Sportaccord and what it does

Hein Verbruggen makes a point.-V. GANESAN

As an IOC member, who had been closely involved with the Games as Chairman of the Coordination Commission at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I know all about the Games. The Games has such an image and reputation that local organisers and National Governments actually want to use it as a handle for all-round development, says Hein Verbruggen in this interview with S. R. Suryanarayan.

The inaugural U-21 World Cup squash event of the WSF, held in Chennai, had an important visitor in Hein Verbruggen, an honorary member of the IOC. The Dutch official, who is based in Lausanne, was IOC member from 1996 and in 2008 was given the honour of Chairing the Coordination Committee at the Beijing Olympics. Soon thereafter, he resigned from the IOC but was made an honorary member. Verbruggen is also the President of SportAccord, a General Association of International Sports Federations to promote communication and cooperation among them. The senior official's presence had an added significance in the wake of WSF's determined bid to get squash included as a medal sport in the Olympics.

Excerpts from an interview to Sportstar: Question: Is this your first trip to India?

Answer: No, I came to New Delhi as a tourist in 1998. Been to Agra and Jodhpur. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful structure I have ever seen.

You are the President of SportAccord. What is this organisation and how does it work?

The world of sports has three types of members — Olympic Federations, Federations recognised by IOC (new sport for the Games come from here) and then Federations recognised by SportAccord, but not yet by the IOC. When we talk of IOC-recognised federations it is a big group of 70 — 35 in the Olympic Games (summer and winter) and 35 not in the Games. SportAccord makes no such differences. In all we have 90 members — Olympic, IOC-recognised and others. Generally, IOC works closely with us. They share the due diligence to determine the full background of any specific federation. So then SportAccord has two types of members. The first comprises the 90 federations mentioned earlier and the second type includes big international organisers like the Paralympic committee, World Games, Commonwealth Games and so on.

Does SportAccord (SA) then organise separate Games?

This is an interesting question. Three years ago SA decided to create and organise its own multi-sport Games but under a new concept. What we looked into was to bring together sports with similarity. For instance we have 15 Federations that are linked to martial arts. So we organised a Combat Games. SA is now working on organising Beach Games inclusive of beach volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball, rugby and also surfing and sailing. Last December we organised SA Mind Games bringing together four members — chess, draft, bridge and go. In addition to conducting the games, we are trying to see if we could also bring in social and business activities. At the Mind Games in Beijing, the authorities pointed to the growing problem of youngsters turning intolerant, increasingly TV/internet addicted and basically showing poor concentration and wanted players to visit schools and promote the mind games.

There then is an objective too?

Yes, we have objectives. The SA has signed an MOU with UN under which it has six millennium goals: reducing poverty, promoting peace, doing something for children, youth development, improvement in society and care for older people. Translate these into sports. So, for instance, when we organise Beach Games the emphasis will be on better environment. Each Games will look for a theme that fits in with the MOU with UN.

How then does SA Games compare vis a vis the Olympics?

It is totally independent. The Olympics is the highest. SA's basic role is taking care of International Federations. These Federations have difficult times. They struggle for sponsors and actually now compete with other forms of entertainment. Our role is to help promote their sport on a global level. SA's signing a contract with Youtube is one such area. We have put in place a Sportup link with Youtube and Federations like squash or skiing for instance can upload footages which could be seen world-wide. Similarly, we have an anti-doping wing set up at the request of the IOC and WADA. Additionally, there is a department for integrity to help Federations fight match-fixing and illegal betting. When Federations come together these facilities become cost-effective.

Talking of the Olympics, is it becoming unwieldy?

This is very difficult to stop. As an IOC member, who had been closely involved with the Games as Chairman of the Coordination Commission at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I know all about the Games. The Games has such an image and reputation that local organisers and National Governments actually want to use it as a handle for all round development. For instance in London they wanted to redo, re-structure or revamp the whole of east London through the Olympics. The thing is the IOC cannot stop this. We keep hearing of the money problems in London, but this is not of the IOC's making.

But escalating costs are always linked with the Olympics?

This has to be understood. The fact is the Olympics is not the cause for escalation, rather it is the means towards executing a government's development plan. The media should understand the distinction. On the one side is what I call Operational budget that has everything to do with the conduct of the Games from hotels, athletes travel, rent of venues and the like which can be more than made up through the IOC's grant, ticket sales, sponsors licensing, merchandising and so on.

Now comes infrastructure. The organising committee only rents venues and other facilities, the investment is by the Government. But then like all investments they bring gain, be it on hotels or airports. They are facilities for the future. This distinction has to be underlined. Often, as now in London where the opposition is strong, the picture painted is bad. So if costs escalate it is through political decisions and not the Games proper.

The Olympics is growing and commercialisation is increasing. Will Doping be a major threat for the mega Games?

I will quote President Jacques Rogge's words on this: “Doping is crime in sport. No mistake about that. We have to fight that. We should not believe that we can eradicate this totally. That is the mistake we make. We hope we can eradicate it just as we hope to eradicate crime in society. But you know there are always people who are criminals. The same thing about doping. We do the maximum, but there will always, unfortunately, be cheaters. At the same time, match-fixing is a much bigger threat than doping.”

Do you think India can host an Olympics, the way China had done?

China did an incredible job. As for India, in terms of organisation, there is no doubt that considering the stature of the country it can handle that. I think that operational budget too will not be a problem. The Games bring profit, not to speak of the economic benefits. No Games has lost money since 1980. Now, to infrastructure and that is the key. It is huge and complex and government guarantees are a must for an event involving competition of over 10,000 athletes. It is not for nothing that if Chicago is the city for the Games then President Obama or if Rio de Janeiro is the host then Brazil President Lula (da Silva) comes. The government has to underwrite about 200 guarantees. Free access, freedom of press (no problem in India), import of horses, arms, sailing boats etc. The IOC gives seven years to prepare for the Games and unless the Government is behind it totally, there will be problems.

Your message to all Indian sportspersons during this Olympic year…

You know India's first gold came in Beijing, through your shooter (Abhinav Bindra). India is a huge country, sport is important here. There is a lot of cricket all right. I can only say I am looking foward to seeing many Indian athletes in London. I will be there. Specifically I wish them good luck and success. I hope they will bring in a lot of medals for the country.