Reform the IOC bid process -- this doesn't work


The campaign for the 2024 (and, maybe, 2028) Summer Olympic Games moves this coming week into its next phase. It’s a carefully structured, overly programmed, International Olympic Committee-directed 10-minute road show. That is, both Los Angeles and Paris officials get 10 minutes (apiece) to present to the 20 or so IOC members due to be in attendance at a sports convention on the eastern coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula.

That far to travel for that little time and, moreover, to an audience that isn’t even one-quarter of the voting IOC membership? That is not anywhere near, to use a favorite IOC phrase, best practice.

Indeed, the whole IOC bid and campaign machinery — theory, structure, implementation — needs a thorough re-do.

For years, the IOC has sought to use the “evaluation” process as a means to have cities sell the IOC on their (that is, the cities’) merits.

That process needs to be flipped.

The IOC ought — better yet, needs, and better still, needs right now — to be asking, what are our (that is, the IOC’s) needs and what city can best fulfill our (again, IOC) needs?

It is patently clear to a significant cohort of Olympic watchers -- and some insiders, too -- that the bid process is broken and thus the IOC has arrived at a junction that spells crisis. Change must be effected.

The $51 billion questions on the table are whether senior IOC leadership as well as the rank-and-file members a) recognize the gravity of the problem and b) will respond.

It is worth noting that it was in the bid context -- see Salt Lake City, late 1990s -- that the IOC suffered its most existential threat. Until, perhaps and again, now.

As a result of the Salt Lake scandal, the IOC enacted a 50-point reform program.

Fast forward to a conference a few days ago in London. There, the former IOC marketing director Michael Payne called the bid process — as it is now — “toxic.”

Here, in a nutshell, is why:

The Barcelona 1992 Summer Games made presidents, prime ministers, governors and mayors everywhere believe that the glow from an Olympics could similarly jump-start their own government-funded infrastructure projects.

The Games come with a fixed seven-year deadline. That means stuff has to get done — airports, metro, light rail and sewer lines and more.

That deadline, in practice, has also produced ridiculous cost overruns.

Sochi: that reported $51 billion. Beijing: $40 billion. Rio: probably $20 billion. London: $15 billion. Tokyo: bid projected at $7.8 billion, now maybe $15 billion, who knows. Athens: $11-15 billion.

Over the past two, maybe three, years, the spiral of media— and in particular social media— reports have come back to bite the IOC in the backside.

As this space pointed out in a March 3 column and as Payne noted in his speech last Wednesday, the ever-increasing import of social media means community activists can leverage virtually any local grievance and turn it into as, he said, a debate “about whether to stage an event” such as the Olympics.

That’s what brought down the Budapest 2024 bid just weeks ago. And before that the Hamburg 2024 bid.

The Los Angeles 2024 effort — the bid and, if it succeeds, a Games — is privately financed. Just like 1984. This is the key difference between the LA effort and just about every other Summer Olympics since the IOC got itself into the jam it now finds itself in.

And it unequivocally is in that jam.

The irrefutable evidence:

For public consumption, the IOC is essentially just letting the road show and evaluation process play itself out. Behind the curtains, it is trying to figure out how to cut a 2024/2028 deal between the last two cities standing, LA and Paris.

When the history of all this gets formally written, this note: this space was the first to suggest this very thing — the 24/28 LA/Paris double-double. Look it up: September 15, 2016. (Also predicted in that very column: Budapest would fall out via referendum.)

The Denmark road show is being held for the benefit of the international sports federations. Two years ago, this very same sports convention was under the leadership of the judo federation president, Marius Vizer, who was at odds with IOC president Thomas Bach, and no 2022 Winter Games bid-city presentations were allowed, purportedly to cut the cost of bidding as part of Bach's Agenda 2020 would-be reform push.

For the past year, the federations have had a new guy in charge, Patrick Baumann, from basketball. Now Paris and LA get to present. It also happens that as of a few weeks ago Baumann is also the head of the 2024 IOC evaluation team. No criticism should be implied or inferred of Baumann (like Vizer, a very smart guy) or the way he ended up leading that evaluation team (long back story) — the point is, how can the Agenda 2020 reforms look anything like but what real life has proven them to be, hollow?

Back, of course, to the point of the bid process: personality politics cannot be the basis for a billion-dollar decision. That’s just basic.

Similarly, it makes little or no sense to cater to the sports federation officials. Unless he or she is also an IOC member -- they don't vote.

The IOC has a distinct credibility problem. A key reason is that it is perceived, appropriately, as the establishment, particularly in Europe, where taxpayers are mightily angered at the spending of their euros on what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as Olympic waste.

So: essentially forcing a bunch of folks to jet into Denmark for  two 10-minute presentations? Just to feed the egos of international sports federation leaders? And then everyone goes out to the lobby for snacks and cocktails?

There is a much better way.

The IOC needs to reverse the paradigm.

The IOC should not be asking whether (pick one, A, B or C) the archery or badminton or canoeing president likes city x's pretty video.

Again, no vote unless an IOC member and, besides, that's in line with this theme — which city can impress us most?

In turn, that leads to this kind of question: city x, why is it important to your redevelopment strategy to build an athletes’ village that you have already budgeted at some billion-dollar obscenity that we nonetheless know, because history says so, is laughably low?

The IOC is not a redevelopment agency. It is not an urban planner. It is about sport. That is what the Olympic Charter makes plain, time and again. Sport. In the service of humankind.

To that end, the IOC should be asking, what is your detailed strategy to connect with athletes and other young people, and not just in your country? Don’t bore us to death with school programs. Tell us about connection and engagement. Tell us something innovative, creative and exciting.


Right now, the IOC produces a fat evaluation report filled with answers to questions such as the number of hotel rooms in city x or its airport capacity. These questions are relevant. But they are relevant mostly to IOC staff. This next sentence is critical: the staff does not vote.

This logically produces a huge disconnect in the evaluation and thus the bid and the election process. Why?

Because the members largely do not care.

Again, on issues such as the whether it's the Westin or the Hyatt or runway 26-left or 18-right, the members mostly do not read these reports. So this entire evaluation process, which after Salt Lake is supposed to form the underpinning for the most important decision the members make, is a colossal waste of time, money and resource.


The IOC should lead a focused inquiry that determines which city is most likely to:

— engage young people, with a detailed plan for how, and in particular on mobile platforms and across social media

— produce not just moments but heroes to inspire those young people across seven years, to and through opening ceremony and the 17 days of the Games, if not beyond

— take a leadership role across the Olympic and broader political landscapes by demonstrating transparent fiscal stewardship, responsibility and stability in all budgets related to the production of a Games

— voluntarily submit all such budgets to scrutiny by internationally accepted accounting experts, those reports routinely to be made matters of public record

— stabilize if not energize the Olympic movement in the host nation and around the world

— spark sponsor and audience interest domestically and internationally

If the IOC did that for 2024, there would be only one conclusion. It would be so easy. Crisis solved.

More judo, please -- and, yes, more Vizer, too


HAVANA — It is closing in on a year now that Marius Vizer was cast off into something akin to the Olympic wilderness. His crime? Mostly, speaking the truth.

