ANOC (the Association of national Olympic committees) held its 63rd executive council meeting in Kuwait at the end of March. Hosted by the country’s Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al Sabah – ANOC and OCA (Olympic Council of Asia) president and the so-called kingmaker of the Olympic Movement – the event attracted some of the biggest names in sports administration, with around 40 IOC (International Olympic Committee) members making the trip to the shore of the Persian Gulf.
My time in Kuwait began in the VIP lounge at the country’s airport, which was grand enough to have been passed off as a royal ballroom. After an hour spent meeting fellow attendees, a man wearing Ray Bans walked into the lounge – later revealed to be IOC member Timothy Fok – who came straight to Kuwait from Brazil following a visit of the 2016 Olympic Games co-ordination commission to Rio.
It didn’t take long for someone to point out that the Fok, OCA vice-president and head of the Hong Kong Football Association, is one of the richest members of the IOC, the son of self-made multi-billionaire Henry Fok. It also didn’t take long for everyone to realise this wasn’t going to be one of the smaller, less-attended fixtures on the sports industry calendar.
It didn’t take long to see more high-profile guests at OCA headquarters. Waiting near the elevator ahead of my interview with Sheikh Ahmad was International Judo Federation and SportAccord president Marius Vizer, smoking a trademark cigar. Vizer, who has shaken up SportAccord since becoming president in March 2013, was a supported by Sheikh Ahmad during his election campaign.
ANOC working groups and commissions – meeting for the first time in 31 years – used the event to lay out a road map for the inaugural World Beach Games, a joint project between SportAccord and ANOC, and the ANOC Gala Awards, which have now been approved to take place late next year. The Gala Awards will give ANOC the chance to recognise best practice from its national Olympic committees, athletes and coaches on an annual basis.
Sheikh Ahmad revealed that the final proposal for these events will be drawn up at the ANOC executive council in Lausanne in July, before being taken to its general assembly in Bangkok this November. New $20-million ANOC headquarters are being built in Lausanne, which will have their opening ceremony during July’s meeting.
The ANOC executive council
The Olympic Agenda 2020 was also a main discussion point, with IOC president Thomas Bach outlining the IOC’s focus on reviewing host city bidding procedures, the Olympic sports programme, TV broadcasting and other issues in the IOC statutes. The ANOC working groups will present recommendations in these sectors for final approval to the IOC session in Monaco this December.
Over the three days in Kuwait, it became clear that there is a great deal of substance to Sheikh Ahmad’s style. He is dedicated to ensuring ANOC’s relevance within the Olympic Movement by maintaining an open and friendly environment to encourage change, namely through delivering a blueprint for Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020.
“I don’t expect to achieve anything personally as co-ordinator,” he told me. “I just want to see the value of the Olympic Movement secured for future generations.”
With only a handful of journalists at the event, everyone was free to speak to the A-list attendees in a relaxed setting and with copious amounts of Middle Eastern hospitality. Even President Bach – who was also backed by Sheikh Ahmad during his election last year – admitted that the reception he and his colleagues had received in Kuwait was second-to-none.
There’s no doubt the welcoming showed ANOC’s commitment to rub shoulders with the best and most influential people in the world sport both at home and abroad.