Patrick Hickey

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."


Straight talk about wrestling's future

Finally -- some straight talk about why the International Olympic Committee moved to kick wrestling out of the Summer Games in 2020, and  what to do about it. All you have to do, it seems, is tune in to radio station KCJJ, "The Mighty 1630," in Coralville, Iowa.

The Mighty 1630 would be all of 10,000 watts beaming out to Coralville, Iowa City and the rest of eastern Iowa, and earlier this week you could have heard Terry Brands, the associate head coach of the University of Iowa wrestling team and a 2000 Sydney Games bronze medalist in the sport, tell you in plain terms what happened and what needs to be done now.

FILA, the sport’s international governing body, was asleep at the switch, he said.

The IOC had been sending it signals for years that it "perceives us as different from how we perceive ourselves" but that message "went unheeded," with the result that the IOC executive board moved two weeks ago to remove wrestling from the list of 25 "core" sports on the 2020 Summer Games program.

What needs to happen going forward, he said, in the wake of leadership change at the top of FILA -- president Raphael Martinetti, a Swiss businessman, out in favor of acting president Nenad Lalovic of Serbia -- is elemental.

It's called lobbying. It's relationship-building. It's what FILA should have been doing all along.

All with the aim of getting wrestling included on the list of sports the IOC general assembly can review in September in Buenos Aires. The IOC board will draw up the list at its next meeting, in May in St. Petersburg, Russia. It's unclear how many sports the board will put forward for September review; the current odds favor three, with wrestling competing with the likes of squash, karate, sport climbing and a combined bid from baseball and softball.

There's room for just one more sport on the 2020 program -- if, and that's a big if, the IOC decides to include one more sport. The number, including golf and rugby, now stands at 27. By rule, the maximum number for any Summer Games is 28.

"If I'm a FILA rep," Brands said, "then I'm going to go out and I'm going to have dinner with people and I'm going to listen to them and I'm going to act like I care. Because I do care.

"Because that's what my job is. It's not about acting any more. I mean, are we with FILA because we want to have a status symbol or a resume booster? Or are we with FILA because we actually give a crap about wrestling?"

University of Iowa wrestling coach Terry Brands talking straight on The Mighty 1630 station KCJJ // screen shot

Truly, this is the fundamental question.

With some key exceptions, much of the outcry in the United States over the IOC’s move to exclude wrestling from the program core has been – as the saying goes – preaching to the choir.

It has been wrestling proponents talking to each other, most acting like the guy on the football team who didn’t see the crackback block coming.

For those feeling blindsided, Terry Brands has crystalized your question.

The course of action is also super-evident, at least at the IOC level – which means that, if the answer to his question is in the affirmative, everything said and done ought to be directed toward one goal:

It’s all about winning votes.

Understand, though, that the IOC plays by its rules. That’s the way it is.

That does not – repeat, not – mean the IOC is corrupt or venal. It means there’s a process, and it’s helpful to understand both context and process.

To begin:

Most talk since the IOC action has focused on how wrestling is a sport that is practiced the world over, with proponents noting there are 177 member nations of FILA.

But the numbers in the report that formed the basis of the IOC action also tell a different story.

The London 2012 Games welcomed 205 national Olympic committees. The wrestling competition included 71, or only 34.6 percent. Does that seem, to use the IOC’s phraseology, “universal”?

There are 12 African IOC members. In London, there was one African wrestling medalist. What is the African interest come September in seeing wrestling in the 2020 Games?

There are 10 IOC members from South or Latin American nations; their wrestlers won two medals last summer. Same question.

Of the 71 nations competing in London, wrestlers from 29 won medals.

By far the most medals went to European nations – 12 men and four women.

There are currently 101 members of the International Olympic Committee; the IOC is traditionally Eurocentric; 43 members are European.

Right now one of the moves within the broader Olympic movement is to establish or grow continental Games; the first European Games are scheduled for 2015. Yet Around the Rings, an Olympic newsletter, reported last week that wrestling officials had inexplicably not returned multiple calls to discuss being included in those 2015 Games.

The head of the European Olympic Committees? Patrick Hickey of Ireland. He also sits on the IOC executive board. He was quoted as saying he found the situation “exasperating.”