Now, amid scandal enveloping world soccer, track and field, tennis and perhaps extending even to the International Olympic Committee, the contrast with the International Judo Federation — which Vizer leads, then and now — could not be more ready, or more obvious.

Vizer, second from left, at the pre-event news conference // photo IJF

In a world in which sport leaders too often pay mere lip service to the values that sport can advance and to the notion of athletes at the center of everything, Vizer and the IJF don’t just talk the talk.

No. They walk the walk, big time, and with judo poised to be one of the breakout sports at the Rio 2016 Summer Games — Brazilian judokas may well win bunches of medals —followed by a return to its spiritual home, Japan, for the Tokyo 2020 Games, the time is ripe for the rest of world sport to take a good look at judo, and see what it is doing so right.

In essence, the world needs more of the values that are at the core of judo: the Olympic trio of respect, excellence and friendship.

Last month, for instance, after a visit to Pyongyang, Vizer said that perhaps North Korea could play host to the 2017 world judo junior championships.

“Some people may not agree with the delivery,” Jose H. Rodriguez, the chief executive director of USA Judo, said here, referring to Vizer. “But the guy really is a visionary.”

 To be clear: other Olympic sports showcase the Olympic values as well. And, since judo involves human beings, the sport has over its history witnessed — as in other areas of sport, and life — accusations of misconduct and wrongdoing.

But in judo, and especially under Vizer's watch at the IJF, the values are typically more than just talk. They’re put into action, and every day.

In November, after health authorities declared the country ebola-free, the Sierra Leone Judo Assn. organized a five-day training camp in Freetown, attracting 70 participants and — maybe even more important — thousands of spectators. The IJF had made a $10,000 donation at the start of last year to the national ebola response center.

Just this week, Sierra Leone saw a major judo demonstration — this time at a 10,000-seat stadium, at what was called the “Ebola Sport Festival,” judo highlighted along with rugby, soccer, volleyball, wrestling and cycling.

The world needs, too, more of what Vizer has always been unafraid of: speaking truth to power. And, with issues of governance increasingly taking center-stage in world sport, sport would be far better served if the reaction to such observations, whether offered critically or not, was less rooted reflexively in recrimination and retribution.

All that does is make for old-style personality politics. With the IOC suddenly stressing accountability, transparency and best-practice governance, there’s no place or time for that.

Enough time has now passed that Vizer’s comments at SportAccord last year in Sochi — which would quickly cost him the presidency of that umbrella sport-federation organization — ought to be given a second look.

For sure, Vizer hardly exercised the diplomacy and politesse that make for common currency in the Olympic sphere; at the same time, he has in large measure been proven right.

The thrust of Vizer’s observations: the IOC lacked transparency and too often ignored the international sport federations, including his plan for new multi-sport competitions. He called the IOC system “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Speaking moments later to the same audience, IOC president Thomas Bach offered a gracious response. Proxies then stepped in to do the heavy lifting, foremost among them Lamine Diack, then the president of the IAAF, the international track and field federation.

Diack became the first boss of an international federation to suspend its SportAccord membership. He called Vizer a “chief coming from nowhere.”

Vizer, in response: “About the decision from Mr. Diack of the athletics, I want to make just one comment and with that I close this subject. I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport, I mean sacrifice in a way of dedication, and in my eyes [Diack is] a person who sacrifices sport for his family."

Last August, at the IOC all-members congress in Kuala Lumpur, Bach took the unusual step of permitting Diack — by then an honorary member — to make an address in response to allegations, spurred by the German broadcaster ARD, that the IAAF had covered up doping tests. Diack called the allegations a “joke.”

Now Diack is under criminal inquiry in France, suspected of accepting more than $1 million in bribes to help Russian athletes evade sanction for tests.

A World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report issued earlier this month further declared that Diack orchestrated a conspiracy to cover up tests, creating “an informal illegitimate governance structure outside the formal governance structure.” The report named, among other, Diack’s lawyer, and two of his sons, Papa Massata Diack and Khalil, also known as Ibrahima.

Meanwhile, the Guardian, the British newspaper, after reviewing May 2008 emails from Papa Massata Diack, when Doha, Qatar, was bidding for the 2016 Summer Games, said the notes suggest that six people referred to by their initials — corresponding to six IOC members — had “parcels” delivered through a “special advisor” in Monaco. Lamine Diack is believed to be that “special advisor,” the paper said.

Speaking Thursday at a news conference before competition got underway at the Havana Grand Prix, the first Olympic-sport event in Cuba since the announcement that relations between Cuba and the United States would be increasingly normalized, Vizer said, “I professed already my opinion last year in Sochi, predicting or not predicting everything that arrived after,” adding a moment later, “I can tell you that the unity, the solidarity of the judo family today is much stronger than all … big systems which sometimes try to contest the inherent values of sport.”

He also said, responding to another question, “The role of sport is to build friendships, peace, education and solidarity. Our sport, judo, has proven on many occasions that these values have no borders, even in moments when countries or regions of the world have contested different values or territories or opinions.”

And, as well: “The human spirit of the athletes is friendship, is peace, is to work together,” adding, “Always we have each other. We try, and we are working, to find solutions [to advance] unity, solidarity, peace and friendship.”

When a judo player comes out to the tatami, he or she bows in respect. Facing his or her opponent, another bow. When a match ends, before a decision is announced, belts are tightened, uniforms straightened. Upon leaving the mat, another bow.

In Friday’s opening-day finals, in the men’s under-66 kilogram weight class (145.5 pounds), France’s Loic Korval and Russia’s Kamal Khan-Magomedov were going at it when the Russian got something in his eye. Korval waited patiently while Khan-Magomedov cleared things up. Then they resumed fighting. Just as the final gong was sounding, Korval executed a throw that would have won the match — but it was ruled to have come after time had expired.

Did he throw a fit? Pout? Rage against the referee or the universe? No. He smiled and bowed, exiting with dignity and grace. Later, all four medalists — gold, silver, two bronze — posed for a winning photo.

After the men's 66-kg final: France, Russia, Italy, Georgia // photo IJF

Another example:

At the 2013 world championships in Rio, in the women’s under-63 kilogram weight class (139 pounds), Israeli Yarden Gerbi took first place. In the final, she defeated France’s Clarisse Agbegnenou in 43 seconds, dislocating Agbegnenou’s shoulder and leaving Agbegnenou momentarily unconscious after a chokehold.

In that moment, Gerbi had just become Israel’s first-ever worlds gold medalist. Did she jump and down, exulting in victory? No. She waited by her friend’s side until Agbegnenou came to, making sure Agbegnenou was as OK as could be. Only then did she get up and walk over to embrace her longtime coach, Shany Hershko.

Here Saturday, Gerbi won gold again, defeating Cuba’s Maricet Espinosa. In all, over the three days, Israeli fighters won two golds and a silver, perhaps signaling what is also to come in Rio.

