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  • SportAccord Cannot Avoid Challenges -- Op Ed


    (ATR) When Marius Vizer took aim at the IOC a week ago in his “welcoming” speech at the open of the SportAccord Convention in Sochi, he managed to turn a simmering dispute into a chasm of doubt that could swallow the future of the sports body.

    The SportAccord president, known to be unhappy over the way he believes the organization has been marginalized by the IOC, took his complaints public in the speech with IOC president Thomas Bach sitting just a few feet away.

    IOC president Thomas Bach speaks in Sochi. (ATR)
    Vizer may have good reasons to feel slighted by the IOC, which decided not to hold an Executive Board meeting in conjunction with SportAccord for the first time since it began in 2003. The IOC also kept the convention off the list of approved events where cities bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics could campaign, another staple of SportAccords past.

    Both were serious blows to the prestige of an event that otherwise is the world’s premier networking spot for international federations, consultants and others in the Olympic sports industry.

    Bold, brave and unapologetic, Marius Vizer set the Olympic sports world abuzz with his comments, beliefs he says are shared by many. Vizer says he’s just giving them a voice. Now he faces the consequences of his candor.

    Within hours of the speech, more than a dozen Summer Olympic federations had signed a letter expressing their sharp disagreement with the tone and substance of the remarks by the SportAccord president. These federation leaders say they were blindsided by what Vizer had to say, that he failed to inform them as to what was about to
    go down.

    A day later, the mutiny was nearly complete with 27 of the 28 summer federations voting to suspend the membership of their Association of Summer Olympic International Federations in SportAccord. The only
    one not in favor was the International Judo Federation, its president Marius Vizer.

    In the somewhat complicated world of SportAccord, it’s hard to understand what effect that suspension might have. The association for the summer federations is one of the financial stakeholders of SportAccord, along with the Winter Olympic sports association and the association representing sports not on the Olympic program.

    The three stakeholders are supposed to share in the revenues generated by the SportAccord Convention as well as oversee the management of what is known as SportAccord, the International Federations Union. This side of the operation deals with development of the international federations and new multi-sports events, such as Beach Games, Combat Games and Urban Games. The IOC has also snubbed SportAccord efforts to launch these new events, another source of friction in the relationship between SportAccord and the IOC.

    But now he has drawn the ire of Olympic sports federations that are needed for these events to gain critical mass. If the federations choose not to participate in these events, it remains to be seen whether they can proceed. At immediate risk are the 2017 Combat Games in Lima and the 2019 Beach Games in Sochi. What’s a Beach Games without beach volleyball? Or how about Combat Games without boxing?

    As if launching these new enterprises weren’t difficult enough, Vizer now has the additional task of convincing marquee sports from the Olympics not to boycott.

    SportAccord president Marius Vizer delivers his controversial address. (ATR)
    But despite their dismay about Vizer’s standoff with the IOC, the Olympic federations are not proposing to abandon the side of SportAccord that produces the annual convention, a money-maker for the feds. According to the official report by SportAccord, the convention generated 360,000 Swiss francs in revenue in 2014 when it was held in Belek, Turkey.

    But while the federations don’t want to lose their stake in the convention, it may be sponsors, exhibitors and delegates who abandon the event. The Qatar National Olympic Committee has issued a statement that it will reconsider its sponsorship in light of the anti-IOC comments of Vizer.

    Other SportAccord participants may drop out over more practical business factors. The decision to host the event in Russia for the next three years is not sitting well in the SportAccord family. The schedule now calls for Sochi in 2016, followed by Moscow and St. Petersburg.

    Delegates and exhibitors complain about travel difficulties, the hassle of visas and perhaps most importantly, diminished attendance they found in evidence last week in Sochi. Many believe another year in Sochi and the SportAccord Convention will be damaged, despite its prominence as the best place for the Olympic sports world to do business.

    How such an unpopular decision could be made without the consultation of key stakeholders in SportAccord touches on a lack of transparency that the organization must address.

    Around the Rings was repeatedly stonewalled over the last six months when inquiries were made about rumors of an extended run for the convention in Russia. With no published criteria, timetable or other procedures, selection of the host of the convention appears to rest entirely with Vizer.

    And now in the wake of the news about Sochi as the repeat host in 2016, rumors are rife that the contract has yet to be signed with the city and that Moscow will be the likely backup. We wait for comment from SportAccord.

    On another note regarding transparency, SportAccord needs to return to the open door policy followed by previous administrations regarding the annual general assembly. At last week’s meeting, press and public were only permitted to hear Vizer speak at the start and then the close when Russian President Vladimir Putin had his say. None of the other business on the agenda was open for scrutiny.

    The IOC opened its formerly closed sessions in 1999. Many, if not all, of the sports federations that belong to SportAccord also adhere to an open door policy for their general assemblies. For an organization that seeks trust, this is a change that must take place.

    ATR editor Ed Hula (ATR)
    In the interests of disclosure, I speak as a principal in a business that is a media partner of SportAccord and that spends a sizable portion of its marketing budget to send staff and pay for an exhibit. It’s good business for Around the Rings. But these developments are as worrisome to us as they are to fellow delegates and exhibitors.

    And not to sound nostalgic, but I am one of the handful of SportAccord veterans who have been to every edition since Madrid in 2003. I am a fan of the event and want to see it grow and prosper. I’m not sure it’s headed in the right direction.

    International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel likens the dispute between SportAccord and the IOC to a hockey match.

    “We fight, we hit, we behave badly, but at the end of the game we shake hands and drink a beer,” said Fasel last week in Sochi.

    “What I expect, is that at the end Thomas and Marius will shake hands and drink a beer,” he predicts.

    “The most important thing is not to start a war."

    The shooting, however, appears to have already started. Peacemakers are now needed. Beer to be served when the cease fire takes hold.

    Written by Ed Hula

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