By David Owen |
I make no apology for adding to the torrent of words devoted to Swiss International Olympic Committee (IOC) member – and much, much more – Patrick Baumann since his unexpected death in Argentina a few days ago.
After all, while 51-year-old men do very sadly pass away – Marcel Proust, Napoleon Bonaparte and James Gandolfini are cases in point – death before old age causes a jolt, and I doubt any 51-year-old non-athlete’s demise has caused this much of a jolt in the sports community for over 30 years – since Horst Dassler succumbed to cancer.
Baumann will not leave quite as big a hole as the former Adidas chief: the world has grown much more complicated since the triumvirate comprising Dassler, Juan Antonio Samaranch and João Havelange ruled the waves; it seems unlikely that any sports leader could ever wield that much power again.
But his abrupt – and cruel – disappearance does leave you casting around to think who among contemporary sports leaders could possibly take his place.
“You think My God there are not many around to replace him,” says Patrick Nally, the sports marketing doyen now serving as President of the International Federation of Match Poker, who knows a top-notch sports administrator when he sees one.
“The team around Patrick all adored him,”” Nally adds.
Having observed Baumann from the outside over a number of years – and actually tipped him some 13 months ago as a realistic contender for the very summit – I think there were two elements in particular in his variegated skill-set that will make him a peculiarly hard act to follow.
First, as witness after witness has lined up to testify this week, he had the human touch, which can sound glib, however a) it has become a surprisingly rare quality among leaders in this antagonistic, social media-colored age and b) what this really means is that he took an interest in others – their families/personal lives, but also their stances on sports issues.
This seemed to give him a good feel for where the red lines lay, but also where flexibility might be anticipated.
“He was good at getting decisions because he spent the time to discuss,” is how Nally summarizes it.
The last few years of his career, once he had become recognized as a genuine heavy hitter, were punctuated by small breakthroughs which, added together, amount to a considerable body of achievement.
Thinking of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) alone, there was the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the IOC, which salvaged a meaningful role for GAISF from the wreckage of the Bach-Vizer showdown, the partnership agreement with the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) on the future of the World Beach Games and, in a concrete example of service provision to sports, the launch of the new .sport digital ecosystem.
He was careful in all of this not to offend the IOC: the MoU included agreement to fold GAISF’s anti-doping unit into the new International – or Independent, as it was then – Testing Agency; the ANOC partnership notes that in principle no Olympic events will be included in future Beach Games.
Indeed, throughout his period of rising prominence, I cannot recall him once disagreeing, publicly at least, with IOC President Thomas Bach.
Evidently he knew what side his bread was buttered and was prepared to work within whatever limitations that might impose.
But equally he made the most of what room for maneuver he judged available to him: the MoU secured GAISF’s mandate over the SportAccord Convention and its right to develop and organize a full gamut of multi-sport games – not a bad outcome when many were doubting the body’s very survival.
I did think I had detected in Baumann a greater enthusiasm for esports than among many Sports Movement colleagues, including Bach, but am advised that he shared the nervousness of many of us at the direction of current trends.
The sport with which he is most closely associated – basketball – has been at the forefront of efforts to keep screen-oriented, city-based teenagers active, notably through rapid development of the 3×3 format.
Baumann, then, was a details man, quietly oiling the wheels of the often cumbersome administrative machinery that enables international sport to happen.
But most unusually for an individual with this type of patience and mind-set, he also possessed a strategic vision and the ability to articulate it clearly and effectively, if not with quite the aplomb of, say, a Sebastian Coe.
This side of him was on display last week at what, all too sadly, turned out to be his last appearance at an IOC Session.
Updating colleagues on Los Angeles 2028, an event still almost a decade away, Baumann seemed a little ill at ease, tapping his papers repeatedly on the dais, perhaps reflecting the inevitable thinness of what he had to report about this next Summer Games but two.
Yet he still managed to encapsulate in a single sentence what made the IOC leadership decide that the chance to take its flagship property for a third time to the Californian metropolis was just too advantageous to pass up.
“Where sport…meets on a daily basis Hollywood, its celebrities, or Silicon Valley, its brain and its technology, the opportunities are simply too many to miss,” Baumann said.
We inhabitants of the Olympic bubble are still struggling to come to terms with another unexpected recent death, that of campaigns maestro Mike Lee.
But Lee appeared a man of the past, albeit the recent past, in Olympic terms, a gilded era when world cities would go hammer and tongs to get the glittering prize of the Games.
With Baumann, the Sports Movement has lost a man of the future – and very likely a main man at that.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.