“I have been waiting for this feeling of winning gold ... and this is too long for me,” Gerbi said afterward. “I’m not at my best right now but it’s important to win even when you are not at your best. Every time I think of the Olympics, I have the butterflies and this is my dream.”

Israeli gold medalists Yarden Gerbi, left, and Linda Bolder, right, with coach Shany Hershko // photo Israeli Judo Federation

Judo holds enormous potential. At the professional level in the United States, for instance, it barely gets newspaper space or even a mention on television highlight shows. Teddy Riner of France, the 290-pound force who is an eight-time world champion and 2012 London Games gold medalist, perhaps judo’s biggest star, has never competed in North America.

In some ways, the sport, even at a major stop like Havana on a world tour, seems remarkably curious. It’s unclear how many souls in Cuba could have afforded to buy IJF merchandise — but, no matter. There was none for sale in or around the arena at the creaking Ciudad de la Deportiva complex.

The scene for the Havana Grand Prix // photo IJF

And outside // photo IJF

Left, Vizer with Cuban Judo Federation president Rafael Manso Reyes, right with Ronaldo Veitia, the fabled former Cuban national team coach,

That said, on the theory that numbers don’t lie, clearly the sport is doing a lot of things right, and in a lot of places. Here are figures from the 2015 world championships in Astana, Kazakhstan:

Television viewership of 193 million viewers, up 72 percent from 110 million at the 2014 championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

On Facebook, during the week-long 2015 championships: 28 million impressions and 4.8 million engagements (meaning likes, shares or comments). Twitter: almost 1 million active users.

As is now usual, the Havana event was live-streamed on

Judo can be found pretty much everywhere in the world: 195 national federations.

To that end, IJF events — and, as well, judo’s constructive influence — also travel the globe.

In September, working in accord with the IOC’s Solidarity development program, Hanato Saki, a Japanese judo expert, wrapped up a five-month coaching stint in Laos, by any measure one of the world’s poorest nations, where the means for sport are typically not readily available. At the Southeast Asian Games last year in Singapore, the Laotian judo team won a silver and two bronze medals.

A few weeks ago, the IJF won an award from a major Dubai-based organization for efforts to bring the sport to hundreds of children in the refugee camp at Kilis, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Some 17,000 refugees are there, 10,000 age 15 and under.

In accepting the award, Vizer said that bringing judo to the camp had brought refugee children a “small island of happiness,” adding, “We need to invest in our children. Sport can change the world and judo can teach young refugees honesty and fearlessness.”

The IOC, at its policy-making executive board meeting in December, said it had identified three refugees — a female Syrian swimmer training in Germany, a female Iranian taekwondo athlete training in Belgium and a male judoka from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Brazil — who might be competitive enough to qualify for the Rio Games.

Twice last year, Vizer worked to ensure that Israeli athletes could compete at events in Arab nations — in May in Morocco, and then in late October in Abu Dhabi.

In Morocco, the crowd heavily booed the Israelis — and this after they’d had to wait in a room at the airport for eight hours before Vizer said the entire event was off unless the Israelis were in. In Abu Dhabi, the Israelis competed under not under their own flag but via IJF colors — in the same way that a Kosovo fighter, Nora Gjakova, competed here in Havana.

The Israeli team waiting for hours after arrival at the Morocco airport // photo Israel Judo

Were the two situations perfect? No.

Did the Israelis compete, however? And in this way, did the two events mark a step forward? For sure.

In an IJF statement issued at the close of the Abu Dhabi stop with the head of the Israeli Judo Federation, Moshe Ponti, the two said, “Our sport needs heroes. We don’t need martyrs. The Israeli judokas are heroes, as is anyone else who was involved to make their participation in the grand slam possible.”

In an interview here, Ponti said, “I said this the first time: maybe next time we fight with our flag and our anthem.” At the same time, he added of the crowd in Abu Dhabi, “Maybe everyone knew you were from Israel.”

It is in that spirit that judo came for the three-day Havana event — following up a 2014 stop here but, of course, the political scene with the Americans on a different path.

Amid rumors of a Havana visit by President Obama, perhaps as soon as March, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, came to watch some judo and said, “Cuba has been very active in international sports. I’m happy to be here watching our athletes perform,” adding, “Sports diplomacy is always very important, part of the people-to-people activities.”

Rodriguez of USA Judo said, “Sometimes things work out with perfect timing. Here we have the ambassador attending a judo competition. We were talking many years ago about ping-pong diplomacy. Now we are talking judo diplomacy.”

Antonio Castro, one of Fidel’s sons — Antonio Castro has been active in the campaign to get baseball back in the Summer Games — was also on hand, and said at an IJF gala later here, “Thank you for giving the chance to Cuba to organize a grand prix. Judo teaches values. It teaches how to win but also how to lose, and it gives the opportunity to athletes to share their experience.”

For his part, at that same gala, Vizer said, “There are some things in life we cannot achieve by money or power. This is the spirit,” of judo and of sport itself.

The IOC president as Action Man


SOCHI, Russia — There are apples. And there are oranges. The International Olympic Committee this week put out a news release, amid the provocation launched by SportAccord president Marius Vizer, that all but begs any and all to make the comparison. IOC president Thomas Bach, the release noted, enjoyed “another full week” that included meetings around the world with world leaders and dignitaries — and kids! — “championing the importance of sport in society and its ability to spread peace.”

Draw your own conclusions, the IOC seemed to be suggesting as it (finally) ramped up its communication machinery, the release including a video and eight — count them — photos of the president in action.

After just over a year and half as president, this — Bach as Action Man — has come to be his meme.

This hardly — ask Vizer, among others — makes Bach perfect.

At the same time, it makes for a marked contrast to Bach’s predecessor, Jacques Rogge, who assuredly preferred a different pace and style, particularly in the countdown of his 12 years in office.

The dignitary count for the one week on Bach's agenda, according to the IOC release, included United Nations secretary-generals (one), presidents (four), prime ministers (two), ministers (various) and more.

The eight pictures included one of Bach with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

IOC president Thomas Bach meets in Sochi with Russian president Vladimir Putin

Vizer and Putin have long enjoyed a close relationship. Then again, the very first telephone call Bach received after being elected IOC president, and within just minutes -- from Putin. Here in a country where Kremlinology was once -- and is maybe again -- something of a science, the symbology could hardly have gone unnoticed for close watchers of the Olympic scene.

Also this, from the release: “The President held a number of discussions with the Russian Minister for Sport, Tourism and Youth, Vitaly Mutko, about the legacy of the Sochi Games and the development of sport in Russia. He also held talks with President Putin’s key advisor, Igor Levitin.”

This mention, too, that Bach was accompanied by IOC members Vitaly Smirnov and Alexander Zhukov — Smirnov the IOC doyen, that is, its senior member, and Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic committee, a deputy prime minister and, left unsaid, chairman of the 2022 evaluation commission.

Later, this, from Bach’s meeting with Putin: “The Russian President emphasized that the Russian authorities continue to work closely with the IOC, and he praised the ‘excellent relations’ with the IOC as ‘leader of the Olympic Movement.’ “

How about them apples?

