Kuwait's national Olympic Committee has been suspended by the IOC for several years because of political interference by the government there with the Kuwaiti sports movement: "The Sheikh would have to be asked with what moral authority he intends to lead the National Olympic Committees worldwide."

The sheikh could not be reached for comment.

"... As a result of shady alliances and questionable procedures, the betrayal and assault to ANOC and its governing structures were hatched," Vazquez Raña summed up, leading him to "take the only responsible, serious and honorable road: resign," a word he wrote in all capital letters," resign for love and respect to sport, to ANOC, to the NOCs and the Olympic movement. I may never accept and much less tolerate disloyalty and a lack of principles."

It should be noted that Vazquez Raña is a media mogul. He knows us, and well, in the press. He is so sophisticated that he sent out this release in all four pages in beautiful English -- again, not his language.

Tomorrow is another day. Hickey and Al-Sabah will get their turn, and their say.

But on his way out let it be noted that Mario Vazquez Raña did it on his terms. He went out swinging. Hard. The Olympic movement has perhaps never seen anyone like him, or any release quite like this one.

There will be consequences.


See the comments section below for the full four-page statement.

The eternal Don Mario

ACAPULCO -- There is no question, and there can be no doubt, that Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña is the most important and influential figure in the Olympic movement in the entire Western Hemisphere. No one in the United States, for instance, is even close.

No one anywhere on this side of the world is even close.

The proceedings here this week can only cement that fact. Vazquez Raña yet again presided over the assembly of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees; officials from roughly 200 countries were on hand. He was re-elected ANOC president. ANOC held a first-ever assembly with sports ministers from around the globe; some 100 government representatives showed up. ANOC held a joint meeting with the IOC's policy-making executive board.  And then Don Mario, as he is respectfully addressed by Spanish-speaking journalists in news conferences, took his place around the IOC executive board table for three days of closed-door meetings that started Sunday.

For all of that, Vazquez Raña's run is -- as is the case in all human endeavor -- nearing an end. And the issue framed here is both full of complexities but elegantly simple:

How does he go out?

Does Vazquez Raña get to choose? Or is that choice going to be made for him?

Vazquez Raña has been ANOC president for 31 years. He was re-elected here by acclaim. And not just acclaim. He got a standing ovation.

Asked at a news conference Friday if he thought election by acclaim fit with 21st-century versions of good governance and best practices, he said of course it did. No one ran against me, he said.

Unspoken was this reality: No one would dare run against Vazquez Raña.

No one could possibly remain atop an organization for so long, one that has seen such growth, without extraordinary political skill. Vazquez Raña is possessed of an incredibly keen understanding of the human condition.

He also has for years helped oversee the distribution of Olympic Solidarity funds to needy athletes around the world. All in, ANOC's budget now runs to nearly $8 million annually, according to a report available here.

Vazquez Raña is an extraordinary businessman. He runs an empire that extends to dozens of newspapers, television and radio outlets. Some of those newspapers reported his ANOC re-election with banner headlines of a sort that in the United States might have been reserved for the end of a world war.

Truthfully, such moments are rare. Vazquez Raña tends to operate with discretion. His contact list is vast. His connections -- in sports, business, politics, government -- are incredible. The contributions he has made to the Olympic movement are innumerable. No one will probably ever know, for instance, how many times he has sent a private jet to facilitate Olympic business of one sort or the other.

The challenge now is this:

An ANOC representative gets a seat at the IOC executive board. In returning Vazquez Raña to the presidency, delegates here took the additional step of formally passing a resolution that he continue his executive board service "during his mandate" -- that is, for all four years.

Vazquez Raña is now 78. His birthday is June 7, 1932.

As part of the reforms sparked by the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal, the IOC put in place age limits. One of the sub-parts to Rule 16 of the Olympic Charter now says you stop being an IOC member at the end of the calendar year in which you turn 70.

However, a Rule 16 bylaw grandfathers in -- so to speak -- those who became members before the close of the IOC's 110th all-members session, in December, 1999. For them the retirement rules play out this way:

A member "must retire" by the end of the calendar year in which he or she turns 80; retirement for one who is president, vice president or serving on the executive board takes effect "at the end of the next session" after turning 80.

Vazquez Raña became an IOC member in 1991. Pretty clearly, the rules would seem to suggest that his term on the executive board is going to come to an end in about two years, at the close of the London 2012 Olympics. That, though, is only halfway through his new four-year ANOC mandate.

Pretty clearly, too, he wants to stay on. He said Sunday at a news conference, "I feel like I [am] 60. As long as I can keep on working, I will keep on working, regardless of my chronological age."

The other IOC members re-elected Vazquez Raña to the executive board at the session in Beijing in 2008. Four years from that makes -- neatly, perhaps -- 2012.

There's a complication to the dynamic. If Vazquez Raña gets an exception at 80, what about those who became IOC members after December, 1999, and are now nearing 70?

Rio de Janeiro got the 2016 Games in large part because of the winning personality of Carlos Nuzman. He is IOC member, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and now head of the Rio 2016 organizing committee. Nuzman joined the IOC in 2000. He turns 70 on March 17, 2012. Should he get an exception, too?

IOC President Jacques Rogge on Sunday said the issue of Vazquez Raña's status on the executive board would be a matter for the board itself to study. Not here. Later.

Rules demand consistent application. Rogge himself said, albeit in a different context earlier Sunday, speaking to the ANOC delegates, "If we want to claim autonomy from the public authorities, we must be impeccable in terms of our governance."

Especially now. The FIFA bid scandal has rocked international sport. "Impeccable" is indeed the right word.

If an exception were to be carved out for Vazquez Raña, the IOC runs the risk of a major PR backlash. Those Salt Lake reforms were enacted for sound reason, and Rogge himself has consistently stressed the ongoing import of perhaps the key plank of the 50-point reform plan, the ban on member visits to cities bidding for the Games.

Samaranch stayed as president for 20 years. Rogge has given every indication that he plans to step aside when his term expires, in 2013 -- his two terms, 12 years in total, a further Salt Lake reform. Should the likes of Vazquez Raña get a break when the president himself is assuredly subject to term limits?

Finally, there's this:

It is a tenet of leadership school that you identify your successor. Who's next at ANOC? That's not clear. And that's not healthy, for ANOC, for the IOC or for Vazquez Raña's considerable legacy.

"I have always considered media in our movement as one of the strongholds, one of the pillars," Vazquez Raña said in closing Sunday's news conference. "Sometimes it's good to get your applause but it's also good to get your criticism. Criticism in sports is good as long as it's constructive and realistic."

In that spirit, Don Mario, and this English-speaking observer offers the honorific with the utmost respect, here it is:

Just because you might have to step away from the executive board and IOC membership does not mean the end. You now have two years to set yourself up for the next stage, to determine how to remain of service to the Olympic movement while further enhancing your legacy.

Who wouldn't want you to serve as, say, "special advisor"?

Make that transition on your terms. It's not realistic to stay longer. And it won't be constructive if someone else has to tell you it's time.