Disturbing global sport politics

Under normal circumstances the Annual Carifta Congress would have been incident-free. At the Annual Carifta Congress in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, in 2007, however, it was a different matter. IAAF president, Lamine Diack, turned what would otherwise have been his address to the delegates into a tirade on the NACAC president, Amadeo Francis, informing them that while he thought that the latter was his friend he had lent his support to Minos, the Greek, to challenge him for the presidency of the IAAF. The gathering was obviously shocked and Francis sought to suggest that it was at a time when Diack had indicated that he was no longer going after the presidency; that he was going to retire.
The die was cast. Francis was embarrassed at home, before his own delegates, by the president of the IAAF, someone who had joined the IAAF Council at the same time as himself.
It was not the place for Diack to do what he did but it was done and the sojourn of Amadeo Francis as an IAAF Council member was over. Diack had become the new Primo Nebiolo of the IAAF and global athletics.
Endorsement of McCook
At the Carifta Congress in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, the IAAF president essentially suggested to the delegates of the region that his wish was to see Neville McCook as the combined NACAC president and Area Representative. Diack stated, “ I believe that it is right for you to unite the position of President of the Area with Area Representative under Teddy McCook”
In doing so he ignored the fundamentals of democracy within organisations such as the IAAF.
Totally incensed by the intervention in the internal affairs of the NACAC, the representative from St Lucia, Mr Alfred Emmanuel, responded in the strongest of terms. He noted that back in 1988 the same Diack was vehemently rebuffed by the delegates of NACAC when at that time he was the emissary of then IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo.
In quick response to the representative from St Lucia, the president of the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA), Howard Aris, rose to Diack’s defence, claiming that he did nothing wrong and that it was normal in the realm of politics for an incumbent leader to seek to establish a team he would wish to have work with him.
It should be noted that in some circles Aris was considered a part of Portia Simpson’s (one-time Jamaican Prime Minister) campaign management team.
The president of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG), following the turbulent Congress then penned a letter to the IAAF president, Diack. Four years later, when NACAC and IAAF elections came around the letter was the object of much debate even here at home where. The letter is printed here to allow readers to judge for themselves the nature of global sports politics, especially in the aftermath of the recent crisis at FIFA and the confusion at the IAAF’s own Congress.
12 April 2007
Mr Lamine Diack
IAAF President
IAAF Headquarters
Miraflores, Monaco
Dear Mr Lamine Diack
“ I believe that it is right for you to unite the position of President of the Area with Area Representative under Teddy McCook”
Those were your words during the NACAC Congress to which you were our specially invited guest.
The response of the representative from St Lucia reflected the extent to which your comments were grossly inappropriate.
You must be aware that I am a candidate for the positions mentioned since I brought this to your attention on two previous occasions, first in June of 2006 in Paris and again in August in Beijing when I had personal audiences with you.
I have already submitted my candidacy documents to the NACAC while Mr McCook is yet to do so. This fact therefore renders your comments all the more surprising and inappropriate to say nothing of their being most insensitive.
Only the representative from St Lucia considered it necessary to speak out on the inappropriateness of your comments at the Congress but believe me when I say that we were all very embarrassed, with the sole exception, perhaps, of the Jamaican representative who spoke in defence of your comments citing that in a period of elections it is common to engage in the kind of lobbying displayed by your honourable self.
Unfortunately, in our sporting traditions in the Caribbean, this is all new and considered at best most unsavoury.
Even our regional sponsors, who were present at the Congress at our invitation, were horrified at the comments and considered them very inappropriate for the occasion.
Lamine, Amadeo and the Greek Minos
You also made comments at the Congress that indicated to all present that from your perspective Amadeo Francis had encouraged the President of the Greek Federation, Mr Minos, to run against you for the Presidency of the IAAF and this seemed to have upset you very much.
Indeed in quick response Amadeo indicated that you had misinterpreted his actions and that in fact at the time he thought that both of you were prepared to relinquish your respective positions on the Council and that he was look at the future leadership of the IAAF. Of course since then you have both changed your minds and with good health have agreed to seek another term on the Council.
Suffice it to say here that I was shocked at the comments made since I deemed them as inappropriate as those made earlier in respect of how we should proceed addressing the leadership of our Area.
Whatever issues may have surfaced between you and Amadeo would have been better dealt with at a personal level rather than be exposed before our Congress. We have never had this type of embarrassment at any of our previous Congresses with the exception of that which was held in 1998 and to which I shall refer later in this letter. It must have disturbed all those listening that you should have chosen such a forum to bring the matter to the fore and one wonders what was the real intention for having done so.
Amadeo is our NACAC President and it must be most embarrassing for all our affiliates to have heard your comments in respect of his conduct regarding your presidency of the IAAF being raised at our Congress.