From Day One, Bach has set out to reshape the IOC presidency, operating in a style evocative of Rogge’s predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Samaranch served as president from 1980 until 2001, Rogge from 2001 until September 2013.

One key difference between Bach and Samaranch, perhaps: Samaranch preferred a big-tent approach in which someone like Vizer would have been brought in closer to IOC circles, maybe even made an IOC member. Vizer noted in his address Monday that he had repeatedly sought dialogue with the IOC but gotten no response.

The next chapter in the relationship between Vizer and Bach, of course, is yet to be written. And Vizer declared Thursday, “I don’t give up.”

Rogge was often more into process. Bach gets and respects process. But what he wants is getting stuff done — as he said in his remarks here Monday, in response to the provocative “Welcome Address,” as the IOC release put it, delivered by Vizer that opened the SportAccord convention.

“Let me summarize,” Bach said in closing his response. “Our doors are open to each and every one of you. We are making this offer of cooperation and support to each and every one of you. I thank you for having taken it already in the last one year and a half and having contributed to this effort of open dialogue and concerted action within the sport movement.

“And when making this offer, and when taking this offer, we should always consider that sport at the end is about results. It’s in the competition but it’s also in the work we are doing. This is not about plans and projects in sports. It’s about results and actions. And when taking these actions we have to be efficient …”

Bach speaking Monday at the SportAccord convention // screenshot courtesy IOC video

In an interview here, Bach paid tribute to Rogge even as he made clear that the challenges the two men face are at the same time similar yet very different.

“We’re different types. And it’s a different style. He had his way to approach issues. I have my way. He had his challenges. I have my challenges. It’s different times.

“He had his mandate … my task is to consolidate the success left by Samaranch and then at the same time to address the issues of good governance and anti-doping. This [Rogge] did in an outstanding way. Now the world is different.

“As I said in Monaco,” at the session last December at which the full IOC approved the 40-point Agenda 2020 reform plan that Bach championed, “now today the people are asking more and other questions than five years ago.”

For those interested in another comparison, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation package in the 12-month period that ended March 31, 2013, totaled $44.2 million.

Bach is technically a volunteer who earns no salary.

That said, the IOC, as part of the Agenda 2020 view toward enhanced transparency, recently announced it would provide an annual 225,000 euro — about $242,000 — “indemnity” to reimburse Bach for his 365-day-per-year IOC mission.

“It is not a salary,” he made clear, adding a moment later that the IOC ethics commission “fixed the amount” and, “I accept it. There was no discussion or whatever about this.”

The IOC also covers Bach's living expenses in Lausanne, Switzerland, which in Rogge’s last years ran to about $700,000.

By these standards Bach is an outrageous bargain.

The IOC presidency is a 24/7/365 job. The travel, stress and criticism — all of which Bach knew going in, so for sure no pity party — can be relentless.

The challenge is elemental: to try to make a difference in a world in which a lot of people wonder what the IOC, and the Olympic movement, are all about.

It’s clear, for instance, that in the most-successful recent editions of the Games — among them, London 2012, Vancouver 2010, Sydney 2000 — there ran through those cities, indeed those countries, an intangible but for-sure there feeling. Maybe, at the risk of being geeky, that’s the Olympic spirit.

In those places, there was something of a real commitment, beyond just words, to the Olympic values — often defined as respect, excellence and friendship — and beyond just the 17 days of a Games.

This is not to diminish other recent Games hosts. Or to question the wisdom of taking the Games to places such as China, Russia, Brazil and elsewhere. Hardly. The movement is, after all, worldwide.

The issue is how to integrate the Olympic values both locally and globally in a way that ties in with a particular edition of the Games — and even before, in the bid process.

It’s a question that is both simple and incredibly complex.

“With the Games,” Bach said, “you’re not bringing the values only to the host countries. You show the values to the world. It is the message coming from the Olympic village and from the ideals of the Games. They do not stop at the boundaries of the host country. They go to the world. This is the strong message.

“Therefore the host country is important, is the focus. But our message is not only addressed to the host country.”

He added:

“I think the overarching challenge” of the movement, often spotlighted on the IOC presidency, ”is to define the values for today’s world.

“I can give you an example. You spoke about the fight against doping or match-fixing. This for me is not the value. The value is the protection of the clean athlete. This is I think the definition for today in this respect.

“Then we also see that we have been speaking about other values and the definition for today — we needed to have another definition of non-discrimination. It was needed 10 years ago. This is what the Olympic Agenda [2020] is also about.

“When changing the fundamental principles of the charter — the fundamental principles mean something … they are not foreseen by change every year. This is the overarching challenge and then it comes to your question to disseminate it, and to promote it.”

Back to Bach’s closing remarks at the opening of SportAccord. There he said:

“… What we all need for our sports, if we want to promote our values, if we want to be a respected part of society, if we want to grow our sport, if we want to attract young people, if we want to show to the world that sport has values and can do something for society, if we want to do all this, if we want then there to achieve our mission of organizing sport and to put at the same time sport at the service of society, then what we need all together is credibility.

“And this credibility we can only achieve if we have some unity in all our diversity,” he said, turning once more to his familiar slogan from his 2013 campaign for the IOC presidency.

“And in this respect and in this sense I invite you all to bring your diverse opinions to the table, to bring your diverse projects, your diverse goals to the table. But then be united in our concerted and common effort for the growth of sport and a better society for sport.”

Marius Vizer: "I don't give up"


SOCHI, Russia — If you thought Marius Vizer, the president of SportAccord, was going to go gently into the Russian good night as the convention wound down here Thursday, you might also believe that Vladimir Putin paid for the 2014 Winter Games with $24 worth of, like, beads and matryoshka, those Russian stacking dolls. “I don’t give up,” Vizer said after an incredible news conference Thursday in which he asserted repeatedly that the attack he launched Monday on the International Olympic Committee system, with IOC president Thomas Bach right up front, was assuredly designed to be “constructive.”

Vizer is like rock legend Tom Petty. He does not back down.

SportAccord president Marius Vizer moments after Thursday's news conference

On Thursday, asked about his motto, Vizer said, “My life for sport,” adding, “But I have seen in here this week a lot of people and a lot of decisions of people which the sport is for their life,” leaving no doubt in his mind that for them sport is a vehicle to buffet lines, big cars and other perks with little or no consideration for athletes.

He said, “I wish to work and collaborate with everybody in harmony when somebody tells the truth and is the voice of sport. But when somebody brings his voice it does not mean it is war or [an] earthquake. It is just an opinion, an expression of sport life, activity, experience …

“Of course, some of us, most of us, agree with reality. But there are not many which have the courage [to speak out].”

The speech Monday triggered a contentious week of sports politics.

The end game is far from clear.

In something of an ironic twist, meanwhile, the IOC won for "governance and transparency" from the SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Federation Awards, it was announced Thursday by SportBusiness Intelligence at SportAccord. Judging was conducted an independent panel.

In Monday’s speech, Vizer described the IOC system as “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.” In more than 100 countries, he asserted, sport is “in misery,” with athletes “lacking the necessary basic elements — food, medication, equipment, preparation, facilities and possibility to participate to competitions.”

