Mikaela Cojuangco-Jaworski

Sheikh Ahmad at ANOC gala: "Our job is to make dreams come true"


BANGKOK — Far too often, Olympic meetings are tedious affairs in which reports that have already been passed out well ahead of time are then read out from the lectern, word for word, to those seated at banks of tables below. Little wonder time sometimes seems as if it is passing like molasses. And then there is an affair like the more than 200-nation Assn. of National Olympic Committee meeting here in Bangkok, headed by the charismatic Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, punctuated by Friday night’s first ANOC gala awards dinner, which may yet assume the role — which it clearly aims to be — of the Oscars of the Olympic sports world. Here was an assembly that, mostly, got it right. Starting with a focus on the athletes.

ANOC boss Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah after the gala with, among others, American gold medalist and activist Donna De Varona (far right)

There were presentations Friday afternoon, yes, from Beijing and Almaty, the two remaining candidates in the 2022 Winter Games race, Beijing promising a safe and secure “joyful rendezvous upon pure ice and snow,” and note the emphasis on “pure” amid significant pollution concerns, Almaty claiming it would be not only affordable but the most compact bid in 30 years.

The emotional touchstone, however, came just a little bit earlier in the day, when an ANOC youth working group, chaired by Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 Summer Games chairman who himself won four Olympic medals in the 1980s, two gold, and is now an IAAF vice president, put forward Isabel Goodall, 19, from the remote Pacific island nation of Palau.

Isabel was, for sure, nervous to be standing in front of so many people. She would say afterward that she practiced her speech “quite a lot, quite a lot.” Asked how many times she went over her remarks so she would not make not even a single mistake, she said, “I lost count.”

She nailed it, and this came toward the end of what she had to say:

“We all believe that sport can change lives. We learned that we can improve our reality when we open our minds and try to understand the reality of others from different countries.”

This is the essence of the Olympic mission.

The IOC is trying to figure out what it is that the cherished teen and young 20s demographic wants.

There it is, and in just a few words.

It is what Beijing and Almaty are trying to win for. And even now, all those thinking about bidding for the Summer 2024 Games.

It is why Rio is in it for 2016, Pyeongchang for 2018, Tokyo for 2020.

At least in theory.

It’s also what should — emphasis, should — be at the core of each and every one of the 40 recommendations underpinning IOC president Thomas Bach’s “Agenda 2020” potential reforms, to be distributed soon to the IOC membership for review and a vote at an assembly in early December in Monaco.

Bach, addressing the ANOC session Friday, said, “The time to change is now. We have been discussing for one year. Now is the time for agreeing on something.

“If we want to preserve our values, we have to move. If we stand still, we are falling behind.”

There were a fair number of IOC members in the house Friday night for the gala.

Here were the values not only to be preserved but to be advanced.

Canadian women’s hockey player Caroline Ouellette now has four Olympic golds, including that memorable gold from Sochi, as well as five world championship golds and four world championship silvers. She accepted the ANOC award for “best female team [from] Sochi 2012.”

When boys and girls are given the chance to play sports, she said, they are “empowered” to dream big and change the world.

Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, similarly accepted an award for “best team [from] London 2012.”

Doing so on behalf of America’s athletes, he said, he and everyone at the USOC is “proud to be part of something much more important,” the big-picture ideals of the Olympic movement, one-to-one change through the inspiration that heroes and dreams can bring, of “making the world a better place.”

The sheikh had said before the event, highlighting as well cultural performances by each of the five continental associations paying tribute to the diversity among the world’s national Olympic committees, “Sport has the power to bring us all together and unite us, and that is what we will be celebrating at the [gala].”

Frankly — these are technical issues for a show clearly aiming big — with dance performances Friday that included the likes of an Olympic-caliber flamenco show from Spain, samba from Brazil and haka from New Zealand, and more, the cultural elements ran on too long.

Yes — the show started late and ended on time. Even so — the dance performances were too much.

OK. What to expect? It was the first ANOC gala.

