LANE ONE: IOC’s “Olympic Summit” needles U.S. Congress and USOPC, pushes away from “gaming”; is AIBA’s election of Kremlev its doom?

The ninth Olympic Summit in action, with IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) at far right. (Photo: IOC/Greg Martin)

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Let’s start by stating that the cliche “perception is reality” has a lot of truth to it. What appears to be true may or may not be, but if we believe it, it’s as good as true.

“Unity” is one of the watchwords of the Olympic Movement since Spain’s Juan Antonio Samaranch took over as President of the International Olympic Committee back in 1980. Sometimes true and sometimes only a perception of the truth the IOC desires to promote, it’s an important tool in marshaling support for operating and political stances needed across the International Federations and National Olympic Committees.

That’s the context of the so-called “Olympic Summit” meetings, including the ninth edition held this past Saturday (12th), held by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic, but important nonetheless.

By bringing together the leadership of the IOC (7 members), the IFs (9 representatives), the NOCs (5 representatives) and Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee, the Summit purports to represent the breadth of the Olympic world.

The meeting is closed to the participants only and a “declaration” is provided afterwards as its definitive statement, essentially representing the Olympic Movement. So on Saturday, the Olympic Summit declared:

● The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019, recently signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump, and which provides for enforcement beyond the territory of the U.S., is a bad idea.

Of course, the Summit communique didn’t come out and say that. Instead, the condemnation of the Act was couched in terms of the worldwide fight against doping and the leadership of the World Anti-Doping Agency:

“In this effort, global cooperation between sport and governments needs to be strengthened under the auspices of WADA. The worldwide system, which includes WADA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the governments of the world and the International Federations (IFs), with the full participation of the athletes, must not be jeopardised by unilateral actions of governments or individual sports organisations. The Summit reiterated that the fight against doping in sport can be credible and successful only if it is based on a system of globally accepted rules and seamless international cooperation.” (Emphasis added.)

That’s about as clear as it gets in the (usually) diplomatic language of the Olympic Movement.

● Another bad idea: the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee announcement last Thursday that it would support the recommendations of its Council on Racial and Social Justice: “the USOPC will not sanction Team USA athletes for respectfully demonstrating in support of racial and social justice for all human beings.” The recommendations further ask “the IOC and IPC to update guidelines to allow for peaceful actions that specifically advocate for human rights and racial and social justice, and distinguishes those acts from to-be-defined ‘divisive demonstrations’.”

The Summit communique noted a report from IOC Executive Board member and IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) – a seven-time Olympic medalist in swimming – concerning the Commission’s ongoing outreach efforts on Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans protests at the Games, including:

“This IOC AC consultation process is currently underway, with a qualitative discussion with National Olympic Committees (NOCs)’ and IFs’ ACs, as well as a quantitative survey among the athletes of all 206 NOCs.”

Then came the kicker:

“IPC President Andrew Parsons informed the Summit about a statement by the Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council which refers to a similar procedure within the Paralympic athlete community. The statement explains that ‘the majority of Paralympians and Para athletes would welcome an opportunity to express themselves during the Games but in a manner that still requires such expressions remain outside the field of play, podium and ceremonies. Athletes were very clear that they want Tokyo 2020 and future Games to be remembered for sporting achievements more than anything else.’”

This is the IOC’s way of telegraphing, quietly but directly – and without preempting its Athletes’ Commission – that the IPC’s stance is where it will end up as well. No protests on the awards podium or at the Opening or Closing Ceremonies. Maybe somewhere else.

Let’s remember that these statements are from the “Declaration of the 9th Olympic Summit.” The participants included two Americans – IOC First Vice President Anita DeFrantz and USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons, who was quoted in support of the USOPC’s statement last week – plus World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe (GBR), who told Japanese reporters in October that “if an athlete wishes to take the knee on a podium then I’m supportive of that.”

