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  • Hein Verbruggen Speaks Out on SportAccord Controversy -- On the Record


    (ATR) The Dutch former SportAccord president and ex-UCI chief speaks exclusively to Around the Rings European editor Mark Bisson about the fall-out from Marius Vizer’s attack on the IOC.

    How do you see SportAccord’s main role?

    Hein Verbruggen (Getty Images)
    For me, SportAccord is in the first place a service operation for international federations. That’s how I modelled it. We moved the organization to Lausanne to be close to the federations but in particular to be closer to the IOC. We created various service departments to assist the federations as many of them do not have the human and financial resources to address the increasing number of challenges. They included one for “Sport for Social Responsibilities” with the intention to support the IFs to meet the IOC requirement for sport to play its social role as well as to increase transparency and integrity (anti-match-fixing); we set up a very successful anti-doping department, co-financed by the way by the IOC, WADA and SportAccord.

    And when I stepped down in 2013 we were in the process of creating marketing and legal service departments for the IFs. The idea behind this is very simple; IFs run global sport on a day-to-day basis. They are all confronted with the same problems and instead of all of them each paying hefty fees to lawyers and consultants to solve the same problem, SportAccord could give them that service for free or for a very moderate price. That was our philosophy – professional services that could be used by those who wanted them. No interference from SportAccord in the IFs autonomy. There was no obligation either to use our services. But very quickly many IFs started to appreciate them; we got a lot of positive feedback for this SportAccord model.

    What was the original thinking behind SportAccord’s multisports games?

    It started with the martial arts, a large group of IFs within SportAccord. They have, to put it mildly, a tendency to disagree with their colleagues; perhaps because they have a fighter’s mentality. I started to organize meetings with this group of IFs to discuss common problems (especially in recognizing new martial arts) and I wanted to unite them around a project; hence the Martial Arts/Combat Games. That worked! I admit a second objective was to make some money for SportAccord since the services we intended to offer came at a cost and most IFs were not in a position to pay us for them. A third reason for those multi-sport games was that we were convinced they would fill a real need for those IFs who were not in the Olympics. These games can of course not compete with an Olympic medal but I’m convinced that, with the right marketing and PR strategy, the athletes highly appreciate being crowned as medalists.

    Then came the Mind Games, which were very successfully organized for four years in Beijing. Plans for Beach Games and Urban Games, the latter with high importance for the sports-for-all element, were developed.
    There was no misunderstanding that SportAccord’s multisports games concept fitted in very well with the IOC objectives, such as emphasis on sports and the athletes; frugal; no lavish opening ceremonies; no venue construction requirements. The IOC was willing to patronize these games.

    Did Vizer’s criticism of the IOC and Thomas Bach surprise you?

    SportAccord president Marius Vizer and Around the Rings editor Ed Hula (ATR)
    It did not really surprise me. It was kind of a confirmation. His speech fits in with his philosophy for SportAccord. He has been perfectly clear from the beginning what he wants with it. If you go back to his election speech in 2013 in St Petersburg, he left no doubt that for him the organization should be seen as a business. When he presented his program, it was only about business. He spoke about all the sponsors that he would bring in; mostly Russian companies that would sponsor SportAccord if he was elected. He said he wanted to create a Sports Bank and a Sports Insurance Company and he had already presented his plan for the United World Championships.
    It was clear for everybody that this was a drastic change of direction: from a service-oriented organization to a money-making business.

    Did Vizer have any valid points?

    I certainly do not agree with what he says about the IOC. I think Thomas Bach has been able to answer all the points that Marius has made. The message I am trying to bring across is that it’s another organization now – and apparently the SportAccord members wanted that. They had a choice between two candidates [Bernard Lapasset]. And they took him. You have to respect that decision.

    ASOIF have suspended membership of SportAccord pending a review. Does ASOIF needs this organization?

    Lamine Diack, president of IAAF (Getty Images)
    There is a lot of discussion about “who needs what and who”, but this is irrelevant. You can easily argue that nobody needs anybody. Does FIFA need SportAccord? No. Does IAAF need ASOIF? No. Haven’t I heard myself, during discussions about Olympic revenues, Lamine Diack threatening ASOIF that IAAF would step out of that organization and start dealing with the IOC themselves? Yes, I did.

    Big IFs do not need SportAccord or ASOIF/AWOIF. But SportAccord and ASOIF/AWOIF need the big IFs because their know-how and resources have to be transferred to their colleagues of the (so-called) smaller IFs. That is the task of a president of SportAccord. To motivate the bigger ones to support the smaller ones since eventually everyone gains if the world of sports becomes more professional.

    Are you disappointed with the direction Vizer is taking with SportAccord?

    Given the reactions after his speech, a number of federations are not happy with the direction he is taking. I am honorary president of SportAccord though and I do not want to speak out against the direction Marius is taking because he has been clear about it during his campaign.

    Why do you think it’s vital for SportAccord to work with the IOC?

    In my concept of SportAccord where it is first and foremost a service organization for the IFs and associate members, it is simply impossible to achieve the objectives without a strong, intense collaboration with the IOC. The IOC is the highest governing body in the world of sport, so if you want to work for the IFs, which was our vocation, then you have to work closely with the IOC. But for Marius, SportAccord is in the first place a business operation that has to make money for its members. He might have reasoned that the need for a strong cooperation with the IOC is much less needed.

    Is there a need for SportAccord?

    Lobby outside of the 2015 SportAccord Convention World Sport & Business Summit (ATR)
    Yes, I do strongly believe there is a need for a SportAccord service operation. I would say the need for assistance and help at the level of the federations definitely exists.

    Should Vizer abandon his United World Championships plan completely?

    I had my questions about that project from the beginning. First of all, never ever come up with an event of which people might say that is in competition with the Olympic Games. Competition with the Olympics is impossible. And I know what I am talking about, because I have been involved in the organization of the Olympics, working on coordination commissions. The Olympics is totally untouchable, it is the highest event you can organize. I had a second doubt about the fact that Marius apparently had not consulted with the federations. If you launch an ambitious project like this, you better make sure beforehand that you have a majority of IFs behind it.

    Is it a good idea to keep the SportAccord Convention in one place for five years?

    As chairman of the convention, it was important that in the interests of the conference we would go to places of prestige, preferably capitals like London, Beijing, Seoul, Madrid, Berlin. Also, we tried purposely to hold it in cities that were going to organize the Olympics. We thought that it would also be important for the non-Olympic IFs to get a flavor of the Games; they are part of the Olympic Movement after all. Our prime objective was not to get the highest amount of dollars. So with all respect for Sochi and Russia, I do not think it’s a good idea to keep the convention in one place for longer periods, even if it would bring in substantially more money.

    Conducted by Mark Bisson

    Homepage photo: Getty Images

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