But since the gala was broadcast live in Thailand, as well as distributed to more than 25 broadcasters around the world with a potential reach of 350 million households, it was way more than just a dinner. Think about all good awards shows — they’re more than a banquet. You have to imagine way more than what’s happening in the room itself. If something is going to play on global TV, it needs way more rigor than the show presented Friday night.

Also: IOC member and former equestrian champion Mikaela Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines and Brazilian actor Juliano Cazarré served as co-hosts.

Let’s just say this about Cazarré: for sure Cojuangco-Jaworski ought to be asked back.

Back to the sheikh: after he got off the stage, he was mobbed like a rock star. His security guy stood patiently by as he posed for pictures with Bach, with former IOC president Jacques Rogge, with everyone and anyone.

The sheikh has, in two-plus years, turned ANOC into a formidable institution in Olympic politics; here he was re-elected ANOC president. He is himself one of the singularly most interesting figures in the movement — a creative and innovative thinker and wielder of significant influence who may yet play an outsize role in deciding, among other things, whether China or Kazakhstan wins for 2022.

Among his other positions: the sheikh is head of the Olympic Council of Asia. Remember, one and all, China and Kazakhstan are both in Asia.

If the conventional wisdom is already that Beijing is the heavy-money favorite — well, the vote is a long way away. (It’s next summer.)

Friday night was all about the athletes.


It was a good reminder.

For everyone involved in the Olympic movement.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah said from the stage, closing the first ANOC gala, “This is only the start,” adding, “We have to create,” to “dream, dream, dream.”

Because he said, for emphasis, “Our job is to make dreams come true.”

How to decode IOC news releases

The headlines Wednesday were all about Richard Carrión stepping down from his senior positions within the International Olympic Committee in the aftermath of his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. Carrión, a banking executive from Puerto Rico, resigned from his "different positions within the IOC," the organization said in a news release, in particular his role as chairman of the finance commission. Under his watch, IOC reserves grew to more than $900 million, ensuring the IOC's financial security.

Carrión also resigned as the IOC's point man on TV rights deals outside of Europe but agreed to stay on in that position through the Sochi Games, which end Feb. 23, to afford the IOC -- and new president Thomas Bach -- continuity.

Carrión will remain a regular IOC member. But he will also step down from his position as chair of the audit committee and walk away from his spot on the coordination commission for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

IOC member Richard Carrión

That's the news that went around the world on the wires Wednesday, and it is 100 percent accurate.

But, as ever, the back stories are way more interesting.

Bach is in the first stages of team-building.

Carrión, meanwhile, runner-up to Bach in the September election, did the honorable -- and classy -- thing by tendering his resignations. It's that simple.

He and Bach met last Friday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Any effort to suggest that Carrión is resigning out of anger or spite would be just way off base.

Indeed, Carrión put out a statement that said, "It has been an extraordinary privilege and experience to have chaired the IOC finance commission for the past 11 years and to have fulfilled agreements that have helped secure a solid financial foundation for the Olympic movement.

"I have always thought that a new leader needs room to set a course and select his team. As such, I submitted my resignation for President Bach's consideration. I look forward to continuing my service as an IOC member, and help in any way with the new leadership's transition."

Bach won the Sept. 10 election, at the IOC's landmark 125th session in Buenos Aires, with 49 votes in the second round; Carrión came in second in the six-man field with 29. Also at that session: Tokyo won for 2020 and the IOC reinstated wrestling to the Summer Games program for 2020 and 2024.

Singapore's Ser Miang Ng, another of the candidates, will chair the next meeting of the finance commission in December, the IOC said in that release.

To find the news that Carrión was stepping down from his various positions -- and that Ng would be handling the December meeting -- you had to read all the way down to the fourth paragraph in that release.

The third: Arne Ljungqvist of Sweden, Gerhard Heiberg of Norway and Hein Verbruggen of Holland would continue in their roles as chairmen of the medical commission, marketing commission and Olympic Broadcasting Services until after Sochi 2014, again for the sake of continuity; their terms had been due to run at the end of the Buenos Aires meeting.

Up top: John Coates of Australia will chair the Tokyo 2020 coordination commission, and Frankie Fredericks of Namibia the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Games, and this is where you start to see Bach's team-building start to take shape.