Almost straight thereafter, in a point that almost everyone has missed throughout the entire week of controversy that has followed, Vizer was re-elected SportAccord president for a full four-year term. SportAccord represents more than 100 Olympic and non-Olympic federations.

It wasn’t until later that day — after he had been re-elected, and intriguingly while the IOC leadership was still in town — that a letter signed by more than a dozen of the heavyweights of the Olympic sphere began circulating expressing their “disagreement” with Vizer’s remarks and their “strong support” for the IOC, for Bach and Bach’s Agenda 2020 reform plan.

On Tuesday, in an interview broadcast on SportAccord’s TV network partner, Euronews, Vizer said of the Olympic establishment, “We don’t need cardinals of sport. We don’t need popes.”

The 28-member Assn. of Summer Olympic international Federations, minus judo, of which Vizer is the president, voted Wednesday to suspend relations with SportAccord pending review.

Later in the day, ASOIF reviewed a formula under which the 28 entities would split up $550 million in revenues from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

The track and field and shooting federations, meanwhile, pulled straight out of SportAccord.

Lamine Diack, the longtime president of the IAAF, the international track and field federation, told Associated Press Tuesday that Vizer evoked “a chief or dictator coming from nowhere.”

On Thursday, Vizer, asked about Diack, said, “I want to make just one comment on this subject. I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for the sport,” adding, “In my eyes, he’s a person who sacrifices the sport for his family. No other comment.”

The reference was apparently to Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack, who left his role as an IAAF marketing consultant in December pending an investigation into ethics allegations.

The winter Olympic sports association, which goes by the acronym AIOWF, called this week for “constructive dialogue.” A group called ARISF, which represents 35 non-Olympic sports, did the same -- “constructive dialogue.”

In private, there was considerable talk that Vizer’s comments might just merit some constructive dialogue.

In public, of course, there was consistent talk from the Summer Games sports federations that what Vizer had said was too much — way too much — for the diplomacy-heavy Olympic sphere.

Who, after all, invites a guest to their house — as Bach was such a guest at the SportAccord convention — and then scolds him so?

Vizer said he had repeatedly sent Bach letters asking for discussion but had been consistently been rebuffed. The IOC executive board opted not to come to SportAccord, meanwhile, which it had every year since 2003; the IOC told the two candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games not to make presentations at SportAccord, even though bid-city presentations have been a SportAccord tradition.

Who, Vizer suggested, was snubbing who?

The IOC president, to his enormous credit, handled Vizer’s speech Monday with great grace, calling it when it was his turn at the lectern a “friendly welcome.”

Bach also drew an unmistakeable bright line:

“And when you say that the IOC and SportAccord have to cooperate in order to have a new model for the Olympic Games, for the organization and for the generation and distribution of the money, then I have to say very clearly, ‘No.’ “

Bach also said, “We have to avoid working in a parallel way that if somebody starts something and the next one is coming and saying, ‘Oh, I could do something in this respect.’ In this way, we are wasting time, we are wasting human resources, we are losing efficiency and in the end, and this is the worst of all, we are losing credibility.

‘And what we need for for our sports, if we want to promote our values, if we want to be a respected part of society, if we want to grow our sport, if we want to attract our young people, if we want to show to the world that sport has values and can do something for society, if we want to do all this, if we want then there to achieve our mission of organizing sport and to put at the same time sport at the service of society, then what we need altogether is credibility.

“And this credibility we can only achieve if we have some unity in all our diversity.”

At the ASOIF assembly Wednesday, the organization’s chief, International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti, had said that it was essential first to agree — only then could there be unity.

On Thursday, Vizer said, "I don’t think I have to restore something. The world of sport has to restore something, not me,” emphasizing that SportAccord would remain “the house and the partner of the international federations — those which want to stay, understand our vision, our activities, our hopes, they are welcome.

“We don’t oblige people, we don’t oblige organizations, we are open, we are welcome.”

It could be little surprise that the Summer Games federations rallied around the IOC and Bach.

“In the Summer Olympics, if there are 28 international federations from which more or less four or five are not dependent from the IOC, from the Olympic dividends, they could express their voice. That’s one thing,” Vizer said.

“But don’t forget that 24 or 25, I can not tell you exactly, international federations, Olympic Summer federations, depend totally on the IOC and IOC dividends. The area how to manipulate these federations I don’t have to explain to you.

“Everybody has to understand that sport can not exist only every four years. Sport has to exist daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Sport — it’s a chance for millions, for hundreds of millions, of people. Sport — it’s a chance for discipline, for integration into society, for a better life.

“Don’t,” he said, offering up one final hit at the IOC as the news conference closed, ”take that for millions of people — this hope, this chance — for ego, for ambition. For billions that stay in the bank. And millions of athletes are suffering. For ego, power and control of the world of sport.

“Nobody has this right, ever.”


Game of Thrones, Olympic style


SOCHI, Russia — Lost for almost everyone in the provocative speech that SportAccord president Marius Vizer delivered here earlier this week was a Latin phrase at the very end, one that — now that the Assn. of Summer Olympic International Federations predictably rallied on Wednesday around the International Olympic Committee — sums up the contentious state of world sport politics. Fine primo tempo, Vizer said in closing his remarks Monday: “the end of the first season,” or, better, the end of the first chapter. If this were television drama, the second, or even the third, will surely make for even better stuff.

This was Vizer Wednesday morning, before the ASOIF meeting got underway: “I am ready to fight until the end. I have nothing to lose.”

SportAccord president Marius Vizer in the halls of the convention

The American television show “Game of Thrones,” which has resumed its on-air run, has nothing on what is going down this week in Sochi — and what promises to be forthcoming. Because Vizer believes in both words and, better, action. So, too, IOC president Thomas Bach.

What we have here are two strong personalities. Both are very, very smart and, as well, exceptionally strong-willed.

Bach’s background, remember, is in fencing.

Vizer is in judo. Moves and counter-moves.

The Putin factor

The first person to call Bach moments after he was elected IOC president in September, 2013, in Buenos Aires? Vladimir Putin. What country is now a strong supporter of SportAccord? Russia. Moreover, who came here at the start of SportAccord and exchanged toasts with Vizer? Putin.

The IOC put out a news release here from Sochi noting that Bach and Putin on Monday held an hour-long meeting celebrating the "legacy" of the 2014 Sochi Games.

IOC president Thomas Bach, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday // photo IOC

For those skeptics who would focus only on the $51 billion figures associated with Sochi 2014, the IOC noted, apparently via Putin:

"This winter the local authorities say that all the hotels in the mountain cluster were fully booked from the beginning of November until mid-January. Traffic-calming measures even had to be put in place to cope with the numbers. Summer bookings for the hotels in the coastal cluster are said to be equally as successful."

The IOC release also said that Putin praised the “excellent relations” with the IOC president as “leader of the Olympic Movement.”

