The SVG challenge falters at PASO Congress

The representatives of the National Olympic Committee of St Vincent and the Grenadines failed in their bid to have two proposed amendments to the Statutes of the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) squashed at the organisation’s most recent General Assembly in Merida, Mexico.
The amendments sought to give more votes to those NOCs whose countries have hosted the Pan American Games. Prior to the General Assembly the existing Statutes already allocated two (2) votes each at the level of the PASO for the matter of the selection of host city for the Games and amazingly, for the election of officers to the PASO Executive, while the rest of the members have one (1) vote each. The amendments would give them as many votes as the number of times each would have hosted the Games.
The challenge started several weeks ago when the proposed amendments were first circulated and their content analysed. From the vantage point of the NOC the amendments would go against the fundamental principles of democracy and give an undue additional advantage to a small proportion of the membership of the organisation.
It was clear then that the leadership of the organisation was anxious for the changes to be approved but the justification offered made no sense and the motives were unclear.
At the General Assembly last week however everything became clear once the challenge was articulated from the floor.
Progress or Stagnation
In a previous Column (The politics of sport in the Americas – The News 16 April 2010) it was stated, 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.
The manner in which the PASO sought to address the matter of the proposed amendments gave greater credence to the aforementioned analysis, much to the detriment of sport and the relationship among the membership of what continues to be ‘sold’ to the world as an ‘Olympic Family’.
At the General Assembly, much to the surprise of many, the agenda item on the proposed amendments was expanded by the president to include some other matters, which, according to the Statutes of PASO, should have been circulated 60 days before the General Assembly. Perhaps even more incredible was the fact that these new changes were brought to the Assembly having received the approval of the PASO Executive a day earlier.
The disappointment continued when, Michael Chambers of Canada (newly appointed chair of the Legislative Commission) told the membership that there is a ‘convention’ within PASO that allows the General Assembly to approve amendments that did not satisfy the statutory time frame. There was however no explanation or evidence provided to justify the statement and many were left wondering whether the entire episode was not some sort of weird dream.
The president of PASO, Mario Vazquez Rana, introduced the agenda item by saying to the General Assembly that the issue would reveal those among the membership who wanted progress as opposed to those that favoured stagnation. This was challenged by the NOC representatives from St Vincent and the Grenadines who suggested that the statement was most unfortunate and indicated that while it may not have been the intention of the president to do so, it certainly conveyed the impression that he was seeking to prejudice the discussion and the subsequent decision of the General Assembly.
The arguments for
The arguments in support of the proposed amendments were at best quite flimsy.
In his original letter to members of PASO, the president offered the following by way of justification:
To achieve that our Games are the most important event after the Olympic Games, we have to stimulate and support those who show interest on hosting the Games with an incentive to that noble effort, in order to guarantee PASO and the Olympic Family of the Americas a sports feast of the highest level.
The matter of how an increase in the number of votes as proposed would achieve this was left unanswered.
In his Report to the Assembly on the same matter the president added the following by way of further justification for his proposed amendments:
The objective of guaranteeing that in the future, the Pan American Games achieve further success, that they are a product of the highest quality, that the best athletes of the region meet in the Games and that the site that offers the best conditions and guarantees is elected; to assure the increasing growth of financial resources from the Games and that its organisers receive a encouragement and a recognition that correspond to its work, effort and results.
He further noted, I am convinced that a change in our current rules would generate a significant increase in the benefits produced by the Pan American Games, which would be translated into further financial support for the NOCs, particularly those that need it most.
Many of the Latin American NOCs eagerly endorsed the proposals claiming that they were in the organisation’s best interest while revealing themselves incapable of providing any substantive evidence in support. One by one they chimed in as if part of a gigantic socio-political pantomime.
