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  • ATR Q&A: Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut


    Marcel Aubut says the COC “is going to be an organization very involved in athletics performance in Canada that you cannot go around and that you have to work with”. (ATR)
    New Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut says he’s assembled a “dream team” to lead the COC toward the London Olympics and wider influence on sport in Canada.

    Aubut, 62, took office at the end of April, succeeding Michael Chambers, who had the post for eight years.
    Aubut, a Quebecer, is the first Francophone president in the 106-year history of the COC.

    An attorney with one of Canada’s major law firms, Aubut made his mark in sport as CEO and President of the Quebec Nordiques NHL team, which has since become the Colorado Avalanche. Aubut is behind efforts to return an NHL franchise to Quebec City.

    Around the Rings Editor Ed Hula spoke to Aubut earlier this month at the Pan American Sports Organization general assembly held in Merida, Mexico.

    Around the Rings: You take office in a very good time for Canadian sports following the Vancouver Olympics.

    Marcel Aubut: I think the timing is good and the environment is a winning one but it is like after any other Olympics. There is a lot of challenges to keep the sponsors from VANOC and there is some sponsorship fatigue there. Win or lose the Games, it is still a challenge. It is easier to do in a winning environment for sure but you still have to do it.

    We just announced our dream team with people from sport.

    Jean Dupre [New COC CEO] did a fantastic job as head of Canadian Speed Skating. COO/CMO Chris Overholt was the head of marketing for the Miami Dolphins and he is Canadian and he is coming back home.

    Overall, Dupre, Overholt and me -- that is the team.

    I have been lucky to have these two guys. They are not here to finish their careers. They are coming here at the top of their careers. They are in their prime time, they will do a prime time job and they want to leave their mark. They are ambitious. I love them.

    ATR: Do they have to do something new? Is there a new approach you want them to take?

    MA: It is going to be a new style, a new COC. It is going to a bigger one, a more credible one, more involved and I hope richer for the betterment of the athletes. It is going to be a different era. It is going to be an organization very involved in athletics performance in Canada that you cannot go around and that you have to work with.

    We want to build positive relationships with NGOs. There is a lot of work to do in that area. They have to see us as a partner they hope to have, not the one we impose. We are capitalizing on all the good things that have happen over the years and from the there we go to the next level.

    ATR: What is the image of the Canadian Olympic Committee in Canada?

    MA: COC has to be an organization that the population knows about. If you make a poll today of what people think we are, they all will say that we are a government organization -- and we are totally to the contrary of that.

    ATR: How much money do you get from the government?

    MA: Nothing, except for a few programs but not for our survival. We are on total autonomy as far as the financial survival of the organization.

    We want to build a sports system in Canada that can be a permanent one. We are far behind the other G-8 countries as far as spending for sports.

    We want to prove to the government that investing in sports is the best way to get a fast return by reducing costs on health problems. It is the best way to get the population fit.

    ATR: What is the relationship with the COC and federal government?

    MA: Very good. It’s one of my goals to convince the department to give us a real, a normal minister of sport and another state one. We used to have that and to make sure that the focus is made on sport in this country.

    Unfortunately in our country, we do a big event and it dies. That’s why I did the celebration of excellence in Montreal two months after the Games to avoid that we’ll forget the athlete’s face too fast. We do it two months later to keep the flame up.

    ATR: What do you
    Aubut aims for Canada to improve to 12th place in the medals table for London 2012. (Getty Images)
    see as the job of the COC? What is the most important mission?

    MA: The mission is in the high-performance and winning medals but I think we can bring it wider than that. That without letting go any of those ultimate goals, which is Olympic Games and medals and a good high-performance system, we are going to go wider.

    We want to see Canadians see us as ones that care for the other stages of development. We care. I am not saying that we can do everything that we will count of government to do it but we can do a part of it.

    That is why I want to make deals with the provinces for the first time in history. VANOC started that and we have to follow in the path with all the provinces. Every province would be a part of the COC in high performance.

    ATR: Will Own the Podium continue?

    MA: Yes, but that was the argument to make sure that we have a chance. And Own the Podium has to be about four, five times bigger than that. It’s not a lot. It’s a good start, but that’s what I mean about a new partnership with the government.

    ATR: How would you assess how you are doing with London less than two years away?

    MA: We have to go back to the 12th position. We were 15th. We don’t want to be seen only as a winter game performing people. We have a Nordic country, but we want to have a system by which
    Aubut is already active on the international front and attended the PASO General Assembly last month in Merida, Mexico. (Getty Images)
    there is no discrimination, the summer athletes have the same advantage as winter ones, and we have a chance to go to those Games and hoping to own the podium.

    ATR: What do you think is the role of Canada worldwide in the Olympic Movement?

    MA: It’s a country we see as independent of a lot of things. A country that they could rely on, and the fact also that Vancouver was such a success, that means that they can put in us their confidence and we will respond.

    And Quebec is also planning to go to try to get the 2022 Games. There’s a lot of interests.

    ATR: What can you say about Quebec and a Winter Olympic bid?

    MA: I think it would be just a perfect spot for a Winter Olympics. They have the snow, they have the cold. It’s like a European city and style in North America, lots of attractions.

    But I haven’t received anything yet, but it’ll be up to the mayor and premier of the departments to show that interest, but I heard it’s coming.

    ATR: How about relations and partnerships with the United States? Like the COC, they have a new team.

    MA: I’m getting along very well with [USOC chairman] Lawrence Probst and [CEO] Scott Blackmun. I think we are going to be very much good partners. Great chemistry. We met in Vancouver. We’ve met here. Each time we have a chance to meet, we do.

    My group is going to see all of their facilities in Colorado Springs, in San Diego, in Park City and Lake Placid. We are going to learn from them because they do something right, and we like the institute sport concept. We are going to use a lot of what they do. I have a lot of respect for them.

    ATR: In four years, what will people think about Marcel Aubut and how he’s done?

    MA: What interests me is not what they think about me but what they think the about what the COC is becoming, and if the COC has become a bigger organization, more credible, more visible, very involved in many levels, much wider than what it is now as far as sports in the country, especially performance and also richer because we give more money to the athletes.

    We could target more sports that we would support. That’s my goal. I don’t want to have discrimination in any sports.

    That’s the ideal thing.

    Why are we only doing things for ski jumping in Canada or for Nordic combined and things like that? I don’t feel well about it. I want to have the chance for every sport, because it’s a vicious circle that I want to dissolve. You don’t get any money, you don’t do anything. You don’t do anything, you never qualify to get something.

    Conducted by Ed Hula.

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