PtG Article 18.11.2022

World sports federations may give up their own independent platform

A great majority of non-Olympic sports federations may be ready to weaken their position vis-à-vis Olympic federations if they vote to dissolve their common association GAISF at a General Assembly on 29 November. This will further strengthen IOC’s grip on world sport. 

More than one hundred international sports federations seem set to give up their over 50 year old common platform and reduce their own independence at the end of November. Mainly pushed by leading members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) is to be dissolved.

Today, almost any sport played on this planet that has a world federation, is among the 127 members of GAISF that unites Olympic as well as non-Olympic sports.

With GAISF dissolved, the power of the IOC beyond the Olympic world will be almost absolute and cemented for decades to come.

Sport is about to lose a body that has been one of the pillars of the Olympic system for fifty years. The balance will be rocked worldwide, especially to the disadvantage of all non-Olympic sports.

GAISF President and IOC member Ivo Ferriani (Italy) is under huge pressure to bring about the desired result. For this, he needs a two-thirds majority. He justified the planned dissolution earlier in November in the online medium "Insidethegames" in flowery words.

In his written statement, called a blog post, Ferriani claims:

"Dissolution is the most appropriate option, with the few remaining activities of GAISF being transferred to a restructured SportAccord. This is the way to deliver a stronger, more agile and business-oriented approach for the future."

SportAccord was previously – and still is – GAISF's business unit, which hosts huge annual congresses and smaller multi-sport events. SportAccord was also, for several years, the name GAISF took for itself to strengthen its political branding.

It is absurd in many ways that the General Assembly of all global sports federations and a few more institutions should dissolve itself and join its own business construct - with the existing members getting fewer democratic rights.

In SportAccord, as before, only the respective umbrella organisations of the sport federations, are stakeholders:

  • The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF)
  • The Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF)
  • The Association of IOC recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF)
  • The Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport (AIMS)

Practically, the resolution and transition to SportAccord means that the leadership positions in ASOIF, AIOWF, ARISF and AIMS will be upgraded – and, in contrast, the power of individual federations devaluated.

That will mean a drastic change in the membership structure of GAISF which looks like this today:

  • Olympic Federations (IF) organised in ASOIF (28+4) and AIOWF (7+1).
  • 42 ARISF members
  • 21 AIMS members
  • 24 associate members

Various payments as bait

Behind closed doors Ivo Ferriani is concealing very piquant details of the planned GAISF dissolution: For example, he is obviously baiting current GAISF board members by promising them good compensation in the new structure - as Play the Game can prove for the first time.

So when, for example, the presidents of the non-Olympic associations ARISF (Raffaele Chiulli, Italy) and AIMS (Stephan Fox, Germany) are vigorously campaigning for the dissolution of GAISF in these weeks, they are doing so with the insider knowledge that they will most likely be additionally remunerated in their new functions in the business unit SportAccord.

This fact has not been communicated to GAISF members. None of the numerous presidents and secretary generals contacted for this article knew about the payments Ferriani was targeting.

This is at least a conflict of interest.

And it gets even stranger and more questionable. At a recent GAISF Council meeting, Ivo Ferriani claimed that he had discussed the issue of payment with IOC president Thomas Bach. They agreed about it, he said.

Ferriani literally said:

"I spoke with Thomas Bach. We have to find some compensation for any member."

"Every position has to be compensated. We have to change the mood for the future. You have to be compensated."

"I spoke clearly with Thomas Bach. We have to go forward."

At the recent so-called two online workshops - one each for ASOIF and AIOWF and one for ARISF and AIMS together, but none for the associate members - the issue of compensation for top officials was not even mentioned.

Or maybe it would be more correct to say: These facts were concealed? Why?

"I'm hearing about this for the first time now," says one federation president on the phone, "and I have questions about that!"

Workshop was like a TV show

Several presidents of other federations announced in background talks with Play the Game that such explosive details could possibly influence their voting behaviour.

"The whole procedure lives only on announcements and is implemented with missing information," says one president.