Concentrating here on Tokyo 2020 because one of Bach's campaign suggestions is a review of the Youth Games project, an initiative launched by his predecessor, Jacques Rogge:

Make no mistake -- Coates is a shrewd pick as coordination chair, absolutely qualified on any number of levels. He is a super-smart lawyer; veteran international federation official (rowing); has experience helping to oversee a Games (Sydney 2000); and has service on two other coordination committees (London 2012, Rio 2016).

Beyond all that, during the campaign season, Coates was well-known to be a Bach supporter. Further, Coates is himself a newly elected IOC vice president with no upward IOC political ambition. The new president can absolutely, totally count on Coates' loyalty.

The vice-chair of the Tokyo 2020 CoCom: Alex Gilady of Israel.

This is a no-brainer, and for three reasons.

One, Gilady is one of the world's foremost experts on television and the Olympic Games.

Two, he has served -- or serves still -- on the Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 CoComs.

Three, it is the fortunate soul who gets the counsel of Alex Gilady. He was there always and in all ways for Rogge and the IOC president before Rogge, Juan Antonio Samaranch. Now, Thomas Bach.

Also on the 2020 CoCom:

Two up-and-comers, the swimming great Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, and Mikaela Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines, who is a champion equestrienne and an actress.

Also: Anita DeFrantz of the United States, elected in Buenos Aires to the IOC's policy-making executive board, with the backing of Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah. After 12 years of being largely on the sidelines, she clearly is seeking a more dynamic role like the one she had during the Samaranch years.

As of Sept. 10, so that it is clearly understood, this is the power structure of the IOC: Bach is, indisputably, at the top;  the sheikh is his ally;  and, in perhaps the most intriguing piece of news in that IOC release, in a note far down that has received almost no attention whatsoever in all the stories that ricocheted around the world, there is the undeniable emergence of Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation.

Vizer, last spring, was elected head of SportAccord, the umbrella federation for the international sports federations.

The IOC release, of course without comment, noted that he, too, would be part of the Tokyo 2020 CoCom, representing ASOIF, the federation of summer sports federations.

His appointment shows how quickly things can change.

Vizer and the sheikh are known to have an excellent relationship. The same, obviously, for the sheikh and the new president.

When Vizer was running for the SportAccord post, he suggested the notion of a "United World Championships" for all federations every four years. That could be seen as a direct challenge to the Olympics.

Bach, months ago when announcing his presidential candidacy, without referring directly to Vizer or Vizer's proposal, emphasized the IOC must work to keep the Olympics the "most attractive event in the world."

He added, "We must ensure that the uniqueness of the Olympic Games is not diluted by other events and that other incentives to not distract the athletes from viewing the Olympic Games as the real peak and ultimate goal of their efforts."

That was then. This is now.

Like a lot of other people in Olympic circles who at first wondered about Vizer but have come to know him better over the spring and summer, the judo federation president has gained a considerable following. They say now he is sophisticated, innovative and backs up his talk when it comes to putting athletes at the center of the experience.

Also, the IJF media output could teach much-larger federations a thing or two, particularly in our digital age.

Further, there's this:

There were many forces -- the sheikh, of course, and more -- that helped secure Bach's election. The dynamics at work in Buenos Aires included wrestling's push to get back into the Games over squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball as well as Tokyo's 2020 showdown with Madrid and Istanbul.

Russian interests in particular, it was said quietly in Buenos Aires, were keen to see what proved to be the winning triple play -- Tokyo, wrestling, Bach -- and it takes literally less than a second's search on the internet to produce a photo of Vizer together with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Russian state is overseeing the spending of more than $50 billion to prepare Sochi for 2014. Putin's influence in the Olympic movement is, in a word, profound.

The absolutely reasonable -- and undeniable -- conclusion to draw from the Tokyo 2020 CoCom list is this:

It's nothing less than a trial balloon for Marius Vizer's name as a candidate for IOC membership.

This is the way these things get done. See Japan's Tsunekazu Takeda, who served on the Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 CoComs. He was made an IOC member in 2012 and in September led Tokyo to victory for 2020.

Marius Vizer a member, and sooner than later. Remember, you read it here first.