It has often been said that politics in sport is more vicious that national politics. This is said in almost every society.
There is a feeling that at the international level sport politics has done much to tarnish the image that sport should otherwise have in society.
Over the years however we have seen the rearing of some unacceptable actions in sport such that the international community has had to engage in public outcry to rid itself from the possible contagion. One such instance was the reprehensible Salt Lake City Scandal which rocked the International Olympic Committee and with it the entire global Olympic Movement.
Many international sports analysts have been harshly critical of the way in which several major international sports organisations do business seemingly unconcerned about the fundamentals of ethics and democratic principles.
There have been those who have also found reason to challenge the level of democracy within the Olympic Movement.
The Olympic Movement
The Olympic Charter, the constitution of the International Olympic Committee, stipulates in its Fundamental Principles, Article 1:
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
Essentially therefore sport is seen as educational in addition to being a physical activity. The concept of Olympism brings together the positive values inherent in the practice of sport in any society. Note too that ethics receives pride of place.
It is this ethics that is of concern to so many when they see things going awry in the world of sport.
The pervasive nature of drugs in sport today is disturbing but so too is the tendency amongst some international and regional organisations to create monolithic entities of themselves, in the process posing severe challenges to the concept of democracy.
Article 4 of the Fundamental Principles states:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. The organisation, administration and management of sport must be controlled by independent sports organisations.
The point being made in Article 4 is that the Olympic Movement is open to all who seek to conform to the Olympic Charter. There is to be no discrimination of any sport in the Olympic Movement.
For some time however, there have been critics who claim that the goalposts keep shifting in international sport, including those that are on the Olympic Programme. Of course the response has almost always been that this is not the case. There is however good reason to engage in deeper analysis of the workings of these international and regional sports organisations.
The Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO)
The Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) is the continental arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Some see it as one of the five continents depicted by the five rings of the Olympic symbol.
Pan Am Games 2003
In 1997 the National Olympic Committees of the Caribbean joined forces with several others to support the bid of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to host the Pan American Games 2003. The bid was presented as, The Caribbean Bid. At the time of the bid, Santo Domingo was up against Guadalajara, Mexico.
It was well the common belief that Guadalajara would have had the support of the President of the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO), Sr Mario Vazquez Rana, a Mexican. Indeed following the decision of the majority of the NOCs to support Santo Domingo, many of those present from the Caribbean thought that proceedings came to an abrupt end.
In January 2001, an Extraordinary Meeting of PASO was convened in Panama City, Panama, where the Executive of the organisation brought to the floor a decision to take the Games away from Santo Domingo because it was not satisfied with the lack of progress relative to the preparation for the Games of 2003. At that General Assembly it was again the Caribbean, and more particularly the NOCs of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines that saved the day and the Games for Santo Domingo from the floor, thereby defeating the decision of the Executive.
The arguments of those who won the debate centered around the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement and the extent to which the PASO leadership at the time could be perceived as abandoning one of the members of the family on NOCs. It was difficult to understand why PASO, instead of reaching out a helping hand to one of its family members, chose instead to take the Games away and leave the NOC of the Dominican Republic to its own devices. This did not ring true as Olympism.
Pan Am Games 2015
Three cities submitted bids for the Pan Am Games of 2015: Toronto, Canada, Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia. Toronto won on the very first round of voting, overwhelmingly defeating Lima and Bogota in that order. As happened in 1997 the Caribbean NOCs played a major role in the final vote.
Interestingly though there appears to be an unspoken view that the PASO is often split between large and small NOCs, between NOCs of Latin countries and those of the Anglophone Caribbean.
Even among some of the Caribbean NOCs there has often been a sense of the old MDCs versus LDCs rivalry being played out in the Olympic family. Some seem to think that leaders can only come from the so-called more developed countries and that the NOCs of the LDCs are destined to follow.
In a very real sense therefore the politics of the region is also played out, sometimes in a more vulgar way, in the sporting arena, much to the disappointment of the sports peoples of the region.
General Assembly 2010
No sooner had the decision to award the Pan Games of 2015 to Toronto been taken than the PSSO members were served with two very interesting yet disturbing proposed amendments to its Statutes.
Essentially the proposed amendments are intended to impact the votes of the PASO members.
In the first instance the original Article XI Paragraph 1 states:
Each Member of PASO shall have the right to attend and to cast one vote at all the General Assemblies of PASO through one of its duly accredited delegates. No delegate may represent more than one Member of PASO. Those Members of PASO which have organized Pan American Games, regardless of the number, shall have the right to an additional vote, but only in respect to granting the site of the Pan American Games and electing the Members of the Executive Committee.
The proposed amendment states:
Each Member of PASO shall have the right to attend and to cast one vote at all General Assemblies of PASO through one of its duly accredited delegates. No delegate may represent more than one Member of PASO. Those Members of PASO which have organized Pan American Games, regardless of the number, shall have the right to an additional vote per each edition of the Games they have hosted, but only in respect to granting the site of the Pan American Games and electing the Members of the Executive Committee.
The original version of Article XIV Paragraph 7 states:
With respect to the election of the President, the Vice-President and the members of the Executive Committee of PASO and taking into consideration the number of PASO Members has already reached 42, and out of these, ten have the right of two votes each, according to Numeral (1) of Article XI mentioned in this Statue; three groups with fourteen (14) Members each are established in a balanced way and with a preferential geographical inclination. Such groups are numbered one, two and three and they are listed as set forth below.
The proposed amendments states:
With respect to the election of the President, the Vice-President and the members of the Executive Committee of PASO and taking into consideration the number of PASO Members has already reached 42 and that each one has the right to one vote, except for the members that have organized the Pan American Games, which will have an additional vote per each edition of the Games they have hosted, according to Numeral (1) of Article XI mentioned in this Statue; three groups with fourteen (14) Members each are established in a balanced way and with a preferential geographical inclination. Such groups are numbered one, two and three and they are listed as set forth below.
On investigation it was learnt that the proposed amendments have come directly from the President of PASO and had been sent out to the membership without first being discussed at the level of the Executive.
The worrisome component of the proposed changes relate to the fact that while the NOCs whose countries have hosted the Pan Am Games already have two votes what is the basis for increasing the votes based on the number of times each would have hosted the Games. This is hardly democratic and certainly calls into question the intention of its framer.
It is one thing to suggest that this is intended to be an incentive to others to step forward, there is no international sport organisation, not even the IOC, that dares to proffer so insensitive and biased a piece of legislation.
Given the history of the PASO since the NOCs of several small English-speaking countries have accessed membership, there can be little doubt that the power of their collective votes has proven quite disturbing to the NOCs of the larger countries.
The next General Assembly of the PASO is in early May in Merida, Mexico and there will certainly be great debate on the floor should the aforementioned amendments be approved by the Executive and brought to the floor.
The time has come for sporting organisations to not merely speak of being democratic institutions but show themselves by their actions to be bastions of genuine democracy. Nothing short of this will do.