|

Vizer’s attack may be costly

by Ed Odeven

Playing political hardball with the IOC is not a winning proposition.

SportAccord president Marius Vizer delivered a blistering critique of the IOC, its Agenda 2020 reforms, and its president, Thomas Bach, on April 20 at the SportAccord convention in Sochi, Russia . It was a headline-grabbing spectacle the world over.

In part, Vizer, who also heads the International Judo Federation, said, “History demonstrated that all the empires who reached the highest peaks of development never reformed on time and they are all headed for destruction. The IOC system today is expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Vizer also blurted out, “Mr. President, stop blocking the SportAccord strategy in its mission to identify and organize conventions and multi-sport games.”

In his Sochi speech, Vizer asked: “Why invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Opening and Closing ceremonies, while millions of athletes live in hunger and they don’t stand a chance in sport due to the lack of proper conditions?”

Just 24 hours after Vizer’s speech, AP reported, “at least 14 federation presidents, including FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, signed letters of protest at Vizer’s comments.” A day later, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) severed ties with Sport-Accord, an umbrella organization of international sports federations and other non-Olympic associations.

So what’s the big deal?

The IOC’s agenda-setting power, of course.

Author and investigative journalist Jens Weinreich, who has been called Germany’s chief FIFA critic, weighed in on what transpired in Sochi and its aftermath in a Thursday interview.

He described the Romanian-born Vizer’s speech “as wonderful.”

“That was clear language,” Weinreich said by phone from Germany. “Usually you don’t hear clear language in the Olympic world. . . . That is great, that is clear words, but the other point is, of course, in probably 30 years it has not happened like this.”

The two-time German Sports Journalist of the Year noted there were “some open fights at the beginning of the ’80s when (Juan Antonio) Samaranch took over the IOC” and butted heads with Thomas Keller of the General Association of International Sports Federations (forerunner to SportAccord).

“I didn’t speak to anyone who said, ‘OK, I expected this.’ It was a surprise for everyone,” commented Weinreich, who didn’t attend the SportAccord gathering in Sochi.

“That was probably also the end of SportAccord, it seems to be.”

Why?

“Bach has made very clear that he will never forget something like this,” Weinreich said. “He’s the man who never has open fights in his whole life. That’s the Samaranch school; if someone fights like that with him, this guy is dead, more or less, in the political point of view.”

In an interview with German media this week, Bach declared it’s his view that SportAccord’s existence isn’t vital for sports. Weinreich summed up what Bach said this way: “We don’t need a federation in between. We can deal with the IFs (international federations) directly. In the case of the Olympic federations, we have a body for the Summer Olympic federations (ASOIF) and a body for the Winter Olympic federations.”

The intrigue behind Vizer’s outburst is this: He’s a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “and Putin’s always with him and he was in Sochi,” Weinreich offered.

“And what is Putin doing?” Weinreich remarked. “That is the biggest question. Why would Vizer make such a mistake? Nobody knows.”

While Vizer may have alienated himself forever within the Olympic movement, Weinreich recognizes the value of his hell-raising speech.

“On several points, he’s totally right,” Weinreich insisted.

Earlier this week, in an interview with Euronews, Vizer called IAAF president Lamine Diack “totally corrupt,” Weinreich recounted. However, as the German journalist pointed out, Diack has strong ties with Bach. And the IOC controls TV rights; SportAccord doesn’t.

“The only money behind SportAccord is the deals with the SportAccord convention and Arkady Rotenberg,” said Weinreich, referring to the Russian business tycoon, who along with his brother, Boris, secured billions of dollars in construction contracts for the Sochi Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Putin and the Rotenberg brothers were schoolmates and trained together as judoka.)

Rotenberg supported Vizer’s aim to launch a multi-sport unified world championships every four years. The IOC doesn’t welcome the concept nor Vizer’s demands for greater clout for sports federations.

