The resignation of Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico from four influential Olympic responsibilities – the IOC and thereby its Executive Board and also as president of ANOC and Chairman of the Solidarity commission – resolves one problem and simultaneously creates another. It marks the end of ANOC’s benevolent dictatorship, but leaves continental America – irrationally regarded under Olympic regulations as one unit, yet comprising three disparate sections of North, the Caribbean and the South –without a coherent leader.
At a time when Jacques Rogge, IOC President, is to retire next year, the IOC thus faces a period of immediate uncertainty with the departure of two foremost leaders. It has been conspicuous that in the controversy surrounding Vazquez Rana over the past four months, there has been no indication of leadership from the USA, the most powerful single national Olympic committee sensing its unpopularity within Olympic circles. USOC is seemingly unwilling to commit itself on the sporting political stage.
Make no mistake, Vazquez Rana has for a quarter of a century been a singularly powerful figure, yet that power ultimately insulated him from reality. As a prominent Caribbean official remarked, enmeshed in the additional controversy of Vazquez Rana clinging to his control of PASO: “Mario failed, approaching his 80th birthday, to recognize that under regulations it’s time to go when you have served your term. He was unwilling to relinquish office graciously.”
ANOC’s executive, which sought to dilute Vazquez Rana’s autocratic reign prior to his age-related expiry of IOC membership in December, has interpreted his resignation as “a blessing in disguise”. Yet without his monolithic authority – in particular dispensing Solidarity funds to the impecunious Caribbean – the three American factions are likely to fall into disarray.
With Vazquez Rana having schooled no obvious successor, in the opinion of former IOC member and international sailing president Paul Henderson of Canada, “The continent could be left in a void. Whether or not we liked Mario’s style, in a tough environment he held the continent together. With a difficult mind-set, he was magnificent.”
It had been apparent since last year that Vazquez Rana intended to breach the age regulation, attempting to extend his IOC membership on account of having been elected ANOC president until 2014. Like Juan Antonio Samaranch, he made the error of wishing to retain power for too long, notwithstanding the fact that ANOC’s four vice presidents – General Lassana Palenfo (African NOCs), Sheikh Ahmad (OCA), Patrick Hickey (EOC) and Doctor Robin Mitchell (Oceania) – had assured him of honorary life presidency.
Vazquez Rana’s press release with unfettered condemnation of Sheikh Ahmad, his likely successor as ANOC president in 2014 following interim leadership, and of Hickey – expected to be confirmed at May’s meeting in Moscow as replacement representative on IOC’s executive – was extreme, accusing them of “personal ambition, disloyalty, lack of ethics and shady objectives.” Yet without factual evidence, the statement itself bordered on being unethical.
The four vice presidents, together with general secretary Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden – now recognising which way the wind was blowing – have released a statement claiming: “Every recent decision by the ANOC council has been taken by a democratic vote.” 0f the 14 members, there were allegedly three in support of Vazquez Rana, with one abstention, thought to be the USA.
While declining with dignity to respond to Vazquez Rana’s mud-slinging, and his willful distortion of correspondence with Rogge on Solidarity’s vice-presidency, there remains the fact that ANOC’s council has a European majority, and there may be justification in his charge that the decision to exorcise him are not technically within ANOC’s statutes, never mind the claimed democratic procedure.
Moreover, it should be acknowledged that the influence within OCA of Sheikh Ahmad – son of a truly Olympian figure killed in the first Iraq war – is not dissimilar to that of Vazquez Rana, while Hickey has long sought position on the IOC executive. Power struggles are the fodder of Olympic administrative existence, so there is nothing novel in the positions adopted by the Sheikh or by Hickey. However, the IOC as ever is encountering choppy waters. These may get rougher before any calm.
One aspect of the recent OCA advisory board meeting in Bangkok–concurrent with ANOC vice presidents meeting which recommended that Sheikh Ahmad should be approved by the general assembly in Moscow as interim president–was a move to support either Francesco Ricci-Bitti, Italian president of international tennis, or C. K. Wu of Taipei, president of boxing, in the forthcoming election to succeed Denis Oswald of Switzerland as president of ASOIF. Wu is likely to be favoured.
David Miller can be contacted through the Sport Intern newsletter. Sport Intern is published by Karl-Heinz Huba, Postfach 1364, 64649 Lorsch, GermanyThe annual subscription rate for an average 3 e-mailed editions a week (except for two weeks each in August and December) is 190 Euro. The subscription is automatically renewed after 12 months unless cancelled in writing three months prior to expiry. Karl-Heinz Huba also publishes The Olympic News Digest and International Inside Sports Newsletter
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