(ATR) A simmering battle of wills over the direction of a major Olympic body is now out in the open, a dispute called “vulgar” by one of the protagonists.
The issues: who will take command of the 204-member Association of National Olympic Committees in 2014 and who will represent the association on the IOC’s powerful Executive Board starting next year.
Mario Vazquez Rana has served as ANOC President for 30 years. His current term expires in 2014. But Vazquez will turn 80 in 2012, meaning his career as an IOC member comes to an end -- as well as his ability to continue serving on the IOC Executive Board as the ANOC representative.
European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey is leading a movement to see a successor for the ANOC EB seat named as early as next month. So far, Vazquez Rana has not signaled who he would like to succeed him on the EB, while Hickey tells Around the Rings that he wants the seat, subject to vote at the IOC Session next July in London.
Hickey says Vazquez Rana has not represented the interests of the National Olympic Committees on the EB as forcefully as Hickey believes should be done.
“I have spoken to many NOC leaders who say that we are losing ground against the international federations,” Hickey says.
He raised the concern publicly for the first time this week in his address to the EOC general assembly in Sochi.
“To insure a better future for all our members, I think we now have to make our voices heard on this,” said Hickey, proclaiming unhappiness from the world’s NOCs with the 2010 ANOC Assembly in Acapulco, as well as the Sports Ministers meeting held at the conclusion of the Acapulco meeting.
Responding to questions from ATR posed by email, Vazquez blasted Hickey’s speech and called into question his motives.
“I believe no other moment could be more inopportune to express such a diatribe of lies than now, when the Olympic Movement needs further unity, cohesion and a team spirit to carry out its mission to promote the Olympic principles and values worldwide and I truly regret it,” says the ANOC chief.
“When Mr. Hickey took over the EOC’s presidency, we had a respectful relationship of good collaboration, as was the case during President Rogge’s period. However, the lack of coincidence in our approaches and points of view began to be noticeable when Mr. Hickey’s excessive craving for power and his aspiration to different positions became evident, aspirations that have been frustrated over and over again,” said Vazquez referring to past attempts by the Irish sports leader to win an EB seat.
Hickey insists he is not gunning for the ANOC presidency or trying to oust Vazquez from the post.
“I did not call for him to step down,” Hickey says. “I fully expect that he will serve out his mandate until 2014. And then if someone wants to challenge him, that’s their prerogative.”
Hickey is meeting this weekend in Dubai with Olympic Council of Asia President Sheikh Ahmad and other IOC members from Asia to plot the next moves on the ANOC EB seat. They are seeking a decision on the EB nominee Dec. 6 when the ANOC Council, of which Hickey is one of five continental vice presidents, is scheduled to meet in Lausanne.
“Fireworks” is what one of the council members tells ATR he expects at the meeting.
Vazquez Rana tells ATR that the EB seat will be discussed at the meeting but that it will be up to the ANOC general assembly to decide on who replaces him on the EB when it meets in April. Vazquez Rana predicts failure for Hickey.
“In his wild mind he has given rise to a 'battle of succession' in which he intends to involve other directors of ANOC and the NOCs and confuse the public opinion. It seems it is not enough for him to aspire and lose, but that he enjoys tarnishing the name of a prestigious and strong Organization which should be very much above any aspiration of a person or group.
“The NOC representatives that participate in our General Assembly are experienced, they know how to elect their directors and have a very fine instinct to distinguish
honesty, virtue and merits from mediocrity, opportunism, disloyalty and a lack of the most basic ethical principles.
“Due to the fact that I know them and have had the honor to lead them for three decades, I know they will not allow themselves to be confused and that they will elect directors capable of maintaining the course of ANOC and strengthen its leadership as one of the Olympic Movement’s main pillars,” says Vazquez.
“I truly regret the situation provoked by Mr. Hickey, due to the fact that I am not used to deal with these issues through the media before doing so with my colleagues. It is not usual for me to use such a strong tone towards a person, but I had to do it because it was my duty and obligation and part of my responsibilities as ANOC President.
“Nothing and no one will be able to keep us away from the road we chose and much less selfish, ambitious and opportunistic persons who shield behind any excuse to divide and prosper at the expense of ANOC’s image and prestige,” he says to conclude his remarks .
Hickey says he would like to see Vazquez Rana leave ANOC gracefully by not seeking a new term in 2014.
“We would treat him royally, give him a proper send off,” he says.
While it is clear Hickey has his sights on the EB, he says other candidates are possible to succeed Vazquez Rana as ANOC president.
He mentions New Zealand’s Barry Maister, Robin Mitchell of Fiji or OCA chief Ahmad. But the Sheikh may not be available if he succeeds with his own ambitions to become prime minister of Kuwait. And while he is popular and youthful, one IOC member tells ATR that Ahmad can’t be a credible candidate as long as the Kuwait Olympic Committee remains under suspension by the IOC over Kuwaiti law the IOC says intrudes on the autonomy of the NOC, in violation of the Olympic Charter. The suspension has been in effect since last year.
By Ed Hula