In the end it was inevitable. As Marius Vizer stood amidst the smoking, smouldering ruins of SportAccord, the freshly re-elected president knew that he had no choice but to quit.
He must also have known that the near-obliteration of the organisation, which he had such big plans for, was self-inflicted.
By launching a stealth attack on the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and its president Thomas Bach during his opening address at this year’s SportAccord Convention, Vizer was not so much delivering a speech as his notice of resignation.
Two months ago I wrote of my expectation that moves would be made behind the scenes to repair the rift and that some degree of normality would be restored. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it is now clear that the damage caused by Vizer’s outburst was irreparable and that he and his organisation had been holed below the waterline.
As one international federation (IF) after another announced they were suspending their membership, the lifeblood simply oozed out of SportAccord. Without members it had no purpose and more or less overnight became an empty shell – a testament to the folly of picking a fight you have no real hope of winning.
In his resignation statement Vizer slammed the IOC for his predicament and for not supporting his initiatives, but ultimately the blame rests at his door. By going on the attack in a most undiplomatic manner he effectively made his most influential stakeholders choose sides and, given the importance of the Olympic Games and the revenues derived from them, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
What is emerging is SportAccord Lite – shoved back into its box and stripped of its self-awarded badges of rank
According to interim chairman Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation (FIS) – who has somewhat reluctantly taken on the role as leader of salvage operations – it was difficult enough just to get representatives of member organisations into the same room to discuss the future.
But, as he explains in this month’s Headliner interview, it seems that SportAccord will survive in some guise albeit downsized and demoted. It appears unlikely that the SportAccord name – always considered a confusing branding blunder – will be retained. However, some sort of convention will continue alongside statutory meetings of the member IFs, and a scaled-down operation will provide services to IFs so long as they don’t duplicate those provided by the IOC.
What is emerging is SportAccord Lite – shoved back into its box, stripped of its self-awarded badges of rank and reminded of who’s who and what really matters in the hierarchy of international sport.
Vizer dared to challenge the IOC and lost because he forgot who holds all the cards. Bach didn’t raise his voice in anger and barely responded to Vizer’s outburst, he instead retained his dignity and statesmanlike aura while the ultimately fatal blows were struck.
It appears that a reborn SportAccord will not simply co-operate with the IOC but will be in thrall to it. And, while that may have always been the fact up to a point, there has to be a case for a stronger and more independent body to represent the interests of all IFs to provide the checks and balances in sport, which also exist elsewhere in politics and business.
SportAccord was never set up with a view to challenging the IOC, but the fact that it appeared to be developing in that way may not have been an altogether bad thing. Diversity of opinion and creative tension can both be positive because they ignite debate and inspire action.
In an ideal world, both the IOC and SportAccord would work together on matters of mutual interest with each having a clear role and distinct voice. Recent events underline the fact that Vizer was neither politically or temperamentally suited to leading such an organisation, but others may be. The trick is to have some separation as well as co-operation between the two bodies so that, were it ever necessary, one might call the other to account.
With SportAccord effectively emasculated, one wonders who might step up to play that role and it may be that ANOC (the Association of National Olympic Committees) fits the bill. Under Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, ANOC has been given an effective makeover and appears to be gaining influence around the world.
Given the close proximity of the national Olympic committees to their governments – which are the first resort for sports funding in many cases – it may well be equipped to take on the mantle.
Whatever now happens to SportAccord, it is clear that a body with an important role to play in modern-day sport was brought to its knees because of its leader, his ambitions and his unwillingness to play the game of sports diplomacy.
While few tears will be shed on his behalf, there are those who feel uncomfortable that the IOC is growing unchallenged into a vacuum to become the de facto governing body for all of world sport, because while that may be no cause for concern with the IOC under its current leadership, that may not be the case a decade or so down the line.