Back to you, Mr. Vizer, and this photo from SportAccord:

Vladimir Putin addressing the SportAccord general assembly

And, for good measure, these words from a SportAccord release:

"Congratulating Marius L. Vizer upon his re-election as SportAccord President, Mr. Putin said, 'Russia has worked very well with SportAccord and we are happy that the election has taken place in our sports capital. Sochi has given us the platform to organize big events and exhibitions. I hope that you will have a chance to enjoy all that is on offer.' "

And that's not all:

“Let me emphasize," Putin said, "that the support of SportAccord and IOC means a lot to us. We will continue to work together and promote peace and sport. I am convinced that the sports movement should be united and not divided by contradictions.”

ASOIF meeting

ASOIF represents the 28 sports on the Summer Games program. This is where things stood after Wednesday's meeting, and going forward:

Vizer is also president of the International Judo Federation. In front of all of his Olympic sport colleagues, he offered an apology for the speech Monday in which he, among other things, described the IOC system as “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Vizer said Wednesday, “I regret to create inconvenience … regarding to my way and moment to choose this opportunity. But regarding the content, I expressed my voice and that is my opinion. For the rest, I am sorry. But I think everybody in the world of sport is free to express the opinion, to have vision, to have attitude. That is the world of sport.”

The ASOIF assembly on Wednesday, by a show of hands, ratified the statement adopted Tuesday by its council — suspending relations with SportAccord pending further review.

Twenty-seven of the 28 summer sports signed the petition. ASOIF chief Franceso Ricci Bitti, who is president of the International Tennis Federation, said it was super-easy to imagine which was the hold-out. Moves and counter-moves.

Despite the suspension, Ricci Bitti said, the door was still open for reconciliation.

This poses the question:


IOC system: how the millions go to sports

Putting a different spin than the one offered by Vizer on the IOC: it is for sure a traditional, indeed conservative, system. It works best when the president is firmly in control — a lesson the former president, Jacques Rogge, learned to his dismay after an exercise in “democracy” at the session in Mexico City in 2002.

That 2002 session was a watershed for Rogge — it marked the end of his honeymoon. He had been elected in Moscow the year before.

Perhaps this Sochi SportAccord convention will, in time, come to be seen as the end of Bach’s honeymoon as well.

It was altogether predictable that the summer sports would rally, and fiercely, around Bach and the IOC. They live in — if you will — a closed system, many hugely dependent on the IOC for financial and creative survival.

These distributions largely tell the story:

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the summer sports got $296 million to split up; after London 2012, $515 million, thanks to enhanced broadcast revenues; projected revenues to Rio 2016 are $550 million.

Track and field got $29 million in 2008; $45.2 million in 2012; and is projected to get $40 million in 2016. (The IAAF, incidentally, is working, and hard, for that $5 million back.)

It was the IAAF that bolted SportAccord first, with its president, Lamine Diack, on Tuesday declaring, “What was said by Mr. Vizer was unacceptable.”

IAAF president Lamine Diack meets children before Nestle Kids track and field  demonstration event in Sochi // photo IAAF and Getty Images

Swimming got $14.3 million in 2008; $25 million in 2012; and is due to get $32 million in 2016.

FINA president Julio Cesar Maglione on Tuesday, to Associated Press: “The international federations are independent and they make their own job.”

Track and field and swimming (along with gymnastics) are what are called group A federations.

Even smaller federations can hardly say no to the IOC. Basketball is in B; it got $14.3 million in 2008, $25 million in 2012 and stands to get $25 million in 2016. Rowing is in C; it got $9.6 million in 2008, $17.7 million in 2012 and is due for the same, $17.7 million in 2016. Table tennis is in D; it got $8 million in 2008, $15.3 million in 2012 and stands to take in $17.3 million in 2016.

Ricci Bitti could hardly have been more clear in explaining, ostensibly for the benefit of all involved but really for Vizer, there in the audience, how things work.

“We believe the IOC is not a perfect organization but we can try to improve from the inside,” he said, and he hardly needed to add that for those in the bubble it has never been so financially secure.

And, a few moments later, specifically regarding “our relation with the IOC”:

“Our vision, the vision of the majority … is we can change if possible from inside our world in which we work, which we spend, because [we are] a major stakeholder of the IOC. ASOIF is a major stakeholder of the IOC, together with the [national Olympic committees]. We believe the IOC is a cornerstone machine with very important tools in the world of sport.

“It is a waste of time to make a war, in our opinion, from outside or to try to destabilize the system as your position unfortunately as expressed on Monday.”

A matter of perspectives?

Here is the thing about making "a war," though.

One man’s terrorist is, as the saying goes, another man’s freedom fighter.

There were many in the audience — and, indeed, around the world — who know in their hearts that there was more than just a little truth in what Vizer had to say Monday. As with many things, is it a matter less of what he said than when and how he said it?

“He has a lot of sympathy from a lot of people,” said the president of one Summer Games sport, referring to Vizer, asking not to be identified.

“This was not the right occasion,” the president of another Summer Games sport said, also asking to remain anonymous. “On the right occasion, Thomas will listen.”

There are 28 Summer Games sports and seven Winter. There are more than 100 international sports federations in SportAccord. What about the others not on the Olympic program? What about their financial considerations? Late Wednesday, ARISF, a group that represents 35 non-Olympic sports -- everything from baseball/softball to sport climbing to cricket -- issued a statement calling for "continued constructive dialogue between the IOC and SportAccord."

The fact that there was a break in high-level Olympic politics made news — fodder for sports-talk shows and the like — back home in the States. This is noteworthy. An Olympic story making general-news headlines in an off-year? For all the wrong reasons? Now the altogether foreseeable reaction of the federations rallying around Bach is for sure going to feed into the perception, right or wrong, that the federations (read: IOC members for those who make no distinction) are limousine-riding fat cats who care only perpetuating their own secretive, overblown caste.

You don’t think the opponents of the Boston 2024 campaign are going to seize on this sort of thing as evidence of how the IOC protects its own? Don’t be naive.

In his remarks Monday, Vizer said that in more than 100 countries, sport is “in misery,” with athletes “lacking the necessary basic elements — food, medication, equipment, preparation facilities and possibility to participate to competitions.”

This is, undeniably, true, everywhere in our world, from Laos — where this space has seen a would-be marathon runner running on shoes four years old — to the United States, where the struggle can prove ongoing to find a sponsor to fund the Olympic dream.

Financially speaking, the IOC is essentially a pass-through. For every dollar it takes in, roughly 90 cents go back out. Even so, it is nonetheless incredibly difficult to explain to ordinary folks how an organization that took in — according to tax filings — $5.37 billion for the years 2009-12 can not afford to find enough money to pay for a pair of decent running shoes.

Sometimes it takes someone to speak out to effect change.

Whether or not Vizer — and SportAccord — are appropriate vehicles for such change are, of course, matters for legitimate debate.

In the meantime, sometimes the IOC responds to calls for change. In March, it announced proposed tweaks to Rules 50 and 40, which would relax advertising rules during the Games — a victory for U.S. athletes who were campaigning for such reform.

It was in that same announcement that Bach disclosed the IOC executive board, which for a dozen years has held its spring meeting in line with SportAccord, would not be making the trip this year to Sochi.

