IAAF’s day of shame in Daegu

While in the recent past the focus has been on the international governing body for football (FIFA) the evidence seems to suggest that the situation is far more widespread. The situation today is not significantly different from what the author of Lords of the Rings (an expose on the modus operandi of some of the larger international sporting organisations) sought to address several years ago. A recent occurrence in Daegu left the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) totally embarrassed.
Wednesday 24 August 2011 will be forever etched in world sporting history as The IAAF’s Day of Shame in Daegu. It was a day that the entire IAAF fraternity would want to forget.
This columnist has always insisted that the world of sport is fraught with issues that leave one in grave doubt about the application of democratic principles in the determination of its administration.
Some may want to suggest that the current sad situation in international sport has come about because of the onset of professionalism and the increased revenues attendant thereto. There may well be some merit in this argument since in a near-impoverished state there was no opportunity for the level of corruption in different international sporting organisations that now frequent the headlines.
Another view is that the international media have done an excellent job is promoting sport in a manner that generated almost limitless revenues for themselves in the process as they vie to become the exclusive rights holders for different sporting events. The end result has however been an empowerment of leaders of international sport and an enhancement of their global statuses. They have become very powerful figures traipsing the globe and behaving like virtual emperors of an era we once thought long past.
One of the most significant features of international sports leadership appears to be the increasing capacity of the leaders to dictate who gets elected at any given point. One wonders whether this is part of a broader strategy aimed at allowing the creation of mini dynasties that ultimately hold the sport to ransom. Individuals and organisations that insist on adherence to fundamental democratic principles are kept at bay by a closing of the ranks among the membership by the leaders and their most loyal supporters. Thus it has become commonplace for leaders to circulate lists of candidates that would facilitate the dynastic ambitions of the leaders and at the same time allow for the dispensation of largesse of one kind or another to those who agree to toe the line.
Positions on the executive of such international sports organisations appear to be based on one’s near-blind allegiance to ‘the all-powerful leader/largesse dispenser’. Meritocratic principles have long since been cast aside.
IAAF in Daegu
For several months the IAAF had been circulating documents related to its Biennial Congress slated for Daegu. The anticipated feature items were the financial state of the IAAF and the conduct of elections for the Council and the organisation’s several Committees.
No one could have anticipated the embarrassment that emerged on the first day of the Congress as the elections began.
IAAF Family?
It is perhaps pure idealism to speak of an IAAF Family.
At the Congress it was evident that despite all that we claim about the power of sport to bring people together there was little evidence that Athletics has been in any way capable of achieving this noble objective.
It is much easier to conceptualise the organisation as divided, a feature that is most evident during Congresses at which elections are being held. It is on these occasions that the sport-political blocks become particularly active and their apartness is exposed. In such situations the issue of commitment to the sport is cast in the background as the interest of the leader and his/her capacity to dispense largesse becomes primordial.
Some of the very people seeking the votes of delegates pass by without even so much as ‘good morning’ even if they meet in the elevator to say nothing of the street or the halls of the Congress.
Prior to the commencement of the Congress all of the continental/area associations of the IAAF, with the exception of the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC), convened to discuss their strategies for the Congress, especially in relation to the elections. The records would show that NACAC never really addressed the IAAF Congress agenda prior to the commencement of the activity.
Elections and faulty equipment
One day prior to the elections of the IAAF in Daegu several delegates found a document in their pigeon-holes with what was a suggested ideal slate of candidates for seats on the organisation’s Council. The document had neither address nor author identified. This certainly raised grave concern amongst delegates heading to the Congress as they eagerly and at times heatedly debated the origin of the document. The intent was however never in doubt.
The IAAF seemed to have taken the time to ensure that modern technology was available for the voting at the Congress in Daegu. A very complex system decorated the tables in front of each delegation in the Conference Hall.
No sooner had the voting started than problems emerged.
The Congress delegates were informed that there were 2001 delegations present and entitled to vote. In the vote for the President where there was only one candidate Lamine Diack, the incumbent, won 173-27 revealing a total of 200 votes cast. Later he would win 169 – 29 using the ballot paper.
