BERLIN (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has emerged as the clear winner in a battle for influence over international sports federations as rival organization SportAccord has been left in tatters.
A rare public confrontation that began last month with a scathing attack by SportAccord President Marius Vizer on the IOC has essentially ended with the complete isolation of SportAccord, an umbrella organization for some 100 sports federations.
Dozens of them, including most Olympic federations, have either withdrawn their membership of SportAccord or made their opposition to Vizer’s comments public, siding with the IOC.
Vizer had accused the IOC of lacking transparency and blocking new events, calling their system “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”
Even after Vizer proposed a meeting with the IOC to clear the air with a 20-point agenda that included major demands in favor of his members, federations continued to drop out of SportAccord en masse.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Vizer, the head of the International Judo Federation, cried foul, accusing IOC President Thomas Bach of pulling federations’ strings in the background.
“They (the 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,” Vizer said.
“I was straight and direct and I feel that president Bach has stayed just behind all the story, in the shadows.”
It is clear that Bach, elected in 2013, has emerged the big winner in this conflict against a potential competitor, who was eager to increase his control over federations.
Vizer took over SportAccord two years ago and immediately announced the United World Championships, an event the IOC saw as possible competition to the Olympics.
It never materialized after he opted to break them down into four smaller events so as not to threaten the IOC -- but the battle lines had been drawn.
Federations are the lifeline of the Olympics. They bring the big names to the Games, making them the IOC’s most valuable stakeholder.
A lack of top athletes would mean no top sponsors nor top broadcasting deals.
“I believe it was about making a point, about telling other potential threats and the world of sport that Bach and the IOC are in complete control,” an Olympics expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
“Pressure or no pressure, anyone out there planning to challenge the IOC will now have to think twice after seeing what happened to SportAccord.”
Vizer’s position has been severely compromised with many federations saying he is no longer speaking on their behalf and demanding an apology to the IOC.
Peru’s Olympic Committee, who had been set to organize SportAccord’s 2017 World Combat Games in Lima, also pulled the plug on Sunday, telling Vizer they were siding with the IOC.
The World Combat Games have lost five of six Olympic sports, with only judo, the federation Vizer heads, remaining.
Yet alleged pressure is not enough to lead federations to side with the IOC. It is also the IOC’s financial structure that ensures millions of dollars are distributed to them after each Olympics.
Just under $300 million was divided between the 28 federations after the 2008 Beijing Olympics and that figure went up to a staggering $519 million for 26 sports after London 2012 due to even greater broadcasting deals.
Rights deals have continued to grow and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games will flush further cash into their coffers.
Many Olympic federations depend on these revenues for their entire existence in the four-year cycle between Games and this cash injection is something neither Vizer nor SportAccord can replace any time soon.
“What is the relevance of SportAccord now? The Olympic federations are safe but non-Olympic federations are in a very awkward position at the moment,” said the Olympic expert. “There is a division now that no one wants and that was created by SportAccord.”
The organization was never crucial for major sports but minor, non-Olympic federations used that platform -- an annual convention and a string of multi-sports events -- to increase global exposure and tap into new revenue streams.
A group of 23 such sports wrote to Bach and Vizer on Monday in a desperate plea to find common ground.
With the IOC boss unwilling to meet before briefing the Executive Board in June, time is running out for Vizer with Bach holding all the cards.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ian Chadband