Vizer said Wednesday he wrote a long letter to Bach last July. He got nowhere.

So now we are somewhere.

Where depends on your point of view.

The literalist would say, Sochi. Two more days of SportAccord 2015. What could possibly come next?!

The therapist would ask, have we made progress? “We have a conflict between all sport family,” ASOIF vice president Hassan Moustafa, the International Handball Federation chief, said Wednesday from the dais. “How we can solve this problem? We have to sit and we have to discuss.”

The script writer would say, and back to Latin of course: primo enim in capite duo — at the start of chapter two.

The start of an Olympic cold war?


SOCHI, Russia — There is a familiar saying in Olympic circles about SportAccord. It goes like this: SportAccord is the umbrella organization for the international sports federations. Now the key question: is it raining?

The query took on immediate and profound urgency Monday after Marius Vizer, the SportAccord president, launched a public attack on the International Olympic Committee the likes of which has not been seen within the so-called “Olympic family” in recent memory.

SportAccord president Marius Vizer at the lectern // photo courtesy SportAccord

With IOC president Thomas Bach listening, Vizer said the “IOC system is expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent,” adding, “The Olympic Games belong to all of us and we need real reforms.”

Bach thereafter took to the lectern and delivered a wry smile that thanked Vizer for his “friendly” welcome. Referring to the 40-point reform plan dubbed Agenda 2020 that the full IOC membership passed last December in Monaco — after an extensive review that from around the world drew thousands of comments and suggestions — Bach said, “Nobody who wanted to listen, nobody who wanted to hear, nobody who wanted to understand, nobody who wanted to have some sort of goodwill … could miss the decisions we were taking.”

This was all Monday morning. In the afternoon session, Lamine Diack, the president of the influential international track and field federation, announced that the IAAF was withdrawing from SportAccord, absolutely a “protest” against Vizer’s position, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies confirmed afterward. The international shooting federation, another Olympic entity, quickly followed suit.

By mid-afternoon, those two were among 16 international sports federations that had signed a letter expressing “disagreement” with Vizer’s remarks and expressing “strong support” for Bach and for Agenda 2020. Some or all of the others, it was said, needed board review to contemplate further action.

The letter that circulated Thursday among sport federations after Vizer's remarks

Vizer, who was re-elected here Monday to a full four-year term atop SportAccord, said at a news conference, “Everybody is free to withdraw, to do whatever they want. There are two ways in sport — to follow the fairness, the transparency, the unity, the criteria and the principles. Or to choose another home.”

Back in the former USSR, was Monday the start of a cold war in Olympic sport?

Did it herald a split between the federations — those within the Olympic program and those on the outside?

Was it the beginning of the end for SportAccord? Or a distinct new beginning for the organization, which has branded itself as “the world sport & business summit 2015,” with perhaps the only leader in world sport who would dare to speak truth to the ultimate Olympic power?

Who else but Vizer, after all, would say this, as he did:

“In over 100 countries of the world, sport is in misery. Athletes are lacking the necessary basic elements — food, medication, equipment, preparation facilities and possibility to participate to competitions. One of the great questions of sport today is how much should we continue to invest in buildings and infrastructure and how much in people?!

“Furthermore: why invest hundreds of millions of dollars in opening and closing ceremonies, while millions of athletes live in hunger and they don’t stand a chance in sport due to the lack of proper conditions? If indeed the ‘IOC distributes 3.25 million dollars a day, every day of the year, for the development of sport worldwide,’ why do millions of athletes suffer and cannot enjoy or reach performances in sport?

“Together, SportAccord and [the] IOC must find a solution to compensate national federations and athletes [for] their events. Today, the money invested in sport never reaches the athletes and their families. Sport Accord and the international federations are already providing prize money to their athletes in competition, in an effort to compensate for this.”

Vizer, who is also president of the judo federation and who has throughout his career maintained — for anyone who truly would listen — an athlete-first priority, also said that Agenda 2020 “hardly brings any real benefit to sport, to [the international federations] or athletes.”

And he asserted that the key piece of Agenda 2020, the launch of an Olympic television channel, was approved without so much as a business plan.

“Any business project in the world needs a business plan, investors, professional partners, break-even points, strategy, consultation with stakeholders — international federations and to generate a benefit for all stakeholders,” adding, “Only after the decision appears that a plan is in process.”

In the protocol-heavy, diplomacy-filled, nuanced world of the Olympic movement, was such straight talk appropriate? Welcome? Or tantamount to sacrilege?

Immediately after Vizer and Bach made their remarks, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad Al-Sabah — the hugely influential head of the 205-member Assn. of National Olympic Committees — joined Bach in the hallway outside the ballroom to extend support. So did other leading Olympic figures.

IOC president Thomas Bach and ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah moments after leaving the SportAccord meeting

The sheikh and ANOC would later issue a statement in which the organization sought to “stress its full commitment to Olympic Agenda 2020 and its implementation,” adding, “Under Under President Bach’s leadership we look forward to moving towards a more united and brighter future.”

Was the issue Monday not just what Vizer said but that he had not fully consulted his constituents before he spoke? Had he briefed them? Did they have ample warning what was coming?

One insider, asking not to be identified, said, “The headline is: this is the beginning of the end,” meaning for Vizer.

Another: “In a family, if you have a conflict, you don’t go out and express it in front of everybody.”

A third: “it’s a humiliation for the IOC president. He,” meaning Vizer, “certainly went too far. If you have a different opinion, find a private occasion to discuss it. Now we have to wait and see the consequences.”

These sorts of remarks raise perhaps the ultimate question. If you challenge the IOC president, who in the Olympic sphere is likely to win that fight?

Which brings up another question: is the Romanian-born Marius Vizer — and if you know his life story, how he escaped Communism — afraid of any challenge?

Vizer, in an interview, said of his his remarks, “I work for the sport voluntarily, free of charge, all my life, and somebody who is paid, working in the sport and for the sport, [has] to reply to me, no?”

The IOC recently announced that Bach will receive an annual 225,000 euro ($242,000) annual “indemnity policy” covering reimbursements.

“And,” Vizer said, “to reality, to my proposals and my questions.”

These include various multi-sport proposals such as beach, mind, combat and other games. A world championships that would include all 90-plus federations — a plank on which Vizer ran for SportAccord president two years ago — is one of those ideas that now, many agree, perhaps seems better suited to theory than the real world.

“Mr. President,” Vizer said, “please stop blocking the SportAccord strategy in its mission to identify and organize conventions and multi-sport games.”

It has been an IOC tradition in recent years to hold its executive board meetings in the spring at SportAccord. Not this year — the IOC saying it was a way to save money. Bach showed up in Sochi. But it was abundantly clear that the absence of the executive board was a play aimed at minimizing the import of the event, and by implication Vizer.

For that matter, in the appropriate years, SportAccord has also served as a site for IOC bid city presentations. This is a bid year, for the 2022 Winter Games. But, again, there are no bid-city presentations here. Same deal — no bid-city presentations mean, in theory, a lesser event.

