Only 1 winner, 1 loser in Vizer's Olympic fight with IOC
May. 26, 2015
LONDON (AP) — If this were a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the bout by now.
Marius Vizer picked the wrong battle when he decided to publicly take on the IOC in his role as president of SportAccord, an umbrella body for Olympic and non-Olympic federations.
Hardly a day has gone by without several federations or Olympic officials turning their back on Vizer after he ripped the International Olympic Committee and President Thomas Bach in his opening speech at last month's SportAccord convention in Sochi, Russia.
At least two dozen sports have suspended or dropped their membership in SportAccord, and Peruvian organizers have pulled the plug on Vizer's World Combat Games in Lima in 2017.
Behind the scenes, Bach has deftly rallied the Olympic movement behind him, leaving Vizer an isolated figure whose future — and that of SportAccord — are clearly in doubt.
Some questions and answers about the continuing fallout in the conflict roiling the Olympic world:
Q: Is Vizer backing down?
A: Hardly. He hasn't changed his tune since calling the IOC system "expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent" and saying Bach's "Olympic Agenda 2020" reform program was of little use to the federations. He has repeated his general views and sent Bach his own 20-point "reform agenda" last week that, among other things, calls for the introduction of prize money in the Olympics and a 50 percent stake for the federations in the new IOC's new television channel. There's no way the IOC will accept Vizer's proposals.
Q: Does Vizer have any supporters left?
A: None of significance, if any at all. Badminton and basketball were among the latest Olympic sports to suspend their membership in SportAccord, with karate, korfball, orienteering and motor sports among the non-Olympic federations to drop out. The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which covers the 28 sports in the games, has disassociated itself with Vizer. Peru has withdrawn as host of the multi-sport combat games, an event owned and overseen by SportAccord. The latest blow came Tuesday from Sheikh Ahmad, the powerful president of the Association of National Olympic Committees who helped get Vizer elected as SportAccord president in 2013. The sheikh said he was totally behind Bach and keeping his distance from Vizer.
Q: Why has this caused such a rift anyway?
A: Vizer, who also heads the international judo federation, was little known outside the inner sports circle until he sought to position himself as a major player in the Olympics after becoming head of SportAccord. The organization had never held much power in the past, but Vizer raised the stakes by trying to turn it into an organization that could rival other Olympic bodies and organize its own multi-sports events and championships, putting it in conflict with the IOC. Bach didn't embrace Vizer or his ideas, particularly his proposal for a United World Championship for all federations every four years. When Vizer blasted Bach and the IOC in Sochi, the gloves were off.
Q: What's next?
A: Vizer wrote to Bach last week asking for a meeting to clear the air. He also asked for a meeting with Francesco Ricci Bitti, the Italian who heads the summer Olympic sports body. Bach left him hanging, saying he would discuss the matter with the IOC executive board at its June 7-8 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ricci Bitti told Vizer to stop speaking on behalf of the federations because he doesn't represent their views. As long as Vizer is proposing his 20-point agenda, there's little chance the IOC or its allies will meet with him. Meantime, it's likely more federations will be cutting ties with SportAccord.
Q: Will Vizer apologize as some federations have suggested?
A: Unlikely, based on Vizer's pattern of behavior. He said he was sorry — sort of — for the manner of his outburst in Sochi but not the content of his views. Vizer is not the type to eat humble pie.
Q: Can Vizer and SportAccord survive?
A: Vizer was just re-elected as SportAccord president in Sochi. It will be interesting to see whether anyone will try to push him out. What's certain is that SportAccord has been crippled. Without Olympic backing, it has no place on the big stage. The IOC has made clear it can live without SportAccord, and the orienteering federation even raised the possibility on Tuesday of dumping SportAccord and forming a new organization with other sports bodies. The future of the annual SportAccord convention is also up in the air. The word is that Russia won't support hosting the event the next four years as originally planned.