DeFrantz, a 1976 Olympic medalist in rowing, has deferred publicly to the IOC’s process; Lyons and Coe have not. Maybe they were outvoted, but in any case they were in the meeting that produced these statements.

The Declaration also clarified the IOC’s position on eSports, defining a difference between “virtual sports” – essentially electronic forms of existing, physical sports – and “gaming,” including competitive gaming and recreational games:

“The Summit agreed that it is essential for IFs to embrace both the physical and non-physical virtual forms of their respective sports, with a focus on regulating fair competition, respecting the values of sport in these virtual forms, and reaching out to new audiences.

“With regard to gaming, the Summit agreed contact would be maintained with gamers as a gateway to promoting physical activity and the values of sport to young generations.”

The future is clear. Games such as League of Legends – a combat program noted by name in the Declaration – are not of interest to the IOC, at least not for the foreseeable future.

The Declaration also expressed support – as expected – for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, as well as for the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

Now you know where the IOC stands, even if some of the participants in the Declaration don’t stand with it.

Perception is the problem now facing the International Boxing Association (AIBA), as it elected Russian Boxing Federation Secretary General Umar Kremlev as its new President, also on Saturday (12th).

There were five candidates in the online election among 155 national boxing federations, with Suleyman Mikayilov (AZE) eliminated first, then Anas Al Otaiba (UAE). On the third ballot, Kremlev received a majority of 86 votes against 45 for Boris van der Vorst (NED) and 19 for Morocco’s Mohamed Moustahsane, the AIBA Interim President.

Kremlev, 38, became Secretary General of the Russian Boxing Federation in 2017 and like Mikayilov, Al Otaiba and Moustahsane, has been – since March 2018 – a member of the AIBA Executive Committee during its tumultuous fall into IOC suspension on 26 June 2019.

The IOC appointed a special working group to figure out AIBA’s status, especially its failures in governance, refereeing and judging and its accumulation of as much as $30 million in debt, with a likely future bankruptcy.

In May 2019, the working group report that recommended suspension also noted Kremlev’s audacious 28 March 2019 letter in which he stated “I am ready to close all debts of AIBA in full, so long as our favorite sport remains on the Olympic program.”

The report noted:

“Given the … fact that his letter did not provide any explanations on the origin of the funds to be used, the IOC Inquiry Committee questions the seriousness of the due diligence carried out by AIBA before the announcement to the media. Background checks on the origin of funds from external parties is part of basic standards of good governance expected to be implemented by Olympic IFs.”

And there was this:

“Additionally, during the week preceding his proposal (press article TASS 25 March 2019), Mr Umar Kremlev expressed his willingness to campaign for the AIBA presidency, in case this position would become vacant. Thus, the acceptance of his personal financial support to cover the debt of AIBA would constitute a major conflict of interest.”

In his remarks after election, Kremlev commented in an AIBA posting:

“Let me make it clear: the path to rebuilding AIBA is not easy. It will not happen overnight. We have to unite together and work with one mission, and one mission alone: rebuilding the credibility and trust that AIBA once had in the minds of sports people worldwide and that includes, of course, restoring AIBA’s Olympic status.

“Getting rid of AIBA’s debt will be the first priority. As I promised when I announced my run for the presidency, I will clear this debt in the first six months. My administration will aim to raise $50 million within two years, all of which will be used to rebuild AIBA.”

How he does this will be considerable interest to the IOC, which has promised to review AIBA’s status and boxing’s future for Paris 2024 after the Tokyo Games has been completed. Kremlev’s election is only for about two years, filling the remainder of the term of the since-resigned Gafur Rakhimov (UZB), who was elected in November 2018. The AIBA Congress also passed a new constitution by 84-25, but with 21 abstentions as well; this is only the beginning of the changes which the IOC is looking for.

Kremlev believes he can show the IOC a “new AIBA” that is competent and financially stable. The reality is that the IOC’s perception of both AIBA and him will be exceptionally difficult to change.

Rich Perelman

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