For his part, Bach said from the lectern, the TV channel is “open to everybody,” a “worldwide presence” designed to grow sport and “promote the values we all share.”

The IOC has, he said, distributed more than $400 million over four years to “the national level,” emphasizing, “There in the end they and their athletes, they are benefitting.”

He also said, “We should always consider that sport at the end is about results. It’s in the sport competition but it’s also in the work we are doing.

“This is not about plans and projects. It’s about results and actions. When taking these actions, we have to be efficient. We have to avoid that we are working in a parallel way. If somebody starts something, we also start something in this respect. In this way we are wasting time, we are wasting human resources, we are losing efficiency and, in the end, and this is worst of all, we are losing credibility.

“What we all need for sport, if we want to promote our values, if we want to be a respected part of society, if we want to grow our sport, if we want to attract young people … if we want to do all this, if we want then to achieve our mission of organizing sport and at the same time put sport into the service of society, then what we need altogether is credibility. This credibility we can only achieve if we have unity in our diversity.”

He said, “I invite you to bring your diversity to the table … but then bring unity in our concerted effort,” adding to applause, “Thank you very much.”

There was one last little twist on the entire day’s events.

At the end of his news conference, Vizer had this to offer, unprompted: “Be happy.”

Sochi and security

If bombs went off in San Francisco, would that stop you from making a trip to Los Angeles? The Bay Area is roughly 400 miles — 640 or so kilometers — from LA.

Volgograd, where a suicide attack Sunday rocked the train station and another Monday destroyed a trolley bus, is roughly 400 miles northeast of Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Games, which begin in 36 days.

Experts have suggested the attacks might signal the onset of a wave of terror attacks directed by Russia’s most-wanted militant, Doku Umarov. Last July, he vowed to disrupt the Olympics. He called the Games “satanic.”

“Dear friends,” the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said in televised remarks amid visits to the Russian Far East and then Wednesday to Volgograd itself, where the death toll in the two attacks has reached 34, “we bow our heads to the victims of violent terrorist attacks.

“I am sure we will continue to fight against terrorists harshly and consistently until their complete destruction.”

What the Volgograd attacks have done already is add another layer of complexity to what may be —this is no hyperbole — the most complicated project in the history of the modern Olympic movement.

Thirty-four years ago, the Olympic Games were held in Moscow. The United States, and several other countries in the west, boycotted, under intense pressure from Jimmy Carter’s White House.

Now, of course, we are within weeks of the first-ever Winter Games in Sochi, in the country that was the main part of the Soviet Union, that is now Russia.

The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, is new to the job, elected in September. That said, he has in his first few months on the job shown formidable energy and capacity, and he and Putin also appear to have a remarkable relationship; Putin tracked Bach down within minutes of Bach’s election at the IOC meeting in Buenos Aires, on a cellphone, to wish Bach good luck.

Putin has been involved from the outset in oversight of these 2014 Games. They will have cost a reported $51 billion, the most-ever, at least $10 million more than the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

These Games have always marked a vehicle to assert Russia’s standing in our world — and, perhaps even more important, within Russia and to Russians, as the nation finds its way in these first decades after communism.

The 2014 Games have been enveloped for months in political controversy.

How much of that, one wonders, is left over from the old Cold War days, when the Soviets were “them” and the west was “us”?

How much, as the controversy over the Russian law purporting to ban gay “propaganda” aimed at minors has underscored, is because some Russian cultural values may be more conservative than in some quarters in the west, and yet many activists in the west believe Russians must be just like our most progressive precincts?

How much from the simple fact the Russians use a different alphabet?

Russia can be different.

Different, however, doesn’t mean worse. Or, for that matter, better. It just means different.

And that is entire purpose of the Games, indeed of the Olympic movement.

We are all, each of us, different.

The point is to celebrate our humanity. You can’t do that at separate world championships. You can’t do it unless you all come together in one place, at one time.

The reality is that security at the Sochi 2014 Games is going to be highly visible and, probably, heavy-handed. The feeling of being there is probably going to be akin to being in an armed camp, and the Volgograd attacks will probably ratchet things up a degree or two more.

It’s going to be something like being in Salt Lake City at the 2002 Games, five months after the 9/11 attacks.

The difference for most visitors to Sochi is that the language and cultural barriers are bound to be ferocious. And there’s yet another layer to the security system for many in Sochi, a pass system to get in and get out of whatever it is they’re going to see. In all, the scene is likely to be tense, perhaps even intense.

Is it going to be safe? Life holds no guarantees. The probable reason the bombs are going off 400 miles away is because Volgograd is the sort of “soft” transport center a terrorist can target to sow fear when the harder target — Sochi — would be far, far more difficult to strike.

Have the perpetrators of the Volgograd attacks done their job? Now my mother, across the time zones, wants to know whether I’m still going to Sochi.

Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for a second. The 2014 Winter Olympics are going to be the place to be.

This is not bravado talking. I went to Iraq in 2003 and have no need to see more war zones. Beyond which, I have a wife and three children and for sure want to come home safe and sound.

Here, though, is the reality: Life must hold passion, and meaning. You have to play your part in things that are meaningful. The idea that people from around the world can come together and perhaps find not only a way to talk to each other but common ground, even if in our mixed-up world it takes some soldiers and rifles to do it — that’s worth finding a way to make happen. Then to be able to tell the story when something good happens — that’s great stuff.

As Bach said in his New Year’s message, the enduring appeal of the Games is that they provide a means for the athletes of the world to “experience first-hand the ability” to “build bridges and break down walls.”

He also said, “The Sochi Olympic Games should be a demonstration of unity in diversity and of remarkable athletic achievements — not a platform for politics or division. This is even more important after the cowardly terrorist attacks in Russia, which we utterly condemn. Terrorism must never triumph. We trust that the Russian authorities will deliver safe and secure Olympic Winter Games for all athletes and all participants.”

The Russians will get their next likely test of whether they can, indeed, deliver safe and secure Games on Jan. 20. On that date the Olympic flame relay goes to Volgograd. The swim school there has produced such notables as Alexander Popov (four gold, five silver medals), now an IOC member; and Evgeny Sadovyi, who won three gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games swimming for the Unified Team, including the 400 freestyle, in 3:45, a time that would have gotten him fourth at the 2013 world championships. The pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva (two gold, one bronze), was born in Volgograd.

Sadovyi is due to be one of those running Jan. 20 in his hometown.

Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation as well as Sport Accord, the umbrella organization for the international sports federations, wrote a year-end message as well. His words, too, are on-point:

“The Sochi Winter Games,” he wrote, “represent not only a magnificent financial effort from Russia and the exclusive attention of President Vladimir Putin but they are also an outstanding effort of respect and solidarity towards humanity, a noble gesture of appreciation from the Russian people towards all the countries of the world that will participate in this event. These Games are staged to welcome all those who have a special role in sports, politics, media and human values.

“I consider that athletes, politicians, media and all the entities that define the human values must be not only [in] solidarity with Russia’s efforts of respect, but on the occasion of this event, they should also support and celebrate together a total gesture of solidarity, unity and appreciation in order to become themselves an example for humankind.”