POSTED: July 26th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC should give Lord Coe membership

IAAF President Sebastian Coe was also in charge of the London 2012 Olympics © Getty Images
IAAF President Sebastian Coe was also in charge of the London 2012 Olympics © Getty Images

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(SFC) The workings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have always taken place in opaque and often devious ways. Who gets to join the most famous and, many would say, privileged club in world sport and how those decisions are made is often a labyrinth of duplicity.

To give just one example from the fairly distant past, I can cite the IOC Session in Rome in 1982. The IOC was looking to replace the Marquess of Exeter, who had died the previous October. As Lord Burghley, his eminence as an athlete had received revived recognition just before his death by the film 'Chariots of Fire', in which his screen persona is seen leaping hurdles on which glasses of champagne had been placed but not disturbed by his athletic actions.

 He was to win the 400 metres hurdles at the 1928 Olympics and later became President of the International Amateur Athletic Federations (as it was then termed), where he earned the approval of his fellow IOC members by refusing to encourage the setting up of the quadrennial World Athletics Championships in case they damaged the prestige of the Olympics themselves. They were first staged in 1983.

The obvious candidate for the IOC then to select in Britain was Charles Palmer, both a former  President of the International Judo Federation and, as Vice-Chairman of the British Olympic Association a key figure in refusing to follow the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Against the Government's wishes but to the IOC's relief, Britain took part in those Games.

However, Palmer was not rewarded. He was seen as too independent a voice, a person, who had might cause some waves of difficulties in the usually calm waters of the IOC. Therefore, using the motive of getting more females as IOC members (a very laudable step), it appointed another Briton, Mary Glen-Haig, a former Olympic fencer but not someone, who had either the experience or ability of Palmer. And, as it turned out, Palmer was never made an IOC member.

Things don't change. It has recently been reported that the two most likely candidates to join the IOC as presidents and representatives of the international federations are Belgian Ingmar de Vos (equestrianism) and Frenchman Jean-Christophe Roland (rowing). Both are worthy candidates and the IOC might well point out that Rolland is French and it will therefore be useful to have another Frenchman on the IOC with the 2024 Games likely to go to Paris. But this is disingenuous. In truth, neither should gain preference over Sebastian Coe.

Lord Coe is, after all, President of the IAAF and athletics is the cornerstone of the Olympics. He is also a former chairman of the British Olympic Association and chairman of the Organising Committee of London 2012, a post that has given him a rare insight into staging the Games.

Yet, there is a black mark against Lord Coe because he led the world governing body, which, apart from weightlifting, was the one organisation that barred Russians (with a few exceptions) from competing as a country in the Rio Olympics. And the rest of the federations and the IOC do not easily forget such an ethical stand.

Another federation president, Gianni Infantino from football, has also not been nominated. This is less concerning because Fifa is in such a mess at the moment that it would be as well to see how Infantino continues to clean out the stables before appointing him.

However, there are currently only 95 IOC members at the moment (even with Patrick Hickey of Ireland under self-suspension). The maximum is 115. Even if Rolland and de Vos are appointed that only makes 13 of the limit of 15, who can represent the international federations.

The IOC and the international federations should recognise the importance of Lord Coe to the Olympic Movement and appoint him this year -and in addition, quite possibly, Infantino, although this will indeed need careful scrutiny.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th 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.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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