Prince Feisal Al Hussein

Who do you love?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the challenge:

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

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

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

On Friday morning, the shades were still down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do they act this way?

That's easy.

Because they can.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the sheikh and 2020:

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

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

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

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

The sheikh likes, most of all, winning.

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

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

Two, Sheikh Ahmad controls his own vote.


'Beyond Sport,' and the right thing to do

CHICAGO -- Far too often it is said overseas that the primary interest -- indeed, perhaps the only interest -- in the United States in the Olympic movement is money. That is, making as much money as possible off the Olympics.

The rest? The Olympic spirit and all that? Commitment to the values that underpin the Olympic ideal? Attention to the idea that sport can cut across social and political differences and move the world forward, bit by bit?

Those who would hold fast to the idea that it's only a dash for cash here in the States ought to have been part of the crowd Wednesday at the opening of what was called the 2010 "Beyond Sport" summit.

"Fellow agents of positive social change," Jordan's Prince Feisal Al Hussein, an International Olympic Committee member and the founder of an initiative called "Generations for Peace," said in beginning a speech that focused on "how we can get sport to effect great and lasting social change."

It's not treacly and it's not saccharine to say such things.  Just the opposite. Talking about such values and such goals -- and then doing something about it -- is what makes it all real.

That said, the point here Wednesday was not that world peace suddenly broke out. Of course not.

The point is that there are efforts underway to recognize the distinct role that sport, and the Olympic movement in particular, can play in effecting change.

"This is what the 'Beyond Sport' summit is all about -- getting the world to listen," the prince said from the lectern.

World Sport Chicago, the group created to promote the legacy of Chicago's unsuccessful 2016 bid, played a key role in organizing the event here, which runs through Thursday.

Again: Chicago is not now in the bid game. If Chicago ever again launches an Olympic bid, it will be many years down the line. Yet here were World Sport Chicago and the United States Olympic Committee, stepping up -- with no expectation of immediate pay-off from the IOC, maybe no bid-related pay-off ever.

It was just the right thing to do.

"We think it's important for Chicago, and for the United States, to host these international sports conferences and events," Bill Scherr, the president of World Sport Chicago, said in an interview, adding, "We think it connects us."

Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the USOC, took part in the very first panel discussion on the agenda, an examination of "legacy delivery."

"Yes, we're doing a lot. No, we're not doing enough," Caryl Stern, the president and chief executive of UNICEF USA, said as part of that panel.

Added Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of AEG Worldwide, "We have to do more," noting that sports and music are "the only two entities that break through."

"A generation ago, this conference wouldn't happen," Blackmun said, noting the power of the stories of Olympic athletes to inspire not just young people but influence-makers on Capitol Hill.

Just last Saturday, at the conclusion of the USOC's annual assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo., Blackmun, asked about the way he and USOC board chairman Larry Probst have this year quietly but pointedly emphasized a commitment to relationship-building with international sports officials, said, "I think the 90-degree right turn is for us to be more engaged and become more active participants.

"That," he said, "means showing up."

Like at events such as Beyond Sport.

Among other provocative discussions on the schedule here:

What good can sports celebrities do -- what's possible and what's not?

How can sport provide opportunities for girls' and women's education?

Can sports programs help reduce youth violence? How?

"There could be no greater legacy to Chicago's Olympic bid than to commit to Chicago's young people… [and to explore] how sport can play a crucial role in the urban environment," Nick Keller, the founder of Beyond Sport, said Wednesday from the lectern.

Again, the point is not that answers were fully divined in the great ballroom of the Palmer House in Chicago's Loop.

It's the pursuit of those answers.

That is, the affirmation of some of the key values that animate the Olympic spirit between editions of the Games, among them "courage, boldness, tenacity, humanity," Keller said in asserting, "We want you to be moved … to forge the next set of connections … to use sport to address the next set of the world's great challenges."

"We all believe sport can bring youth away from and into very important things, away from crime, away from violence, and into academics, into sport, into character development," Pat Ryan, the head of the Chicago 2016 bid and chairman of World Sport Chicago, said in his address.

"Archimedes once said, 'Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth,' " Prince Feisal said a moment or two later.

It was the "prerogative" of those in the room to do so, he said, then paused and corrected himself: "No, it's our duty."