It’s little wonder that Jim Scherr, the former USOC chief executive -- and former executive director of USA Wrestling -- acknowledged in a conference call Thursday with reporters the sport now faces a "major challenge" in regaining its place for 2020 and beyond.

At the same time, he said, "It is a tremendous opportunity to make a real and lasting change for the future of the sport."

Wrestling, he said, needs to simplify rules, enhance the sport's presentation and create a better media model and sponsorship platform. It also, he said, needs to be a better member of the so-called Olympic family, which goes back to the person-to-person thing that Brands identified, as well as a broader understanding of what works in the IOC and what doesn't.

Here, though, is where things can get tricky. It takes relationships. It takes experience.

Candidly, it's not certain whether a hurry-up effort -- being pieced together on the fly with the aim of getting a job done by September after a February wake-up call -- is going to be enough.

It’s also not clear how some of the published responses in U.S. newspapers are going to play come September. Memories in the IOC can be vivid.

The Washington Post published an op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld, who served as U.S. secretary of defense for President George W. Bush, urging the IOC to reconsider, Rumsfeld saying he learned many life lessons as a high school and college wrestler.

In the Eurocentric IOC, reference to President Bush almost inevitably leads to mention of the U.S.-wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who prosecuted those wars as secretary of defense? Rumsfeld, of course, who began the piece by attacking the IOC, saying it had in recent years “drawn fire for its lack of transparency,” later saying wrestling called to mind traditional values “rather than the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be.”

If the former secretary was trying to win votes – what, exactly, was his strategy?

The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed praising the potential of relationship-building after American wrestlers were among those taking part recently in an event in Iran called the World Cup.

The article described Americans walking the streets of Tehran “not as people from the ‘Great Satan’ but as comrades in the union of athletes.” Awesome, right?

Wrestling is very big in Iran. Last summer in London, Iranian wrestlers won six medals; that was tied for third-best at the 2012 Games, along with Japan and Georgia. Azerbaijan won seven. Russia topped the medals table with 11.

Asked at the end of Thursday's call if there might now be plans for a USA vs. Iran match in the works like last year's pre-London Games USA vs. Russia freestyle headliner in Times Square, the current executive director of USA Wrestling, Rich Bender, cautioned that any such notion was "premature" but allowed, "There are some large-scale plans and ideas that can showcase our sport."

Certainly, sport can sometimes open doors diplomacy can't.

But, again, it’s votes, votes, votes. There aren't any Iranian members of the IOC.

Amid any high-fives over the Iranians' seemingly gracious welcome to the Americans, did anyone bother to wonder what would happen if an Iranian wrestler was at the Olympics and, say, drew an Israeli. What then?

The Iranians’ ongoing refusal to engage Israeli athletes on the field of play, citing all manner of excuses, has been a contentious point of intolerance for years now. Are the Iranians suddenly good partners for a campaign of purported fraternity and goodwill?

Just imagine a match like last year’s, but this time with Iranian wrestlers, and again in New York – home to the second-largest Jewish population in the world.

As for Japan -- there is only one Japanese member of the IOC, Tsunekazu Takeda, and he became a member only last year. Moreover, he is the president of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games bid. How much time and energy does he have in each and every day to devote to Tokyo 2020 -- which would be worth billions of dollars to his country -- and then to wrestling?

There are no Azerbaijani nor Georgian members.

The United States used to win a lot of medals in wrestling. No more. The Americans won four medals in London, out of 104. That's two percent of the medal total.

If you were in business, how much time and energy would you devote to something that was worth two percent of what you did?

Even so, it's probably worth it to the U.S. Olympic Committee to do more; chief executive Scott Blackmun and board chairman Larry Probst know full well they are in the relationship business, and for them wrestlers have undeniably proven a vocal constituency.

That said, this would seem to be a play the USOC would make in support of or in concert with the Russians, and their three IOC members. Those 11 medals made up 13 percent of the Russians’ 82 total in London, which is why President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week Russia would work with the IOC at "all possible levels" to keep wrestling in the Games.

There's also the strategy that Terry Brands suggested on The Mighty 1630.

"I would," he said, "start with prayers."


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.