PtG Article 19.01.2007

Two Olympic committees vie for power in Panama

The small country of Panama currently has not only one but two different Olympic Committees. Which committee is the right one is difficult to say as an attempt to resolve the situation in December failed completely despite intervention from the IOC.

The situation leading to two Olympic committees began in the summer of 2006 when a court in Panama declared the election in 2002 of Melitón Sánchez as head of the Panamanian Olympic Committee (COP) null and void.

Over the years since his election, Sánchez and other members of the Panamainian Olympic Committee have angered local sports federations by sending more dignitaries than athletes to international competitions. According to the website the National Institute of Sport has also stopped subsidies to the comittee because too many funds was spent on liquor for partying Olympic Committee officials.

Needless to say, adversaries of Sánchez immediately organised an assembly and elected a new Olympic Committee under the leadership of the lawyer Miguel Vanegas. This committee was recognised by the government and took over COP offices.

However, sports leaders loyal to the old leadership held their own vote and elected Sánchez to his old post in the presence of the Cuban Reynaldo González who is a member of the International Olympic Committee.

New elections - new disputes

According to Around the Rings, a newsletter on Olympic affairs, the IOC then asked González and two other IOC members - Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the Pan American Sports Organisation and Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee - to sort out the problems.

The IOC trio agreed with Vanegas that new elections should be held in December 2006. They were and Vanegas was elected to a four-year term with new members of the executive board.

But a new dispute has arisen. The day before the elections, the IOC trio asked that the elections should be postponed to January because questions were raised whether all national sports federation had been properly certified to vote by their international federations.

The elections went ahead anyway and now the IOC trio argues that by disregarding the request for postponement, Vanegas violated the spirit of the agreement to hold new elections. Vanegas says that it is the IOC that is not playing by the rules.

So the situation appears deadlocked. Maybe Panama only has one Olympic Committee - maybe it has two. It all depends on whether the IOC recognises the results of the December elections in Panama or is able to come up with another solution.