Ferriani and his allies in the GAISF Council did not want to leave anything to chance in the online meetings, which were repeatedly postponed over months. The workshops were planned in a way to suppress opposition and arguments against the resolution from the outset.

This is evident from the planning in the Council.

AIMS representative Stephan Fox explained at a preparatory Council meeting in October:

"I am out there on the grounds, there is a lot of opposition. And we need to go out there now and get our votes from all the four voting umbrella groups. We gonna possibly lose and lose face. The clock is ticking, we don't have much time."

You have to be smart and pull out all the stops. Tough leadership is needed, said Fox.

"Leadership and followership", Fox also used these vocabulary words in the so-called workshop, according to another person who attended the meetings:

"Officially it was called a workshop, but it was more like a TV show to which only written questions could be submitted."

Opposition not welcomed

Ferriani himself practises hard leadership:

Dane Nis Hatt, long-time managing director of SportAccord and interim manager of GAISF, was fired in late summer. He declined an interview request.

Many federations, not only the Olympic ones, are under control. These include those nine ARISF sports that are on the shortlist for the Los Angeles Summer Games and hope to be named 2028 Olympic guest sports in a few months. Any opposition to the GAISF resolution would likely be the premature end of Olympic dreams.

Other federations that asked questions at their workshop - and even many questions, such as those asked by the Teqball federation - were rigorously rebuked by Stephan Fox.

The role of the German national Fox, who is based in Thailand, seems particularly questionable. He sits on the GAISF Council as an AIMS representative and is a vigorous advocate of dissolution, although his own federation (Muaythai) is no longer an AIMS member but has been upgraded to ARISF.

This is just one of dozens of notable inconsistencies and lack of transparency in the system.

A defeat at the General Assembly on 29 November would also mean that officials like Fox would say goodbye to future additional income as board members of SportAccord as promised by Ferriani.

Mr Fox has failed to respond to written requests on several occasions and has thus also failed to answer a list of questions.

In the context of the GAISF dissolution, Ivo Ferriani is a living conflict of interest. For he serves at the same time:

  • As an IOC member
  • As a member of the IOC Executive Committee
  • As GAISF president
  • As SportAccord president
  • As AIOWF president (Olympic winter sports)
  • And as president of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF)

IOC denies involvement

In his distress at having to go through with the dissolution of GAISF, Ferriani keeps bringing up internally IOC president Thomas Bach and IOC director general Christophe De Kepper.

According to Ferriani's representations to the Council, the IOC is paying for part of the events at the end of November in Lausanne, apparently the IF Forum. So far, such events have been financed by SportAccord.

Officially, the IOC claims it has nothing whatsoever to do with the dissolution of GAISF. In a response to Play the Game, an IOC spokesperson writes:

"The mission of the IOC is to promote sport and the Olympic values in society. In this context, it has supported GAISF, among many other sports governing bodies, through an annual grant. The request for the dissolution of GAISF has come from its own members and the IOC has been informed by Mr Ferriani about the steps undertaken by the GAISF Council."  

The IOC did not address our specific questions, for example about the amount of the payments that are unusual for these events. It is a fact that Ferriani told the GAISF Council that he had asked the IOC for this money - and had just received approval. If it was any kind of regular grant, Ferriani would not have had to ask for it or wait for it.

Marius Vizer

The decisive moment: International judo and SportAccord president Marius Vizer launched a scathing attack on the IOC in Sochi in 2015. A few months later, Vizer’s organisation was in shambles. Photo: SportAccord.

A failed rebellion

Yet every attentive observer of Olympic politics knows that GAISF has been a stone in the shoe for Thomas Bach since 2015.

At that time, GAISF had taken the more modern name SportAccord after its annual convention. After only two years in office, SportAccord president Marius Vizer launched a rebellion against Bach and the IOC when opening the convention in Sochi.

"The IOC system is expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent," said Vizer.

"The Olympic Games belong to all of us and we need real reforms."

The rebellion failed grandly already from the following coffee break. Numerous Olympic federations immediately suspended their membership. Vizer had overestimated his influence.

