Here’s a revolutionary idea — revolutionary, that is, only if this were 1750, not 2013.
What about having each of the candidates for the International Olympic Committee presidency actually present his vision — “his,” because it appears the candidates are likely to be men — before the July 3-4 extraordinary session in Lausanne, Switzerland?
As it happens, this is the subject of ferocious internal IOC debate. It should be a no-brainer.
Of course, each of the candidates should present, and publicly, what in IOC terms is typically called a “manifesto.”
The IOC has in many ways made great strides since the Salt Lake City corruption scandal shook the organization in the late 1990s.
At the same time, it suffers still from a lack of accountability and transparency and — remarkably, given that the institution, alone among all major sports entities, is rooted in a sense of values — a defensiveness when it comes to meeting the press and explaining, in
any number of areas, its position. Frankly, it’s something of a mystery.
Jacques Rogge’s 12 years as president are winding to a close. In September, at the session in Buenos Aires, the IOC will elect his successor. Even now, the presumed candidates are traveling the world, assessing their chances and, as well, their rivals.
The list of probable presidential candidates, in alphabetical order: Thomas Bach of Germany, Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei.
This list is not final nor official. Nothing is allowed yet to be official; formal declarations aren’t even allowed to be forthcoming for a few more weeks yet. Even so, pretty much everyone within Olympic circles knows who’s going to run; who’s not; and who’s on the fence.
The last contested election — the one that saw Rogge succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch — took place in 2001.
The tension that’s at issue — then and now — is that the IOC is, of course, in some ways a very public institution, and the IOC president in every way a worldwide public figure. At the same time, the IOC itself, while obviously carrying on with the attributes of a multibillion-dollar, multinational business, is at its core an exclusive, per-invitation members-only (101 right now, thank you) club.
As a club, it writes its own rules. It changes or modifies those rules in response to a variety of interests. For those who might believe otherwise — the IOC is typically a hugely rational institution.
In 2001, Rogge circulated a manifesto among the members. It suggested that “common sense should incite us to look at ways of slightly reducing the size, cost and complexity of the Games in order to make them less vulnerable to the future. This approach would enable all continents and regions to organize the Games more easily and would encourage geographical rotation.”
Two years later, the IOC adopted a study that called for curbs on the costs and size of the Games. Even so, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Sochi 2014 and now Rio 2016 have all gone on to be blockbuster, bank-busting projects.
At the same time, the notion of geographical rotation has for sure been fulfilled — in addition to those projects, the 2018 Winter Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
More from Rogge’s 2001 manifesto: The role of the individual IOC members, he wrote, must be “redefined” and “strengthened,”
each member “constantly kept informed and consulted,” the sessions themselves “more interactive and [allowing] for debates on the fundamental subjects of Olympism.”
One of the Salt Lake reforms is that the sessions are televised on closed-circuit TV. The Mexico City session in 2002 erupted in full-on debate on the nature of the sports on the Summer Games program. Since then, Rogge and the policy-making executive board have largely run the show and the sessions have for the most part consisted of the dry recitation of reports read to the members.
This, too, from the 2001 Rogge manifesto: “The IOC could make better use of the high potential of its members, who are its ambassadors and who must be given material and financial backing for this task where required. The President and the members must remain volunteers.”
Just a couple days ago, Rogge suggested in an interview with a German newspaper that the IOC president ought to be paid. The point of bringing up his 2001 manifesto now is not to call out the president. People are entitled to change their minds, especially after 12 years on the job.
There are challenges galore with the notion of having a paid president — as the U.S. Olympic Committee found out a few years ago when it made a board member, Stephanie Streeter, its paid chief executive officer. To make a long story short, it didn’t work out.
The point of bringing up what the president thought about the matter in 2001, now, is this: Rogge’s 2001 manifesto was not circulated then except within the club. It is marked “confidential.”
Perhaps it could be said then but it is certainly the case now — in 2013, the business of the IOC is too important to remain a matter for just the members to debate among themselves. Yes, the IOC is a club. But it is so much more.
Moreover, there is a sense among many that the IOC is, in many ways, at a crossroads. Whoever is the next president takes over an organization with multiple challenges — starting with Sochi and Rio, doping and betting, the make-up of the sports on the program and going from there — and his vision ought to be out there, for everyone to know and understand.
Leadership is measured by accountability. Trust is rooted in transparency. The IOC is better when it truly pays heed to the values it purports to stand for.
That’s why this should be a no-brainer.
A CNN campaign-style debate? That’s probably a step too far. But the manifestos will make for excellent reading. No one should have anything to be afraid of. Indeed, the candidates who get it, who understand where the movement is now and where it needs to go, would want their visions published. For everyone to see.
This article by Alan Abrahamson first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl Heinz-Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Mr. Heinz-Huba.