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IOC’s Haddad rejects Global Athlete’s collective bargaining call, backs solidarity model

Lana Haddad, chief operating officer, IOC (Photograph by Greg Martin/IOC)

The International Olympic Committee’s chief operating officer, Lana Haddad, has said that the body’s solidarity model for redistributing its revenue is “more important than ever” in an op-ed column written to counter calls for the IOC to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with its athletes.

Haddad wrote that the IOC “stands in solidarity with all athletes and all sports” and launched a robust defence of the organisation’s revenue-sharing model, saying that to make significant changes would leave the IOC unable “to maintain its current level of support for the hosting of the Olympic Games”.

Her comments follow claims made in an explosive report issued last month by Global Athlete, which argued that just 0.5 per cent of IOC income was spent directly on athletes, and called for the introduction of collective bargaining agreements so that Olympians can be “appropriately compensated” for appearing at the Games.

Haddad wrote: “The entire structure of the Olympic Movement is built on the model of solidarity in its widest possible sense, and is based on revenue-sharing. Ninety per cent of the IOC’s revenues, $5bn [€4.6bn/£4bn] in the last Olympiad or the equivalent of $3.4 million per day, is redistributed. 

“This values-based, not-for profit solidarity model is not at all comparable to the for-profit business model of professional leagues. Their revenue generation and distribution are based on maximising returns, and generally benefit one sport in one country. This is not by any means a criticism of such models, but we have to acknowledge that this is simply a very different route.”

Rebuking the Global Athlete report’s claim that directly compensating athletes “could alleviate…discrepancies in funding allotments,” Haddad argues that something closer to a for-profit model would “not be [the] Olympic Games as we know them”, saying that the system “is part of the DNA of the Olympic Movement”.

The complications of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with so many athletes and the subsequent diversion of funds would ultimately result in a decline in the IOC’s ability to support athletes from developing nations and for initiatives such as the Refugee Olympic Team, Haddad said.

She continued: “The IOC wants to support athletes, through the existing system, to the best of its abilities. Athletes are at the core of everything the IOC does. But athletes are not employed by the IOC and should not be considered workers in the same way as they are in professional leagues. Therefore, the recent renewed calls for direct payments to athletes are disturbing. If the IOC were to do that, it would result in increased inequity and would benefit fewer individuals. 

“The not-for-profit model means the IOC is not able to remunerate athletes directly. But let’s imagine, even if the IOC were able to do so, and had to enter into collective bargaining for athletes to be compensated by the IOC for their participation at the Games. This would mean calculating the commercial value proposition of each athlete, team and sport.

“It would not be simple maths: the IOC could not just divide X million dollars by 11,000 athletes for the Olympic Games and by 3,000 athletes for the Olympic Winter Games. Take the professional leagues and clubs: the value of each team and each athlete is not the same, and they are all compensated differently. 

“Suddenly, athletes qualified for the Olympic Games would be pitched against those who have not qualified; athletes competing in one sport would be pitched against athletes competing in another sport; current competitors would be pitched against future and past generations of athletes. If some athletes got more, others would get less.

“This is not at all in line with the mission of the IOC and does not represent the Olympic values. The solidarity model would be broken. The majority of athletes would not benefit.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing and many international federations and national Olympic committees struggling and appealing to the IOC for support, Haddad said that its “model and role are more important than ever” and that the IOC “will not go down the track of defining this support to athletes as a cold-hearted cost-benefit analysis, pitching athletes against athletes and sports against sports”.