Within a few weeks, Vizer lost his SportAccord presidency, the number of Sport Accord employees was cut dramatically down to a handful, and the organisation had to drop its name and go back to its original, anonymous acronym.

The empire had struck back. For IOC president Bach, this incident was a final warning: never again should a GAISF president gain so much influence as to be able to challenge the IOC.

Seven years later, GAISF is on the verge of dissolution - and that fundamentally sends the message: There can only be one ruler in the Olympic world.

And Ferriani basically confirmed this happening in the Council recently when he reported on a phone call with Vizer and said

Vizer "was the start of this in 2015."

Three pillars

For ages, there had been talk of three pillars of the global sports system: the IOC, GAISF representing the international federations, and the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

IOC presidents have always been the most dominant and powerful persons, but they have had to balance their interests at times with the equally influential and quite powerful presidents of GAISF and ANOC.

This balance not only had its dark sides, such as the usual corruption in the industry, the haggling over votes and the prevailing lack of transparency. It also reflected the interest of the many stakeholders, whether federations or NOCs, and there was a lot to negotiate and balance.

That has ceased to be the case in recent years.

There is not only one ruler, there is basically only one decisive institution: the IOC.

In theory, the sports federations and NOCs still have a voice and are among the so-called pillars of the movement. In practice, however, they all take commands from IOC headquarters. After the dissolution of GAISF, there have been signs that ANOC will also be dissolved. This could very soon be the next step - it is quite possible that only the continental NOC associations will continue to exist.

Fear of falling short of two-thirds majority

Next step Lausanne, end of November 2022:

The decisive days begin with board meetings of the umbrella organisations and the so-called IF Forum on 28 November. Everything has been thought of:

"President Bach will be present at the opening ceremony on the 28th," it was explained in the GAISF Council:

"We are independent, but it is very important to have a good relation with the IOC."

When the vote about the dissolution of GAISF takes place the following day, 29 November, at the GAISF General Assembly in the Swisstech Convention Center, a two-thirds majority is required, and there is fear in the GAISF Council that this target will be missed.

Because at the General Assembly, the Olympic federations will be in minority. The non-Olympic federations have a clear majority.

In a GAISF Council meeting, Stephan Fox warned his colleagues: "If we get slapped hard in the face by our members this is a big defeat for all of us here in the council."

He also spoke of the "biggest fear" that unhappy GAISF members could form rivalling organisations. In the event of a defeat, GAISF President Ivo Ferriani announced internally in the Council that the Olympic federations would break out and go on their own.

This threat, too, is unknown to the majority of GAISF members.

Ferriani, President of the Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF), is in agreement with his Italian compatriot Francesco Ricci Bitti, President of the Olympic Summer Sports Federations (ASOIF) and member of SportAccord’s Executive Committee.

Ferriani told the Council and the lawyers:

"If we lose, I will go to SportAccord [together] with the summer federations and the power. It will be a bad learning."

A bad learning, yes, especially for small non-Olympic federations, which Ferriani obviously doesn't care about. He represents other interests. And he has his henchmen, for example Chiulli and Fox, who have to get votes and majorities in the non-Olympic sector.

"We have to think about the big, about the church, but not about the small chapel," Ferriani told the Council.

"Change or to be changed. Crucial times."

Mr Ferriani did not respond to a list of about a dozen questions.

But this week, at a conference in Glasgow, Ivo Ferriani has expressed his dream to have the warmonger Vladimir Putin join Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in attending one of the next SportAccord conventions.

The whole process is most curious. Nobody has presented clear, convincing and undoubtedly verifiable justifications for the dissolution of GAISF.

Theoretically, GAISF could be a perfect umbrella organisation in which the sports also compete with each other with the aim of moving up the internal rankings and within the various sports groups according to transparent criteria - and to eventually become an Olympic sport.

Such a system with promotion and relegation as the world of sport has at all levels would actually be the perfect model. GAISF could be the ideal league of sports. Many small sports, some of which are more widespread worldwide than traditional Olympic sports, have been demanding a transparent and fair system for many years. But they do not fight for it loudly and energetically because they are afraid of the superior IOC.

