The British actor and writer, Stephen Fry is a hero of mine. Not only is he an extremely talented, funny, self-effacing public figure, he is also a sports-tragic and very eloquent with an ability to provoke discussion on a wealth of topics and issues. Last week, he highlighted a current issue which I immediately thought reflected a much wider problem that’s prevalent in sport as a whole.
In an open letter, Stephen called for a ban on next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi because of Russia’s anti-gay law which, among other similar restrictions, prohibits public displays of affection from same sex couples.
The argument that Stephen brilliantly articulated, included a reference to the Olympic Movement’s core principle of integration and unity being compromised by going to Sochi with such a law in place and the privileged senior members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) standing idly by and doing little or nothing about it.
And there’s the problem. The very people who represent the IOC’s values of unequivocal global unity and who flaunt their status by wearing their very important Olympic blazers, don’t really give a stuff. As long as their first-class air ticket is secured and their five-star hotel room has a comfy bed, there’s no need to rock the boat.
How long will it be before the world says, “Enough is enough?” How many times do sports administrators have to illustrate their disdain for the people they’re supposed to represent before the penny finally drops?
In the modern world, sport and politics are inextricably linked. Remember how sport united the world in the Seventies to isolate South Africa while it continued to impose its appalling apartheid laws? It sent a powerful message to a nation that their domestic bigotry wouldn’t be tolerated and eventually, sport helped to change the South African landscape forever, for the good.
The irony in the case of Sochi is it’s the politics of self-preservation that means the IOC administrators aren’t apparently prepared to act. Sure, they’ve asked for “clarification” from the Russians on their anti-gay law, but it’s not about right and wrong. What if the answer isn’t acceptable to the billion plus worldwide who hold the Olympic Movement’s principles in high regard? Will the IOC make a stand and say, “We’re not coming?” I very much doubt it.
Once you’ve got your very important blazer, you make sure you hang onto it for dear life. Rule number one is pull your head in and don’t challenge your peers because they might not vote for you next time. To hell with the rest, the only way you’re going to hand back your very important blazer is when you exchange it for a bigger size…..
To be fair, it’s not as if the IOC is alone is it? Right now we’re watching the despotic President of world cycling, Irishman Patrick Mugabe, do everything he can to keep his job without a care for the fact he’s making his sport a laughing stock through his duplicitous, conniving desperate attempts to change the rules to suit himself.
And what about FIFA? A couple of years ago, they surprised everyone by choosing Qatar as hosts for the World Cup in 2022 and now, surprise surprise, Sepp Blatter thinks that maybe there’s a problem because Qatar can be a bit hot in the summer.
I know for a fact that the voting members were provided a report at the time on each bidding nation. The notes on Qatar included reference to potential dangers caused by the seasonal temperature, both for the players and the spectators. So why oh why, did FIFA’s Executive Committee vote for Qatar in the first place? Not difficult to surmise….
When sports administrators are appointed to positions of power the world expects them to define and develop international competition for the benefit of both sport and for the whole of society, as opposed to acting for themselves.
Unfortunately, a number of the administrators see promotion to blazer status as a “reward” and the IOC’s refusal to confront the Russians over their appalling law is a glaring example of collective self-preservation. The people in power across world sport are simply not prepared to put their head above the parapet.
General Sir Anthony Hogmanay Melchett would not have approved.
Jaimie Fuller is the chairman of Skins and the founder of pressure group Change Cycling Now, whose members include Greg LeMond, Paul Kimmage and David Walsh. To follow him on Twitter click here.