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OlympicsField of Play: 3 decisions will determine future of Olympics

Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 | 02:12 PM

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IOC president Jacques Rogge arrives for a press conference ahead of the 125th IOC Session on September 4, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images) IOC president Jacques Rogge arrives for a press conference ahead of the 125th IOC Session on September 4, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

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Canadian five-time Olympian Charmaine Crooks is bound for Argentina to witness three enormous decisions that will determine the future of the Games and the global sporting landscape, writes Scott Russell.
Charmaine Crooks is on the move.  

The Canadian, five-time Olympian, silver medal sprinter, and former member of the International Olympic Committee is bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina to witness three enormous decisions that will affect the future of the Games and the global sporting landscape.

"It's important that the voice of the athlete remains relevant," Crooks declared over the speaker phone while dodging Vancouver rush hour traffic. "The new leader needs to understand that the Olympic movement is about serving mankind beyond the business of sport."

It's a lot to ask, Charmaine. 

Always active as an advocate, Crooks sits on a number of IOC committees but doesn't have a vote anymore.  Still, she knows full well that the 100+ members of the IOC, including Canadians Richard Pound, a swimmer at the Rome Olympics in 1960, and gold medal cross country skier Beckie Scott are in for some heavy lifting in the coming days. 

sp-300-istambul.jpgThey'll decide on the host city for the 2020 summer Games, select one of three sports to be added to the program for that year, and perhaps most significantly, choose a new president of the IOC to replace the outgoing Jacques Rogge as his 12-year term expires.

"Dr. Rogge was himself an athlete," Crooks said. "He did so much from that perspective. He was one of us."

It's evident the IOC is faced with three vital decisions. But all who follow the Games should pray for its members to be guided by one overriding ideal.

The Olympics need to be, above all else, about inclusion.

Given the past history of the IOC it's a stretch, but given the unpredictable nature of the beast, anything can happen.

On the matter of the host city there are three attractive candidates: Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid.

The desire here is that the IOC members will choose not to be governed by fear but rather continue to make the Games a universal phenomenon.  

That means selecting Istanbul, a vast and cosmopolitan urban centre in Turkey which has never had the Olympics, in a region which bridges Europe and Asia. The Middle East and the overwhelming Muslim population therein need to be embraced by the Olympics and included in the peaceful ideal the Games seek to espouse.

Recent protests against the government and the strife in Syria should not serve to distract the voters. The Games are seven years down the road and plenty of work needs to be done but that's what being a force for change is all about.

sp-300-gasol.jpgI can recall encountering Olympic gold medalist and the man who successfully ran the London 2012 Olympics, Sebastian Coe, in advance of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India in 2010. The critics were rampant declaring India was filthy, unsafe and corrupt making it an unwise choice as host.

"If we want the benefits that sport creates then we need to build a global capacity for sport," Coe said.  "That means you occasionally have to take it out of your own backyard to more challenging places. Is it worth it? Yes it is. Smart people think their way through it."

Lord Coe is bang on and it seems to me that Istanbul represents the place that would most benefit from having the Olympics.

When it comes to the sport to be added to the roster in 2020, there's little doubt that wrestling should be the one. While baseball/softball and squash are both appealing and have strong cases, they can't match the global clout of the grappling sport.

Since being dropped from the list of core Olympic pursuits, wrestling has been forced to reinvent itself by including women in its governance and officiating as well as making the matches more appealing to spectators.

The fact remains, wrestling is elemental to human beings and a foundation sport of the Olympics representing the athlete's struggle, which is central to the ideal the Games represent. It has appeared at every edition of the modern Olympics and dates back to the original competitions in Olympia in 700 BC.
"There are more than 180 countries that participate in wrestling," noted Canadian gold medalist Carol Huynh. "I worry about the development of the sport it is taken out of the Games." 

At the last Olympics in London 344 athletes took part in wrestling, representing 71 nations. Competitors from 29 different countries including those in Africa took home medals.

Baseball/softball and squash just can't deliver that kind of universal measure of inclusion.  
Fingers crossed that the IOC keeps wrestling.

Finally, the choice of next Olympic president is critical. Glaringly, not one of the six candidates is a woman. This gives credence to the simmering perception that the IOC is still an "old boys" club dragging its heels as it plods into the modern age.

"A focus for the new leader must be to increase the role of women in sport and in key leadership positions," said Crooks. "We're making progress but a lot more needs to be done."

It's true that more women are being elected to the IOC but it's only recent and a tiny fraction of the powerful executive board is female. The problem extends beyond the Olympics to plague all of sport. Less than ten per cent of those who assume the most influential roles in National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations are women.

Of the six candidates for IOC president this time around, three have been Olympians. 

Frontrunner Thomas Bach of Germany claimed fencing gold in 1976 in Montreal, Sergey Bubka of Ukraine is a pole vault legend having won gold in Seoul in 1988, and Switzerland's Denis Oswald has a long rowing history and competed at three Games including his bronze medal performance in Mexico City in 1968.

sp-300-bach.jpgThat said the IOC has a chance to break new ground by selecting, for the first time, a leader from its vast Asian constituency. That makes Ser Miang Ng of Singapore noteworthy. He's an IOC vice president and was the head of the organizing committee that staged the highly successful, inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

Most importantly, Ng brings a perspective from outside the mainstream European Olympic aristocracy. Since 1896 and the first modern Games, the only non-European to hold the post was the authoritarian American Avery Brundage.

Including the rest of the world at the highest level of Olympic decision making is something we can only hope for.

Crooks makes the trip to Buenos Aires as an observer this time. She's powerless to affect the outcome but she remains optimistic nonetheless. Perhaps that's the ultimate job of those who subscribe to the fundamentals of the evolving Olympic movement. 

I ask if she has one wish from the three decisions about to come in Argentina.

"It's important that the heart of the athletes is kept in mind," she replied.

As I said, when you're talking about the Olympics and the greatest of all fields of play on a complicated planet... it's a lot to ask.

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