POSTED: May 15th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: Will Vizer's plan sink Lapasset's chances at SportAccord?

St. Petersburg will host SportAccord Convention May 26 -31 / Philipp Hienstorfer
St. Petersburg will host SportAccord Convention May 26 -31 / Philipp Hienstorfer

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The stand-off for the presidency of SportAccord is perhaps the most intriguing political battle of 2013. Whereas the election in September to succeed Dr. Jacques Rogge as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a clear favourite in the German Thomas Bach, the one for the lesser post at SportAccord seems much tighter.

Step forward the two candidates: Marius Vizer from judo and Bernard Lapasset from rugby union. On May 31, they will contest the presidency in succession to Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, the former head of international cycling, who has held the post since 2004. SportAccord is largely an umbrella body of the international federations, both Olympic and non-Olympic sports, and is the successor to the General Assembly of the International Federations.

In the 1970s, when Thomas Keller from rowing was leading the organisation there was tension with the IOC, with Keller insisting on the supremacy of the sports federations but he was outmanoeuvred by Juan Antonio Samaranch, then beginning his presidency of the IOC, and since then, with increasing money pouring into the federations from the TV and sponsorship income from the Olympics, the atmosphere has been more harmonious.

However, Vizer,who was born in Romania but is now based in Hungary and has done a praiseworthy job since he was elected President of the International Judo Federation, has suggested that there should be a united World Championships every four years, with all the federations, both Olympic and non-Olympic, staging their principal event in the same country.

Regardless of the feasibility of the proposal, he says that many officials of the international federations are attracted by this plan. However, observers see it as a potential long-term threat to the supremacy of the Olympics, something that Vizer himself has denied. Instead, he says it is for the benefit of the national federations and to boost the popularity of sport among the young. 

But it clearly is a vote-winner and Lapasset, who subsequently announced his candidature, has had to come up with a counter proposal. The Frenchman wants a Festival of Sport, embracing many activities under the aegis of SportAccord. But how this will work has yet to be clarified.

Lapasset will be helped in the lobbying by Debbie Jevans, who was an excellent Director of Sport at the London Games and is now Chief Executive of the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup in England. Her job at the 2012 Olympics involved working closely with the federations, where she became highly respected.

Lapasset’s greatest weakness is that for many of the 91 members of SportAccord, most of which are international federations, rugby union has only recently began to try seriously to expand its playing strength more widely than its heartland of 10-12 nations, most of which are English-speaking. Its status in most other countries is low or virtually non-existent.

 As Dr.Rogge, himself a rugby international, admitted to me, with a nice line in self-deprecation during an interview in Lausanne in December 2001:”In my country, if you sit by the phone long enough, someone will call and ask you to play rugby for Belgium.”

Lapasset, a skilled and persuasive operator, succeeded, with Rogge’s help, to fool enough IOC members to vote for rugby sevens to be admitted to the Olympic programme, rather than the established 15-a-side game, which is unquestionably rugby’s premier form. 

 It will now be fascinating to see whether over the next fortnight Lapasset can influence enough people to vote for him as SportAccord President. 

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.          

Keywords · John Goodbody · SportAccord · IOC ·

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