The arguments against
The arguments against the amendments began with a request for information from the president of the precise benefits to be gained by their application. The reason for this was that no one could understand what was wrong with the existing rules. Essentially, the same countries that already have two votes will be the very ones to get the additional votes. These countries are the very ones that will continue to bid to host the Games. The latest bid – Pan Am Games 2015 – that was won by Toronto, Canada, also had Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia, involved in the contest. Of course there was no reasonable or acceptable response from the leadership to this argument beyond a re-hashing of what was presented earlier by the president.
A second argument observed that none of the objectives identified by the president of PASO would be fulfilled by the proposed amendments. There are some countries that will never be able to host the Games given their continued growth and cost.
Evidence also suggests that the Games have been awarded to those NOCs that have shown by their bid that they are capable of delivering them in a manner consistent with the intentions of PASO.
The point was also made that the IOC would not dare apply the same principles to the Olympic Games given the blatant disregard for fair play and natural justice evident in the proposed amendments.
In an age where countries push for genuine democracy to be exemplified in the application of the principle of ‘one country one vote’ it is preposterous that an international organisation such as PASO would want to be seen as enhancing what is an already discriminatory practice.
It was pointed out too, that prior to 1989 the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had a most discriminatory practice leaving the founding members of the organisation with a large number of votes, a second tier of votes for those who had won Olympic medals and a third tier for the rest. This was all changed in 1989 when the organisation acceded to the proposal from small affiliates from the Caribbean for one country one vote.
International sports federations have been at pains to ensure that they enshrine in their respective constitutions the fundamental democratic principles yet the PASO seems to fly in the face of such reality.
The discussion went on for some time with what could only be perceived as innuendoes being thrown into the fray from time to time by the PASO president.
The discussion degenerated to the point where it was almost as if some were suggesting that the small poor NOCs are dependent on those wealthy ones who host the Games; almost deriding them as ‘beggars’ within the so-called PASO family; eating off the fat generated by those who have the capacity to bring income to the organisation. The undercurrents were strong even as they seemed vicious and condescending
Little consideration appeared to have been given to the fact that in Beijing, Jamaica a small country by the standard of the PASO family, emerged with better achievement that all of the other PASO members with the sole exception of the USA. No consideration was given to the contributions of the athletes of small NOCs in the PASO ‘family’ whose international rankings do much to raise the status of the Pan American Games.
It was indeed amazing to her some of the comments made, including one from St Lucia’s Richard Peterkin, PASO Treasurer and now IOC member, that appeared essentially to justify the stance adopted by the Executive.
There was a suggestion too that the Assembly must have confidence in the Executive that it has put in place.  Unfortunately Peterkin’s comments seemed to ignore the reality that constitutionally, the General Assembly is the highest decision making body of the organisation and hence must engage in critical analysis of what is brought before it by the Executive. The mandate of the Assembly is clear.
By and large the speakers on behalf of the amendments claimed that a vote in favour would change nothing within the organisation. They argued that there were only two areas in which the voting would be undertaken while all other decisions were conducted on the basis of one country one vote. Somehow they conveniently ignored that the election of officers to the Executive would be significantly impacted, a feature that is critical to the future of the organisation.
The vote went 39 – 3 in favour of the amendments. Only Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago voted against.
Rather interestingly however, there were times in the discussion where it seemed opportune for some of the leaders of the Olympic Movement to agree that the IOC itself does not always appeared to be a bastion of democracy. One was therefore left to conclude that in such a context therefore it seemed alright for the PASO to follow suit.
The General Assembly did not seem to have adhered to the fundamental principles normally associated with genuine democracy and the laws of natural justice. But then again, whoever said that sport in the Americas, or anywhere for that matter, is in any way committed to these lofty ideals.
There remains mush by way of rhetoric but very little evidence of this rhetoric played out in practice in our daily lives.
The English-speaking is normally associated with a tradition of democracy that is not necessarily common to much of Latin America. At the PASO General Assembly however, even this long held tradition seemed to have been sacrificed at the altar of financial expediency in the name of sport.