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  • Hein Verbruggen: Beijing Maestro, Cycling Leader, SportAccord Prez


    (ATR) Sports leader Hein Verbuggen is remembered for his work on the Beijing Olympics – as well as the challenges he faced over the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

    Verbruggen died June 13 in The Netherlands at age 75 from complications of leukemia.

    Cycling provided the entrée to the Olympic Movement for Verbruggen. Elected president of cycling federation UCI in 1991, he became an IOC member in 1996.

    In 2001, Verbruggen was named to lead the IOC Coordination Commission for the Beijing Olympics by the newly elected IOC President Jacques Rogge. With the responsibility of sorting through the bureaucracy and politics of bringing the first-ever Games to China, Verbruggen was thrust into a high profile role.

    “He was just fantastic,” says Alex Gilady, IOC member in Israel. Gilday was a member of the Beijing commission headed by Verbruggen.

    “His managerial ability, his knowledge of marketing, he knew business,” says Gilady. “He really gave the feeling all the time that we are on the right track. He had a fantastic relationship with Liu Qi, who was the chairman of the organizing committee.”

    Gilady says Verbruggen was able to bridge concerns from the IOC about controversies such as human rights or pollution with a calm approach.

    “When he discussed these strong issues he was so soft spoken. In the case of pollution, I remember the first CoComm meeting in 2001 when we were in the hotel gym exercising. Looking out the window, the pollution was so bad you could not see.

    “But in the meeting he said ‘I don’t know what happened to the windows in our hotel but there may be a problem with the window washing because we could not see across the street’”, Gilady recounted.
    Beijing 2008 President Liu Qi with Verbruggen (ATR)

    Six years later in 2007, on a day similarly polluted as the one he teased about in the first CoComm meeting, Verbruggen admitted “the problem is not yet solved”.

    “We are confident they will work it out,” said a sanguine Verbruggen.

    Verbruggen was ranked number-one in the Around the Rings Golden 25 for 2006.

    Bob Fasulo, now executive director for the International Surfing Association, served on the Beijing commission when he was secretary general for the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

    “Hein was a visionary. He was one of those rare, dynamic leaders who would set a course and then work relentlessly and creatively to bring it to life. On a personal level, he was also a joy to work with in ASOIF and the Cocom, bringing wit, humor and confidence to even the most challenging situations."

    Verbruggen had to step down from his IOC seat in 2005 when he retired as UCI president, the  two positions tied. Australian Kevan Gosper stepped in as vice chair to lead the CoComm into 2006 when the IOC voted Verbruggen back, While technically the most junior IOC member at the time, Verbruggen returned as CoComm chair without missing  a beat. He retired again from the IOC when he turned 70 and was an honorary member at the time of his death.

    In his role as UCI president Verbruggen faced criticism for the way the federation dealt with the drug scandal involving Lance Armstrong. Once Armstrong admitted to doping across years of competition, Verbruggen was blamed for fostering a culture at UCI that enabled Armstrong to keep his cheating secret.

    Verbruggen tilted at the World Anti Doping Agency, which he said acted “as if it were almighty and unaccountable”. He had strained relations with WADA presidents Richard Pound and Craig Reedie, which he documented in blogs written for Around the Rings

    Despite the animus that Verbruggen directed at WADA, current WADA president Reedie said his sometimes adversary deserves credit for his work.

    “I worked closely with Hein on both Beijing Evaluation and Coordination Commissions. He brought many talents to these appointments. His reaction to the issues in UCI involved unusual emotional reactions and constant challenges. However, his services to sport deserve our appreciation,” Reedie
    Hein Verbruggen as president of SportAccord. (ATR)
    tells Around the Rings.

    In 2003 Verbruggen took over the presidency of the General Association of International Sports Federations. Under his watch the organization morphed into SportAccord and its annual convention became a major event on the calendar for the world sport industry. After trying to hand-off the presidency for a couple of years, Verbruggen stepped down in 2013.

    Patrick Baumann, the current president of SportAccord and GAISF, credits Verbruggen with the growth of the organization.

    “Above all he understood that International Federations and other bodies must work together to learn, grow and evolve if they are to be effective. Through SportAccord he fashioned an organization and framework to make that possible,” Baumann said in a statement.

    Baumann says one of Verbruggen’s important initiatives at SportAccord was the creation of the Doping Free Sports Unit. Baumann says the unit “continues to assist the biggest and smallest Federations and member organizations in anti-doping compliance and promoting clean sport.

    “Of course, SportAccord continues to evolve but one thing is for sure. We are still following a course initially plotted by Hein Verbruggen and members of GAISF / SportAccord and the entire international sports family owe him a debt of gratitude,” says Baumann.

    “Our commitment must be to ensure that the work that he started is continued,” says Baumann.

    With the label of “visionary” applied to Verbruggen by some colleagues, his last blog for Around the Rings might explain why. Written in April, Verbruggen calls for “a new bidding strategy for the Olympic Games”.

    Written by Ed Hula.

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