When it came to the election of four Vice Presidents it turned out that there were more votes cast than there were delegations present. However because there were four Vice Presidential positions and five candidates no one took time to observe the discrepancy.
It was a different matter when the position of Honorary Treasurer was voted for. The technology showed 210 votes cast when there was at the time a maximum of 199 persons eligible to vote. It was at this point that the Congress became aware that something was wrong and individuals reverted to the earlier vote for the four Vice Presidents. Clearly embarrassed by the proceedings the IAAF President, Lamine Diack, called on the Congress to approve a recommendation from him to reject the results of the vote for the Vice Presidents and the Honorary Treasurer, discard the technological voting system and return to the old system of voting by ballot.
The investment in the technology did not prove viable and hence a waste of time. This was rendered all the more clearly as at no time did the Congress seek an investigation into or an explanation of the problems that arose with the technology at hand.
Lunch was called and this gave time to the different factions to regroup and put right what some may well have thought a distortion of their plans.
Before the end of lunch the news of the embarrassment at the Congress had reached the international media. This was a pattern that continued through the rest of the day. By the end of the day there were headlines identifying the chaos that prevailed at the Congress for a considerable period. Some media sources suggested that the confusion began when Sergey Bubka got eliminated in the voting for the four Vice Presidents. The suggestion was that this may well have been because some thought he was the favoured candidate of President Lamine Diack.
When the Congress reconvened the Council advised that it had arrived at the decision on moving forward with ballots. However, the leadership did not allow for open discussion of the recommended approach and certainly none in respect of the failure to investigate the nature of the problem encountered with the technology.
The leadership did not explain the reason for the scrutineers having to leave the room to engage in the counting of the ballots.
While the reversion to the ballot system was intended to engender confidence there was little evidence that it achieved this objective. St Lucia’s delegate, Alfred Emmanuel raised his hand to seek clarification but was greeted with a response from the Chairman of the proceedings, outgoing General Secretary, Pierre Weiss of France, telling him over the public address system that he must speak to his assistant who was being dispatched to his table at the time.
But the intrigue did not end there.
Following the ballot for a number of positions in what was billed, the first round of voting, the Congress delegates were informed that there would be a recess of one hour after which they would have a second round of voting – for additional positions. This second round was just as contentious. Voting started before all of the ballots were circulated to delegates. There were problems getting photocopies of the ballot papers and because of the equipment. Some copies were made with a fax machine that was running short of ink leaving some ballots barely visible to the delegates voting. People felt decidedly pushed to complete their ballots in order to expedite the process.
It was indeed a very sad day for international athletics and this on the eve of the organisation’s World Championships.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the elections was the success of Mr Ahmad Al Kamali of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in getting on the IAAF Council. During the NACAC Congress in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Mr Diack, used the forum to publicly declare something to the effect that he had seen a woman (who was actually the emissary of Mr Kamali) moving around and he did not know what she was doing there because he had already told the gentleman that he would not be elected and essentially, that he was wasting his time in continuing his efforts to get elected. The results in Daegu however told a very different yet instructive story and must be construed as a slap in the face for IAAF President, Lamine Diack.
It should also be stated that this year’s IAAF elections must enter the record books as one of the longest ever for an international sports federation and certainly one of the clumsiest of all time.
Amazingly, the delegates paid little attention to the state of the IAAF’s finances, an area most critical to the future of the sport, not just the organisation. While one understands the global financial situation this is not sufficient to account for the sorry state of the finances of the organisation under the current dispensation.
One would have thought that Congress delegates would have focused on the financial situation since over the past year the IAAF Development Department’s budget was cut significantly, a fact that should otherwise have been deemed a travesty. The preparation grants that were once allocated to member federations for World Junior and World Championships have suddenly been dropped. Unfortunately there was no discussion on the finances leaving one to ponder the reasons for a Congress at all.
The failure to adequately address the IAAF’s financial position going forward may well be regretted by member federations in the short to medium term.
Perhaps the best conclusion that one can arrive at was captured in the words penned in a letter to the IAAAF President by this Columnist.
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.
…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 can only hope that things would change. However, given the embarrassment was occurred in Daegu recently there seems little hope of this being the case any time soon.