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Games on Pause

As SportAccord’s future hangs in the balance, Elisha Chauhan looks at the potential consequences for the union of International Federations’ World Beach, Combat, Mind and Urban Games.

When Marius Vizer resigned as SportAccord president following the fallout from his outburst against the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in April, he cast a shadow over the future of his union’s portfolio of events. 

SportAccord’s World Beach, Combat, Mind and Urban Games (see box off) was a showcase for both Olympic and non-Olympic sports. However, the latter group is now fearful that if SportAccord’s tailored events disappear, there will be no other platform for promotion.

SportAccord events haven’t been successful due to Vizer’s lack of collaboration and engagement with all of its members

“It’s a bit of tragedy that the four SportAccord sports events are probably going to fall by the wayside,” Patrick Nally told SportBusiness International. Nally is the president of the International Federation of Poker (IFP) – a sport vying to be included in SportAccord’s World Mind Games.

“The major issue is figuring out who is going to be monitoring all of the sports and their classifications, because there is going to be a huge grey area for all of the sports that are not lucky enough to be recognised by the Olympic calendar,” he adds.

The 2017 World Combat Games was set to feature 16 different sports such as karate. However, after Vizer’s attack on the IOC for a lack of transparency, a host of Olympic sports federations suspended their ties with SportAccord as well as withdrawing their participation in the World Combat Games, including AIBA (the International Boxing Association), UWW (United World Wrestling), WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) and the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation). Lima (Peru) withdrew as hosts shortly afterwards.

Life’s a Beach

The World Beach Games was supposed to be co-organised between SportAccord and ANOC (the Association of National Olympic Committees), headed by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah – who is also president of OCA (the Olympic Council of Asia), the body that launched its own continental beach games in 2008.

Not long after Vizer announced Sochi would host the inaugural World Beach Games in 2019, at the 2015 SportAccord Convention where he made his infamous speech against the IOC, Sheikh Ahmad revealed ANOC would break away to host its own international beach games.

“The World Beach Games were initially scheduled to take place in Brazil in 2015, before Vizer decided to bring them to Russia [in 2019], which is obviously a questionable choice,” former SportAccord chief executive Vincent Gaillard told SportBusiness International. “Perhaps the reason why SportAccord’s sports events haven’t all been successful since Vizer’s election is a lack of collaboration and engagement with all of its members.”

Gaillard also raised concerns over the amount of times hosting rights for SportAccord events went to Russia.

“ANOC, in its wisdom, is launching its own Beach Games – so does that suggest that ANOC will be the body that will now take over the responsibilities to organise its own version of all SportAccord events?” adds Nally. “That begs the question, though, of how do they recognise those sports that aren’t currently recognised by the IOC and are included in those events?”

Despite the mass exodus by sports governing bodies from SportAccord, Gaillard believes that the events may still continue if they’re organised by a new president who will work collaboratively with the IOC and all other key stakeholders.

“It is my view that the various international sports federations and the IOC dropped their support of Vizer and not of SportAccord itself,” he says. “We should consider the fact that those two multi-sport [World Combat and World Beach] Games were fully supported at their origin by the IOC and the relevant IFs. Their concepts were and remain economically viable, and should survive with able new leadership.”

It is a point endorsed by SportAccord’s interim chairman Gian-Franco Kasper who told SportBusiness International that he thinks the four events will survive.

“Why not?” he said. “They should continue as the international federations have an interest in keeping them going, but the question is should SportAccord be an umbrella for the IFs, or does it still need to be the organiser of events like these? We have some doubts as to whether SportAccord still needs to be the organiser.”

The Perfect Fit

Another factor that increases the likelihood of SportAccord events continuing, is the fact that they are all of different sizes – in terms of the number of sports and athletes involved – which means that cities can bid for the event that best suits their region’s hosting capabilities and preferences.

“If you look at the breadth and the depth of the SportAccord events, they can cater and be attractive to any host nation and city,” says Gaillard. “The Wold Mind Games’ operating budget was initially quite small, costing around $3-4 million, whereas the World Beach Games or Combat Games could be suitable for regions that aspire to host the summer Olympic Games.

Vizer probably got a bit too ambitious with the World Beach Games

“Even still, Vizer probably got a bit too ambitious with the World Beach Games too, making it much bigger than the 10 sports that were initially involved with the first editions, and therefore too expensive.”

The event most affected by recent events is the World Urban Games, according to Gaillard.

“The World Urban Games are not going to go ahead in the current environment, but the concept still makes a lot of sense. Right now, there’s not the management and infrastructure in place to properly organise it. I have no doubt that the event could be a success in the future,” he says.

“I don’t necessarily think that this is the end of cities wanting to host SportAccord events – be it conferences, conventions or sports events – because cities do see the value of winning hosting rights,” adds Nally. “There’s not going to be a lack of bidders for SportAccord events, the problem is the lack of identity of who’s responsible for organising what.”

Round-up: SportAccord’s Events

World Beach Games: The subject of much contention having originally been planned to be hosted in 2015 before being twice pushed back to 2017 then 2019. The event was originally supposed to be jointly organised between SportAccord and ANOC (the Association of National Olympic Committees).

World Combat Games: First took place in 2010 in Beijing, China, then three years later in St. Petersburg, Russia. The next edition in 2017 was due to be held in Lima, Peru, but its national Olympic committee withdrew the hosting rights last month in protest against Vizer’s public attack against his IOC counterpart Thomas Bach and his Agenda 2020 reforms.

World Urban Games: Due to take place for the first time next year despite not having a host city. The event would have included 20 outdoor sports such as 3×3 basketball, air sports and freestyle motocross, with over 4,200 participants – 2,300 of which would be athletes and officials.

World Mind Games: Based around five mind sports; bridge, chess, draughts, go and xiangqi. The 2013 World Mind Games in Beijing attracted over 250 players and officials, with 150 of its leading players coming from 37 countries.

SportAccord Convention: Andrew Ryan, ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) executive director reportedly said at least four alternative cities have already expressed interest in hosting the annual event after Russia withdrew its contract to host the 2016 edition.

United World Sport Championships: Vizer’s proposed quadrennial multi-sports event idea that was seen as a competitor to the Olympic Games. Interim SportAccord chairman Gian-Franco Kasper told SportBusiness International that this event could be cut as part of a new SportAccord: “We don’t want to organise something like the United World Championship, because why would we? It’s unnecessary.”

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