BERLIN (Reuters) - SportAccord president Marius Vizer has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to end pressure on federations to withdraw their membership of his organization after he criticized the Olympic body last month.
Vizer, who heads the international judo federation and the umbrella body SportAccord, which has about 100 sports federations as members, had accused the IOC of being dated, blocking new events and lacking transparency among other things.
Since Vizer’s scathing attack at the SportAccord convention, which he said was probably “too shocking” for the IOC, more than a dozen Olympic federations, including athletics, boxing, archery, taekwondo, triathlon, hockey and wrestling, have left, saying his comments did not represent them.
“I had expected more solidarity from international federations, specifically from summer Olympics federations, because I spoke out in the favor of the sport,” Vizer told Reuters in an interview.
“I did not attack (IOC president Thomas) Bach or the IOC. But it is up to the federations to decide what they consider the best for their situation and their sports community,” said Vizer.
SportAccord, which also hosts smaller multi-sports events like the World Combat Games, is not hugely important for major sports such as athletics, whose financial dependence on the Olympics and their promotion through them is critical.
But for smaller federations and especially those who are not part of the Olympics, SportAccord is key to generating new revenue streams, showcasing the sport and increasing participation.
The sudden exodus of federations in recent weeks, however, was not because of what he said but because of IOC pressure, Vizer added.
“That is my opinion and I am really convinced of that,” he said, adding it was only following a coffee break long after his speech that federations started to oppose his comments once they had discussions with the IOC.
“What I expressed with my voice was the long-time opinion of my colleagues. It was never clearly expressed at an important occasion. I did it and probably it was too shocking for them (IOC),” he said.
“I was straight and direct and I feel that president Bach has stayed just behind all the story, in the shadows.”
Vizer has written to the IOC chief, asking for a meeting to clear the air.
“I am open to meeting with president Bach to discuss (things) with him. Everything I want is for the benefit of sports. Just because the IOC is the most important sports organization does not mean it is perfect.”
“Things can be changed and values can be increased, transparency can be adapted,” he said.
The IOC said on Wednesday Bach had responded to Vizer’s request with a letter of his own, without giving more details.
“We read Mr Vizer’s comments... in the media,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “The IOC President has responded directly to this letter before making any public comment.”
According to some Olympic officials it is likely Bach will want to discuss the matter with stakeholders and his executive board before setting up a meeting.
Vizer said he would urge Bach to allow people to speak up instead of fearing punishment.
“In the international sports movement and Olympic movement everybody is free to speak and if somebody has a voice he should not be punished, he should be listened to.”
“They (IOC) did not analyze my proposals but just took measures to punish me because I expressed a voice on behalf of me and millions of sports people.”
But it is not only SportAccord membership that has been affected with the World Combat Games 2017 in Lima, Peru, seeing several Olympic federations pull out.
“I hope the pressure will not continue because I have felt it for more than one year since Bach has been president (since 2013). The World Combat Games are a complementary event. It just creates additional benefits,” said Vizer.
“We have the opportunity to replace those federations with others which have sent in applications. We will have the number of federations, no doubt, but I regret the decisions to withdraw.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar