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  • On the Record: Mario Pescante Reviews an Olympic Life


    02/04/19

    (ATR) The IOC will need a new representative to the U.N. following the retirement of Mario Pescante.

    Mario Pescante in 2006. (ATR)
    Elected to the IOC in 1994, Pescante turned 80 in 2018 and left the IOC as of January 1, 2019. He chaired his final meeting of the Public Affairs and Social Development through Sport Commission in January.

    Since 2010, Pescante has served as the IOC’s Permanent Observer to the U.N., the first member to hold that title. A successor is expected to be named in the coming months.

    Pescante is a deputy in the Italian Parliament, educated as a lawyer.

    Active for years as a leader of CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee, he has served as chef de mission for a series of Italian teams to the Olympics.

    ATR: You came to the IOC in 1994....how is the IOC different now in 2019?

    Mario Pescante: Twenty-five years theoretically represent a generation: these, with the speed of the mutations we are recording and with the increasing globalization in all fields, have led to a rapid change of humankind, ideas and behavior in all areas of life, human and not. I would quote as a symbol of the new world, I do not know how much better or worse, that 1994 was the year of inauguration of the Channel Tunnel, 2019 could be the year of Brexit. If I think of sporting facts, the 100-meter world record was 9.85. Today Usain Bolt brought it to 9.58. Michael Phelps was nine years old. It is obvious, and it is a good thing, that the International Olympic Committee has changed and that it has left the sporting fields to descend into the social, cultural and economic reality of the world, becoming a leading actor.

    ATR: You have been an IOC member under three presidents, Samaranch, Rogge and Bach. Can you compare them? What is the most important accomplishment of their presidency?

    IOC President Jacques Rogge and Pescante at the 2002 ANOC Assembly in Kuala Lumpur. (ATR)
    MP: It is difficult to make comparisons because we are dealing with three very different men who have gone through different times, facing conjunctures that constantly proposed new challenges. However, if I should summarize in just one characteristic the differences between these three great Presidents, with whom I found myself always working in total, I would say that Samaranch embodied the recompositing of the sport world torn apart by political boycotts, to bring it back to the beautiful unity that we saw and experienced in "his" Barcelona in '92; that Rogge, himself an Olympic athlete, has focused a lot on the involvement of athletes in the government of sport, bringing it to current modernization; that Bach is a true "president of change", very sensitive to the social, environmental and diplomatic problems of our times. I would cite as a proof of this, the solidarity that can be of his pride, the support to the refugee team, the 2020 agenda and, last for now, in order of time, the "Korean miracle", the one that started the normalization process, or even unification, between the two Koreas.

    ATR: You have worked on behalf of the IOC at the United Nations for a number of years. What is the status of the relationship with the UN? Can the relationship be expanded?

    MP: The tune between the UN and the IOC has been growing over the years, not only with the institutionalization of support for the Olympic Truce, but above all with the recognition given to the IOC of the role of Permanent Observer in the UN Assembly. In particular, with the Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the tune was total. Ban Ki-moon said: "The UN does not speak in first person about sport: its voice, in sport, is that of the IOC".

    ATR
    : Were you involved with the effort to organize the unified Korean team at the Winter Olympics? What is the role of the IOC and sport in the political issues between North Korea and South Korea?

    Mario Pescante, IOC member in Italy, Dr. Chungwon Choue, pres. of World Taekwondo, and Yong Son Ri, pres., Int'l Taekwondo at Casa Italia (ATR)
    MP: I mentioned earlier the "Korean miracle" of which, then, the great international politicians have tried to assume the paternity. Personally, I played an absolutely marginal role together with many other colleagues. My contribution was limited to establishing, thanks to the extraordinary friendships with the [IOC] member from North Korea Ung Chang and to the collaboration agreements established between CONI and the North Korean sports authorities.

    In particular, after a private and informal visit in North Korea, hosted by my friend Ung Chang, we have prepared a three-year program of sports exchanges that have allowed young players from North Korea to carry out training internships with Italian peers both in Rome and at the Federal Football Federation in Florence. Olympism has taught us that when the barriers between peoples cannot be broken down, sport can build bridges. Well for years the bridges between North Korea and Italy have been very popular, among other things in years when it was officially forbidden. I emphasize, for the record, that after football, another sport has cultivated intense partnerships with North Korea for years: the Italian Taekwondo Federation has been very active on this front. Having said this, I believe that once again the contribution offered by the so-called unofficial sport diplomacy has been decisive. But the winning card was the strategy carried out by President Bach, in the silence and in the media secrecy essential in these situations, it was rewarding.

    ATR
    : Will Brexit have any impact on sport in Europe?

    MP
    : I do not believe that Brexit will have a direct impact on sporting relationships and on the IOC; I think rather that its economic, financial and social effects will, in the individual European countries, especially those of the United Kingdom, create some difficulties. I remain convinced that Europe is a great ideal, but that it should not just be an ideal. And that sport will always keep everyone united in respect of their values.

    ATRThe IOC had had a difficult time attracting bids for the Winter Olympics in particular. Italy, which has had its problems with past Summer Olympic bids from Rome, has now successfully nominated Milan for Winter 2026.

    I would say that there was a "crisis of vocations", not only in Italy, in advancing Olympic candidatures; that of Rome had its difficulties, above all for the political involutions that were recorded in Italy.

    ATR: Is there the public and government support needed for the Milan bid? How will it be different from the bids from Rome?

    MP: I believe that the Milan-Cortina candidature, compared to the more recent ones in Rome is part of this new awareness of the real situation. I do not say it because I’m Italian, but the two cities have everything to be a home for the Winter Games. Back to 1956, Cortina has proof of its capabilities. Milan has risen in all the rankings that control the cities standards and now it is in a happy period of expansion, especially after the success of the Expo 2015. The necessary government guarantees
    Pescante enjoying a gelato during a break in an IOC meeting. (ATR)
    are all there. It seems to me a favorable and reliable situation.

    ATR: The law governing CONI has been changed, limiting the work of CONI to organizing the participation of Italy at the Olympic Games. This means a large budget reduction. What do you think of the change, what impact will it have?

    MP:
    There is a reform of the "sport system" in Italy, but it has been clarified that there will be no "political" intervention on the Olympic competences of CONI, in full respect of the Olympic Charter and, it has been as well clarified that there will be no budget reduction. I think that the collaboration between the political authorities, who do their job, and the sport ones, which defend values and prerogatives recognized by the IOC, will lead not to a compromise but to a good and more modern organization, always in the philosophy "to each his own".

    ATR
    : Twenty years ago the Salt Lake City vote buying scandal was tearing apart the IOC. What do you remember from that time?

    MP: I remember all of the "Salt Lake City scandal"; I remember that people of mirroring honesty were pointed out to the public execration: I remember the cauldron in which the entire IOC was thrown in. But I also stress how the IOC itself found antidotes within itself by eliminating the culprits and establishing new rules.

    ATR
    : How did this change the IOC?

    MP
    : There have been good changes within the "balance of powers". The increasing [number] of athletes joining the IOC and the growing relationships with the NOCs and the International Federations have greatly served to improve the situation, making it more effective and transparent.

    ATR: Still the IOC seems to have image problems. How can the IOC improve its communications?

    MP: I do not believe that currently there are image problems for the IOC. The ideas on "the lords of the rings" are things belonging to the past. The IOC has been able to enter the new world of communication. The Olympic Channel and web communication…

    Pescante in 2006 with Turin Winter Olympics president Valentino Castellani. (ATR)
    ATR: You are leading your final meeting as chair of the IOC Commission on Public Affairs and Social Development Through Sport. What is the most satisfying accomplishment of the commission? What is in the future?

    MP: The Commission that I presided over for twelve years has seen the attention grow around its contribution. Yes, I can say that I am satisfied with the work done so far by the Commission, also because I was lucky enough to meet the collaboration of all the members, people of great international and professional level. I am sure that this is a very important Commission within the IOC and I am convinced that the people in charge after my departure will carry out a decisive and very positive work.

    ATR
    : How will you spend your time without IOC responsibilities?

    MP
    : I have two projects in principle, linked to the concept that is attributed to the cities hosting the Olympics: once Olympic, forever Olympic. It's also true for me: a sport man forever. So, I will continue, for example, to teach at two Roman universities. I think it is very important that men of my age transmit their knowledge to today's children, who seem to me, in general, very well oriented in keeping hold the Olympic values. And then I would like to bring to a successful conclusion a book that I am writing together with a well-known Italian journalist Piero Mei, with whom we have already published other historical political publications: it will be an "Olympic novel" that will tell, by the meaning of contextualizing them through today’s events, facts, champions and not champions that have built the history of the Summer Games from Athens 1896 until Rio 2016. I exclude Tokyo 2020 because I hope we'll finish it sooner.

    Reported by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.
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