When, against expectation, Buenos Aires was elected host of the third Summer Youth Games for 2018. The crucial element was a gaffe by Juan Manuel Santos, state president of Columbia. It’s something special when the national president crosses the Atlantic to ask, eloquently, for a minor Olympic prize for Medellin, a beautiful city in an Andes valley said to enjoy permanent springtime. Unfortunately, Medellin’s reputation has been as much about bullets as blossom, and just when it seemed Santos might have swung the vote, he suddenly referred to agents “negotiating with guerrillas in Cuba.”
Medellin in the past has had more drug guerrillas than sportsmen, and in an instant, Santos probably lost four International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes. If it was five, it cost the race, the decision going to Buenos Aires by 49 votes to 39. Glasgow, host for next year’s Commonwealth Games, garnered only 13 votes in the first round, there being the inevitable view that Britain had enjoyed its Olympic reward in London last year. Sebastian Coe’s charm was by now off the song charts.
The news shocked many. Argentina’s 15-minute presentation had been unexceptional, bizarrely closing with the Eva Peron melody about tears, hardly appropriate, and immediate speculation gathered that the clandestine influence of Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), may have been at work: just as he was in the election of a new SportAccord president a month ago. This furthered the question discretely galloping around the Olympic arena: who runs the IOC?
With gentlemanly Jacques Rogge less and less energetically involved in affairs two months away from retirement – from irrelevance as he himself
wittingly termed it during the SportAccord convention – current debate centers far more on September’s presidential election than the simultaneous 2020 host city outcome. Certainly within that debate is to what extent a willful is king maker?
However, a quick poll of IOC personnel revealed not this time. There had been a preference among older IOC members to reward Buenos Aires in the light of Argentina’s four failed previous bids in 1936, 1956, 1968 and 2004, and the fact that the River Plate capital is hosting the Session in September. “We owed them one” was the opinion. There are too, of course, those lightweight voters who like to be feted at every destination.
So, how much bearing will the Sheikh have on either of the decisions in September? Is his covert influence there in the shadow of Istanbul, bidding to be first Middle East, Islamic host? While there are not necessarily voting cliques, there are inevitably geo-political preferences, and the Sheikh might view Istanbul as a future partner in advancing the power of ANOC, a platform previously exploited by his predecessor Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico.
If Istanbul’s credibility yielded some ground in Wednesday’s 2020 presentations, being reluctant to confront IOC doubts arising from recent civic
protest, the immediate counter-point is: remember Seoul. There were U.S. commentators in the 80s who forecast that riot-riddled Seoul, scheduled for 1988, would never happen. “You read it here first,” boasted legendary pundit Howard Cosell. Outcome? A brilliant political and sports success.
It is possible that the award of 2020 could contribute to Turkish stability and maintaining liberal attitudes over the next seven years, though following Wednesday’s presentations there is a mood that the competition has shifted from Tokyo vs. Istanbul to Tokyo vs. Madrid. Yet, over two months everything can change.
The most pertinent information to emerge from the manifestos of the six presidential candidates to succeed Rogge was that attempted privacy was a wasted effort in an era of transparency. Within half an hour, media agencies and individuals were well aware, through regular contacts, of what the candidates had to say to their colleagues. What was hardened is the view that there are three seriously in contention, and three metaphorically there for the ride. Behind front-runner Thomas Bach (Germany) stride Ser Miang Ng (Singapore) and Richard Carrion (Puerto Rico), the latter’s easy sophistication in speaking without notes winning some friends.
Sergei Bubka (Ukraine) is a jolly, friendly outsider, though one wonders why as vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), he would put his prestige on the line. Denis Oswald (Switzerland), rowing guru, offered wisdom, but age does not favor him. CK Wu (Taiwan), president of international boxing, has multiple connections, but would mainland China support him?
Bach made a joke of the earliest advice he ever received – “always praise the president” – but what the IOC urgently needs is a new incumbent to grasp a fistful of nettles.
This piece appeared in The Olympic News Digest and International Inside Sports Newsletter is edited and published by Karl-Heinz Huba. Huba is based in Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com . David Miller wrote this piece and can be reached by contacting The Sport Intern.