Olympic programme essential

However, the IOC and the privileged Olympic federations have never been interested in such clarity and transparency, as the history of the Olympic programme convincingly proves - with the absurd decisions at the IOC sessions in 2002 in Mexico and 2005 in Singapore, when the attempts of the then IOC President Jacques Rogge to permanently change the Olympic programme was rejected.

It failed due to the resistance of the Olympic associations and their lobbyists in the IOC. The top dogs in the Olympic programme, most of whom can only survive with the Olympic millions, understood very quickly that not much can happen to them if they just stick together and vote for each other – or at least organise the IOC votes.

And the majority of sports federations on the planet, some more modern and widespread than Olympic sports, remain in the back row - and don't even come close to Olympic fleshpots.

It is only Olympic summer and winter federations that continue to be nourished by the IOC - all others are occasional guests at the table and go almost empty-handed financially.

The permanent guests on the Olympic programme can moreover receive funding from public authorities at the national level, precisely because they are part of Olympic Games.

This is how the Olympic system mainly finances itself. Those who are not part of the Olympic programme struggle more to receive public funding from governments across the world.

Dissolution, not merger

In the GAISF Council, Ferriani left the impression that he was having his decisions rubber-stamped at IOC headquarters. In terms of content, most of the GAISF member federations seem overwhelmed by the legal details and the sports political consequences of the decision they make.

Many only understand the question of money. And here the GAISF leadership, with the help of lawyers Jean-Pierre Morand and Vincent Jäggi from the Lausanne law firm "Kellerhals Carrard" (a law firm deeply entrenched in the Olympic movement, almost like a monopoly), found a perhaps decisive twist:

It is about the distribution of the remaining balance on the GAISF accounts, apparently about 5 million CHF (same amount in Euros/US dollars) – plus 2.5 million CHF that Saudi Arabia, host of the next Combat Games, has already transferred.

In order to get hold of this money and distribute it amongst the umbrella organisations (ASOIF, AIOWF, ARISF, AIMS), GAISF absolutely has to be dissolved and must not be merged with its business arm SportAccord.

This is how the lawyers put it, and this is what the federations were told.

Ferriani hardly understood this himself until the end and always spoke of a merger.

So the lawyer Morand explained to him:

"It is a bit dangerous to use the word. If you would merge, all assets would go directly to SportAccord", the lawyer Morand said. But that should be prevented because the GAISF millions are to be divided among the umbrella organisations.

"We dissolve GAISF, and we transfer the activities to SportAccord," Morand explained:

"If they vote in favour of the dissolution, the umbrella organisations will get a substantial amount. If they don’t then these assets will be frozen at GAISF level."

The "negative scenario and the consequences" according to the lawyer: "It is clear that GAISF is going to put on ice … Assets put on ice … stakeholder won’t receive distribution of assets."

If it is decided to dissolve the GAISF, another meeting will be held immediately afterwards to redistribute the assets.

Small sports set to lose

So you lure the umbrella organisations with money for their vote to dissolve GAISF. For the comparatively rich Olympic federations this is not much - but for the small non-Olympic federations it is a lot.

The stakeholder groups have wrangled over the distribution key of roughly 7 million CHF for months. When the invitations for the General Assembly at the end of November were sent out in October, just in time and in accordance with the statutes, Ivo Ferriani once again showed his very special class. He had made the process a matter for the boss – but had to send invitations out twice.

In the first invitation, he mentioned an incorrect distribution key. According to this, ASOIF was to receive 40 per cent of the money, AIOWF, ARISF and AIMS 20 per cent each.

The outcry was great among the officials, and Ferriani sent a second letter with an apology: "There was a mistake in the communication of the percentages proposed for the distribution of the remaining assets."

Now there was the correct data: 42 per cent ASOIF, 18 per cent for AIOWF, 30 per cent for ARISF and 10 per cent for AIMS.

As Ivo Ferriani said recently in the Council:

"I am not a genius, but I do my best. I come here to solve the problem."

The problem for whom? Probably for Ferriani's boss Thomas Bach who expects a solution on 29 November.

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