“The question is, in the power game behind (Vizer), what is this guy doing?” Weinreich told The Japan Times. “Can you … imagine that Vizer is doing something like that without having consulted before with his friend Rotenberg? Without having consulted with Putin? I can hardly imagine.”

In Weinreich’s view, despite Vizer’s attack of Olympic reforms and the status quo, Bach, who was elected IOC chief in 2013, has strengthened his position at the top.

“You have to go back 15, 20 years ago to the Samaranch times, where all pillars of the so-called Olympic movement and federations, the NOCs (national Olympic committees) were aided and enabled by Sheikh Ahmad (Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait),” he went on, recognizing the power that the IOC power broker and president of the 205-member Association of National Olympic Committees wields.

“You can look at almost every body, every council and everything is connected. That is the ideal of Sheikh Ahmad, the ideal of Samaranch: united, unity. … They need only unity.

“Vizer is now the only one who is doing his own game, and Bach has made very, very clear, listen, guy, we don’t need you. You don’t have anything to offer.”

Uchimura assessed

Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo considers gymnast Kohei Uchimira’s reign of supremacy an amazing feat.

Five-time defending all-around world champion Uchimura, who also captured the all-around gold at the 2012 London Games, is in a class all by himself, Scherbo stated in a recent interview with NBCSports.com.

“To become one of greatest gymnasts of all time, you have to have a little bit more achievements and medals,” Scherbo was quoted as saying. “As of right now, I don’t see anybody close to him, especially with the large margin of victory in competition, and how flawlessly he’s doing them. With his difficulty right now, his all-around goes so flawless and without faults. It is very, very hard to do. That’s already very impressive.

“The difficulty of his routines is top-notch. I would tell you that, yes, he is one of the best for sure. I don’t think it will be anyone who’s going to become closer to him.”

Scherbo should know. After all, the retired gymnast collected an unprecedented six gold medals for the Unified Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games. That remains the gold standard.

“What I’ve seen on videos for him, first of all with the difficulty of gymnastics right now,” Scherbo told NBCSports.com, “and the difficult skills and being a specialist on one or two events a normal practice in the world, but to be the all-around leader for the past three, four years, winning all the competitions, especially the big ones, and winning by the large number, it already shows and says enough.”

Uchimura claimed his eighth consecutive all-around title at nationals last Sunday. He has 16 world championship medals and five from the Olympics. Before retiring, Uchimura, now 26, may surpass Scherbo’s 23 worlds and 10 Olympic medals.

Swimming talk

How big of an impact will Bob Bowman make as Arizona State’s men’s and women’s swimming coach?

That remains to be seen, but his appointment last week to the post means 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps is following him to Arizona for the build-up to the 2016 Rio Games.

Indeed, other high-profile swimmers will want to gravitate to Bowman and train with — and compete against — Phelps.

Clearly, Hall of Fame pool mentor Bowman is a huge name, but one longtime observer predicted the Valley of the Sun will not change overnight into the center of the swimming universe.

“I don’t see Bowman as a ‘guru’ of swimming like the famous coaches of yesteryear such as George Haines (Santa Clara Swim Club, Stanford and UCLA) or Mark Schubert (University of Southern California and Texas, among other places),” the source told The Japan Times. “Swimmers would come from all over the world to have a chance to be coached by them. I don’t see everyone flocking to Tempe just to be coached by Bowman. He is successful because of Phelps . . . not by the numerous world record holders that he has coached over the years.

“Olympic swimmers come from all over now,” he added. “It’s not like it was with Haines and Schubert, et al. I do think that Bowman will help the ASU swim program . . . but I don’t see him having any great affect on Olympic swimming — i.e., more than the affect he’s already had at (the University) Michigan or at North Baltimore (Aquatic Club).

“Bottom line: Bowman’s good (‘one of the greatest’ when you attach his name to Phelps). But swimmers came from all over the world to train with Haines and Schubert . . . and I don’t see that happening with Bowman.”