PtG Article 30.04.2015

Vizer’s speech could turn out an own goal

Observers and commentators have been following the repercussions from the spat that started during the SportAccord convention last week. The overall perception seems to be that Vizer, by presenting his critique the way he did, blew a chance to secure his organisation as an important link between Olympic and non-Olympic federations.

For the past many years, the SportAccord convention has been the go-to place for the sport industry. A meeting point for both Olympic sports, non-Olympic sports, national as well as international federations, gathering representatives from the entire industry.

The 2015 convention, which ran from 20-23 April this year, was somewhat less anticipated than before, after the IOC cancelled their traditional executive committee meeting during the convention and asked bid cities not to present at the convention as has been another recurring SportAccord convention event.

According to journalist Keir Radnedge, this was IOC president Thomas Bach’s way of answering back to SportAccord president Marius Vizer. Vizer had been flexing his sports political muscles by winning the presidential seat at the umbrella organisation in 2013, beating the IOC supported Bernard Lapasset, and by introducing the United World Games, an apparent competitor to the Olympic Games.

“The IOC had already taken the hint […]. Hence, this year, no executive board meeting, no bid presentations permitted. Fluorescently bright and clear: Thomas Bach & Co needed reassurance and encouragement to walk right back,” says Radnedge in a commentary on his blog.

But when Vizer stood up and held his “car crash of an address”, Vizer did not provide the reassurance that Bach was after, rather he burned the bridges between the IOC and SportAccord, writes Radnedge.

“Olympic sports remain an elite band whose membership is almost impossible to access; non-Olympic federations need to know that they are not stuck forever in a sporting second division,” Radnedge writes and continues:

“Vizer had a perfect opportunity – never better, on his own stage – to wrap such concerns in the language of engagement, negotiation and conciliation.”

In the speech, Vizer called the IOC “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent” and questioned the way the Olympic funds are distributed, not sufficiently supporting the athletes.

Vizer later apologized for the manner in which his opinions had been served but not for the content, and in an interview with euronews, he elaborated on his viewpoints about the economical priorities of the IOC and the way sport today is governed. 

"The question is to clean up the system and to make it fair for the benefit of sport. Not a system that defends itself and a specific group of leaders or cardinals of sport because we don’t need that and sport doesn’t need that. I don’t care if some people are afraid to say that but I say that. We don’t need cardinals of sport. We don’t need popes. We need fair leaders who are examples for sports through their attitude, behaviour, measures, actions, initiatives, strategies and visions," Vizer said.

Nevertheless, SportAccord does look weakened after last week. 27 of the 28 Olympic summer sports signed a referendum disassociating themselves with SportAccord until further notice because of Vizer’s speech. Archery, athletics and shooting even pulled out of the organisation.

Both the association of Olympic winter sports, the AIOWF and the ARISF, an association representing 35 non-Olympic sports, have called for ‘constructive dialogue’ after Vizer’s attack.

"We didn’t just want to follow the summer sports. We were a little bit more diplomatic in the way that we expressed our concerns,” said AIOWF president Gian Franco Kasper, according to Around the Rings. “There’s no reason to overreact. If we go out with the declarations today or tomorrow, what does that change?”

Siding with the IOC

According to observers, there are two main reasons for the summer federations to have taken Thomas Bach and the IOC’s side in this dispute:

One reason is that these federations depend largely on the financial distributions from the IOC. The 28 federations making up the ASOIF are expected to split up $550 million on revenues from the 2016 Games in Rio, writes sports commentator Alan Abrahamson.

“They [the ASOIF ed.] live in – if you will – a closed system, many hugely dependent on the IOC for financial and creative survival,“ Abrahamson writes.

Another reason is that by demonstrating loyalty, “the Federations have also given themselves greater bargaining power in the future […] in a world where favours are rarely forgotten”, writes Nick Butler from Insidethegames.

But insults are not easily forgotten either, and partners and sponsors of the SportAccord convention have expressed concerns with the turn this year’s convention took. The Qatari Olympic Committee has announced that they are reviewing their sponsorship of the event following Vizer’s attack.

"We do not support the comments made by Marius Vizer and have therefore made the decision to reconsider our convention sponsorship accordingly," a statement said.

And Paul Bush, chief operating officer of EventGlasgow, another SportAccord convention sponsor, complained that “attendance, facility and location of the event left something to be desired,” writes Around the Rings.

Bach: We speak directly with the federations

In an interview in German newspaper Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, IOC president Thomas Bach says that what will happen to Vizer in the wake of the speech is not an issue that concerns him.

“The IOC will continue its policy and speak directly with the Olympic federations if there are Olympic issues to discuss. In cases like that, we do not use an intermediary that wishes to get in between,” Bach said in the interview.

Asked whether that means Vizer is no longer needed, Bach’s short answer was:

“We speak directly with the federations.”

At the closing press conference of the SportAccord convention, Vizer seemed acceptant of the fact that Bach would not act on his critism. Instead he pinned his faith to ’society’. 

“I hope that part of the political activity this week will be first step of a new beginning. After the voice, now is dialogue, action and solution. I was the voice, the mechanism is the sport, but don’t forget society is the consumer. If the leader of the sports cannot fix what I say, let’s see what society answers,” he said at the closing press conference at the SportAccord convention, writes AIPS.

During the convention, Vizer was unanimously reelected president of SportAccord for the next four years.

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