Mr Alfred Emmanuel, one of two St Lucian representatives at the Carifta Congress, reminded all present of the incident which took place at our CACAC Congress in 1988 when you came to us as an emissary of then IAAF President, Primo Nebiolo.
Your comments at that time again sought to direct our affiliates of how we should vote at the pending IAAF elections. As President of the CACAC at the time, Dr Bernard Nottage of the Bahamas quickly called to your attention the independence of all of our affiliates within the IAAF family and of the gross inappropriateness of your comments. In his own inimitable style, Dr Nottage called on you to return to the sender of the message you brought and inform him of our pride as a people in the Caribbean and our unwillingness to surrender our sovereignty to his demands. At the time you were engaged in a lobbying practise not dissimilar to that which you engaged in at the 2007 Carifta Congress.
I can only make the point here that Dr Nottage so eloquently did back then. Your comments at our Congress were inappropriate and should never have been made. That is contrary to our general modus, however Mr Howard Aris may consider it appropriate from a purely Jamaican standpoint.
It is simply not the way we conduct ourselves.
Caribbean political reality
I rather like the fact that we are anxious to have unity in our sport. That is as it should be. We in the Caribbean have long sought unity. Our small separate islands have shared the experience of colonisation, slavery and exploitation of the most debased kind and emerged from it a disparate grouping.
In 1958 several of our political leaders sought to bring our peoples together. Ten countries were involved. Alas, the initiative was stymied. It was virtually stillborn. Jamaica considered the islands of the Windward and Leeward groupings too small for their own survival and shied away from the Federation because they thought that they would have to carry the economic burdens of these islands that could not help themselves. The experience of the Federation lasted from 1958 to 1962.
While many of us have emerged from the colonial experience and sought and obtained independent status, there are deep psychological wounds within. These have forced continued division between our islands. It came as no surprise therefore that when Dr Bernard Nottage led our charge for a dismantling of the undemocratic practices of voting disparity within the IAAF, Jamaica, one of our own Caribbean Member Federations, objected strongly.
The visionary Prime Nebiolo saw what one of our own Member Federations could not see, the importance of forging an IAAF Family where we are all equal. As Prime put it before the IAAF Congress for approval, “We are an athletics family, larger than even the United Nations. We do not have to vote on this matter. We are family”.
Today we are unfortunately still struggling within the IAAF over equality of status.
Today within our NACAC and indeed within the Global Athletics construct that is the IAAF we still quibble over size.
Mr Emmanuel was correct. In this Caribbean where we are all small compared to so many of the other nations of the world, we squabble over size. We have divided our Caribbean among large countries and small countries when what we consider large in our region is small beyond it.
It is unfortunate that we have missed the point of Mr Emmanuel from St Lucia. Ina region of largely small countries, St Lucia, with a mere handful of people, has produced the first to Nobel laureates in the Caribbean, Sir Arthur Lewis (economics) and Dr Derek Walcott (Literature). Only more recently did Trinidad and Tobago’s Vidia S Naipaul, win a Nobel prize (Literature).
The point is that as a people we do not concern ourselves with the size of the landmass on which we were born but rather on our individual capacity to strive after excellence in whatever field of endeavour we have chosen.
Politics and democracy in Sport
I wish to make the point here that the NACAC election is the concern of all our affiliates just as the IAAF election is our business. We do not interfere in the internal issues relating to the electoral process in Europe, Africa, or any of the other Continental Areas nor should we attempt to do so to influence their respective decision-making processes. That would be against all of the fundamental beliefs in democracy and I do believe that we in the Caribbean have been steeped in the strongest of democratic traditions and remain very proud of that legacy.
I could not have gone into Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda or even Haiti and dare to tell them how to conduct their elections and for whom they should vote to determine their future. That is political interference…In this very proud democratic tradition in our sporting organisations in the Caribbean we value meritocratic principles above all else. The determination of our leadership in sport is based on the person’s qualifications, experience, proficiency, vision, capacity to work well with others and overall performance. In this tradition it is not “who you know or who knows you”. Friendship and companionship are not the issues that we contemplate…I believe that the Member Federations of our Area who were present at the Carifta Congress deserve an apology for your comments.
In our sport of athletics we ought to give each of our affiliates and our respective Continental Areas the respect they deserve and the right to make their own decisions in respect of the kind of leadership that is considered most beneficial for the future of our sport.
This is our sport. We are in it because we love it. It is our right to seek to improve our contributions through striving after leadership positions. Our affiliates are the only ones with the legitimate and independent right to determine who our leaders are in the future.
We thank you for your leadership thus far and congratulate you on the fact that you have been re-elected unopposed for another four-year term.
We trust that the Congress and the respective Area Associations will determine whom they consider best to be the future leaders at your side.