Today: Last Update:

  • Sports Leaders Urged to Unite Against Political Pressures


    (ATR) National Olympic committees and international sports federations must put their house in order to protect the autonomy of the Olympic and sports movement, a leading IOC member tells Around the Rings at the conference in Lausanne on autonomy of sport.

    Federation leader Denis Oswald says federations and NOCs need “good governance, financial transparency and democratic rules” to protect their autonomy. (Getty Images)  
    “What is important is that we act more efficiently and responsibly. But we cannot claim autonomy without having good governance, financial transparency and democratic rules,” says Denis Oswald, who is president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

    “We must make sure the different groups in the Olympic and sports movement respect these basic principles,” he says.

    Oswald says the Olympic movement must guard against the threat to sport's autonomy not only from governments but also from other sources including those with commercial interests, such as sponsors.

    His comments were echoed by other participants at the two-day IOC summit which concludes Tuesday.

    “If we want respect like that we have to have good governance and show that we're running operations correctly, with proper audits, controls and financial credibility,” Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, told ATR.

    International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge insists “good governance is a matter of respect and credibility for the Olympic Movement”.
    “There are many examples of governments wanting to interfere with the sports movement,” he told ATR.

    “You have governments who appoint members of national federations and or NOCs without any democratic voting procedures.

    “You have governments who dismiss presidents of national football federations because they lose a match, this kind of thing.”
    The Olympic Museum is the site of the Sport and Autonomy meeting. (ATR)  

    Nearly 200 world sports leaders have gathered for the Lausanne meeting, which is a follow-up to one held in 2006.

    Of all sports represented, Oswald says government interference is a particular problem for football.

    FIFA representatives at the symposium spoke about elements of good governance at world football's governing body, but Oswald sounded a warning that its member federations remain vulnerable.

    “Football is one of the most exposed sports because it's one of the most popular and sometimes they just put their own people in place and don't let the clubs elect the people they consider as being the most capable to run the federations,” he says.

    Oswald says such intervention from politicians “without the knowledge, relationships or experience” can lead sports federations to failure.

    Concerns over the role of governments in attempting to control NOCs also arose at the Lausanne summit.

    The situation in Panama that led to the formation of two Olympic committees, one recognized by government, the other by the IOC, was the subject of some discussion.

    In comments to ATR, Rogge cited the problems in Panama and other significant problems with NOCs in the recent past.

    “We have suspended the Olympic committee of Afghanistan four years ago for the very good reason that the regime was forbidding the sports participation of women,” he says.

    “We said this was not acceptable. In the meantime, after the liberation of the country this has changed but this is a good example.”

    Hickey, who is president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, said he has personal experience of government interference with his own NOC.

    “A few years ago the government's sports minister put a candidate against me in my re-election as president of the NOC so I know it very well and it's a shock when
    IOC President Jacques Rogge: “There are many examples of governments wanting to interfere with the sports movement.” (Getty Images)  
    it happens,” he said.

    Hickey claims that political meddling in the democratic operation of NOCs is “a big problem worldwide” but he hopes the greater unity of the Olympic Movement that might result from this symposium will help eradicate such problems in the future.

    Hickey says the seminar is “bringing the NOCs closer together with IFs”.

    “There's much more dialogue now and problems are sorted out before they become a monster. These meetings help greatly,” he says.

    Hickey says the autonomy of sport issue will be discussed at the EOC's executive committee on Feb. 20.

    Among other leading IOC members at the seminar was Mario Vázquez Raña, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees and the Pan American Sports Organization.

    He told ATR that NOCs and IFs “have to to listen very carefully to all plans and work hand in hand” to give the sporting bodies the strength to better serve athletes in their respective countries.

    IOC honorary president Juan Antonio Samaranch and René Fasel, president of the Association of the International Olympic Winter Sports Federations, were also among speakers at the meeting.

    Discussions at the seminar Tuesday turn to the development of an information exchange system for the constituents of the Olympic and sports movement. It will be designed to alert stakeholders of threats to their autonomy and trigger a unified course of action when necessary.

    A code of governance is also expected to be finalized in conclusions at the summit.

    Further discussions on the autonomy of sport will take place over the next year or so, with the issue coming under more intense scrutiny at the 13th Olympic Congress in Copenhagen in October 2009.

    Homepage photo by Getty Images

    With reporting from
    Mark Bisson in Lausanne.

    For general comments or questions,
    click here

    The Golden 25 special edition magazine is now available in PDF.
    Click here to see who will be most influential in the Olympic Movement in 2008.

    Your best source of news about the Olympics is, for subscribers only.