POSTED: January 27th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Olympic whistle-blowers need a home to go to

Former ISAF CEO Peter Sowrey raised serious concerns abotu the Rio 2016 sailing venue and wanted a change of venue / ISAF
Former ISAF CEO Peter Sowrey raised serious concerns abotu the Rio 2016 sailing venue and wanted a change of venue / ISAF

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Peter Sowrey has joined a growing Pantheon of heroic sporting figures who spoke the truth and paid the price.

An unlikely sporting hero. He never played sport at a high level. He was a businessman appointed by World Sailing as its chief executive officer in the middle of last year.

What he saw immediately was an Olympic sailing venue in Rio that is so contaminated that its water is a danger to human health and so polluted with flotsam such as animal carcasses that boats' rudders could be fouled.

He urged a change of venue to another 100 miles away at Buzios. The executive board of World Sailing did not appreciate the message. The IOC would not like it so they did not like it.

Those who breach sport's omerta do not wake up to a horse's head in their bed, as Mafiosi may, but to a letter in the post. "You're fired!" it says.

Sowrey revealed this week that he was fired in December because he was pushing too hard about Guanabara Bay in Rio. "I was told to gag myself on the subject," he told AP.

That would be the infamous sporting gag so beloved by those who run world sport, the three wise monkey code of not seeing, hearing or speaking.

If Olympic sailors fall ill or boats are disabled at the Olympics Sowrey will quickly have been proved right. Paul Kimmage and Giles Delion were proved right in their revelations about doping in professional cycling back in the Nineties. So was Julia Stepanova who blew the whistle on systemic doping in Russian athletics. So soon probably will be Phaedra Al-Majid now that the Swiss prosecutors are investigating Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid.

All spoke out. All paid the price of being dismissed as fantasists. Kimmage and Delion were described as "failed riders" by then UCI president Hein Verbruggen. Stepanova's revelations were called a "declaration of war" by IAAF president Lord Coe. Sowry only lost his job; Stepanova lost her country, going into hiding abroad.

The default setting of the world's sporting Blazers is against transparency. Whistle-blowers are traitors to their cause of image control. Their unnatural reaction is to blacken the character of the honest to maintain the pure white reputation of the sport.

World Sailing will regard its reaction as pragmatic. Why rock the Olympic boat when more than half of your federation's income is from the IOC? The IAAF will face the same dilemma when it must decide whether to re-admit Russia for this year's Olympic Games.

Almost all of the 35 Olympic international federations depend on Olympic money. So does WADA, whose independence is challenged by the 50% of its revenue coming from the Olympic Games. None can afford to speak the truth to power, so those who do are a threat.

Sport needs whistle-blowers, and whistle-blowers must know that they can speak openly without fearing of losing their jobs or, at worse, their lives.

 A global sporting ethics body, with a professional team of investigators who could refer proven cases directly to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for judgement could be funded independently of sport and the IOC by a tiny percentage of Olympic television revenue.

Those who govern sport with their conflicting interests would be removed from the equation. Sport would be a better place.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books. 

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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