OSAKA — Surfers of the world unite. At least if you want to hang 10 for an Olympic medal someday.
That was just one of the messages delivered during the 33rd general assembly of the General Association of International Sports Federations in Osaka last week.
Based in Monaco, GAISF consists of nearly 90 sports federations, from badminton to volleyball to tae kwon do, and is regarded as one of the world’s most influential amateur sports organizations, second only to the International Olympic Committee.
Surfing is one of the better-known sports represented within GAISF that hopes to become an Olympic event soon. Other, more exotic members, such as the International Sled Dog Racing Federation, may have to wait a bit longer to compete for the Olympic gold.
Yet GAISF’s importance, at least for those Olympic-hopeful cities that want to host its conference, is not in meeting the canine members but the human ones.
GAISF includes 12 IOC executives. It is run by Un Yong Kim from South Korea, widely regarded as a likely successor to the IOC presidency.
For the past 10 months, the world has been treated to revelations about corruption within the IOC. Stories of bribes in Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Sydney and Nagano have shaken the Olympics to the core.
Currently, the U.S. Congress and the FBI are investigating charges of corruption in Salt Lake City and Atlanta and want IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to testify.
Since the scandal broke last December, the IOC has engaged in a massive public relations campaign to clean up its image. It appointed an ethics committee and is promising to be more open and transparent.
GAISF’s Kim was one of the most senior IOC officials to get caught up in the scandal when it was revealed that he had asked Salt Lake City organizers to secure a job for his son.
The younger Kim has been indicated in the U.S. for fraud, while Kim himself narrowly avoided being expelled by the IOC, receiving a stern warning.
But where others see fraud and abuse on his part, Kim denies any wrongdoing.
“I defy anyone to prove evidence of the slightest embezzlement in my private or public life,” Kim said last April in a GAISF newsletter before the IOC handed down its punishment.
Other GAISF members have said there is a U.S. conspiracy to discredit Kim and the IOC. GAISF Secretary General Don Porter warned U.S. cities bidding for the Olympics that if their politicians and media get too aggressive, they would lose out.
“There seems to be a lynch-mob mentality among certain U.S. politicians. This could backfire when it comes to selecting host cities for major sports events, including the Olympics,” Porter wrote in the GAISF newsletter shortly after Kim’s article appeared.
In Osaka, though, GAISF officials dismissed the scandal as water under the bridge. “What is most important now is the sacred unity of the international sports movement,” GAISF spokesman Jean Louis Meuret said.
“Sacred unity” was a phrase heard a lot during the Osaka conference. Translated, it meant no public dissent within the ranks. And, for those looking to see their chosen sport — whether it be surfing, dog sleighing or sumo (which was admitted to GAISF during the Osaka meeting) — eventually become an Olympic event, sacred unity meant going along with the decisions of Kim and GAISF.
But for all the talk of unity, there were three separate agendas for the three major players at GAISF: Kim, Kevan Gosper from the IOC and the city of Osaka.
For Kim, the GAISF conference was a chance to close ranks and publicly show other GAISF members that, despite the fallout from the IOC scandal, he remains very much in charge of GAISF.
Gosper, representing Samaranch, said he was in attendance on behalf of the media, a puzzling statement he did not elaborate on.
But many of those attending the conference said Gosper, a favorite of several reform-minded members to replace Samaranch, was in Osaka to ensure there was no excessive entertainment of IOC members.
And for Osaka officials, the trick was how to promote the city’s 2008 Olympic bid without attracting too much attention.
The IOC warned Osaka last summer not to conduct excessive advertising for its Olympic bid during the GAISF meeting, but that didn’t stop officials from pulling out all the stops to welcome the delegates.
Attendees were treated to a noh performance and orchestral concert, several cocktail parties and receptions, tours to Kyoto and Nara, and an “Osaka House” to introduce the city. Nearly all of this, as well as the hotel charge for the GAISF delegates, was paid for by the city.
Gosper said Osaka’s GAISF activities, including a symposium on the Olympics where a senior GAISF member spoke, had been given the green light by the IOC.
This was more than just good hospitality. In less than two months, the IOC will finalize guidelines for the 2008 bidding process and is expected to ban or place very heavy restrictions on IOC member visits to bid cities, which means GAISF might have been Osaka’s only chance to show itself to IOC officials.
And what of the conference itself? The main topic of controversy was doping in sports. The IOC promised to set up an antidoping agency by the end of the year.
But despite calls from some delegates, notably the Australians, to adopt stronger measures, GAISF passed a resolution that said only that it would follow the IOC’s lead, offering no specific antidoping measures.
With its emphasis on unity, GAISF officials also said that IOC-proposed antidoping measures might not be acceptable to all member federations.
“GAISF cannot force its will on the member federations,” Kim said.
What remains unanswered is how much member federations can force their will on the membership of GAISF and the IOC.
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