Former IOC director-general highlights threats to sports

by Malcolm Curtis (

François Carrard, former director-general of the International Olympic Committee (IOC),  gave a comprehensive overview at the American International Club’s March 21 luncheon of the threats facing the Olympics and international sports.

Carrard, a Lausanne-based lawyer with expertise in corporate, sport and media law among other specialities, zeroed in on such challenges as governance, corruption, doping and excessive litigation and their potentially corrosive impact on sports.

He started his address, delivered at the Collège du Léman in Versoix, with a definition of sport before methodically analyzing the things that threaten to spoil it at the Olympic level and in other realms internationally.

Sport, Carrard said, “is a physical activity practiced in accordance with specific rules that leads to results and rankings”.

The Olympic sports movement, he said, is “sport with a plus,” an educational element that promotes principles and values.

The movement teaches individuals to respect themselves and others, while promoting non-discrimination, tolerance and respect for the rules, Carrard said.

The movement is promoted around the world by 205 national Olympic committees.

The IOC, headquartered in Lausanne, has a mission, Carrard said, to deliver the best Olympic Games.

Against this background, he highlighted an organizational problem with the Olympic movement stemming from the involvement of volunteers who are not professional administrators.

A person starting out as a volunteer can end up as the president of a national sports federation, although he “may not have the capacity to run things.”

The result is that “governance in sport is not up to where it should be,” he said, while adding that this is an issue the IOC is working to address.

In older times “a lesser degree of governance was not so important” . . . but now there’s money involved . . . “these people are not up to the challenge of running sports organizations.”

Carrard said money has “changed the perception of all aspects of sports” and that has led to a “very serious risk linked to corruption.”

Match fixing and corrupt judges and referees are among the sports governance issues that have come to the fore, he said.

The danger is particularly high in sports such as artistic gymnastic and swimming and ice skating, Carrard indicated.

He cited the scandal in the 2002 Winter Olympics where a French judge of a skating pairs competition voted for the Russian couple over the Canadian pair, admitting that she had been pressured by a French official to do so in an apparent deal with the Russians.

The judge was sanctioned and the Canadian pair were subsequently awarded gold medals along with the Russians.

Such problems are “very, very bad for the sport.”

Another threat to sports linked to money is the rise in litigation encouraged by agents of top athletes, Carrard said.

Because of the monetary consequences of sports results, lawyers often end up becoming involved with sometimes surprising consequences.

For example, swimmers from Spain and Slovenia who were banned from the sport after being caught doping in an international competition in Brazil were successfully able to challenge the ban through the courts.

The swimmers argued that as a result of the ban they could not work and that this violated their freedom of movement for working within the European Union.

The European Court of Justice found in their favour.

“This is getting crazy,” Carrard said.

Politics continue to pose another threat to sport, including the ambitions of “quasi-totalitarian states” to impose their images on the world.

“We saw that in the time of the Soviet Union but you see it again.”

Making his second appearance before an AIC luncheon, the lawyer also touched on the impact of technology on the Olympics and how it is making it more difficult to protect things like exclusive rights to images, brands and intellectual property.

Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, combined with the emergence of smartphones, have changed the outlook for media.

Carrard recalled that in the past athletes were not permitted to carry cameras to protect TV rights.

But now, they typically carry mobile phones, take photos and publish websites with their own images, he said.

Asked whether there is too much money involved in sport, Carrard responded by quoting Andrew Young, politician and former US ambassador to the United Nations.

Young “once said that commercialization was necessary for the democratization of sport,” he said.

“In that sense, money is not all that bad.”

He noted that the Olympic Games would not be possible without the big companies sponsoring them.

Despite the threats, sport remains “an absolutely fabulous way of living,” Carrard said.

And he couldn’t help plugging his proposal for a program of compulsory sports for all children — “one hour a day of sport for every kid in every school.”

He suggested people are misguided for seeing this as “playing and wasting time”, arguing that with sports you can “build a personality.”



About Malcolm Curtis

Freelance English-language communications professional (writing, editing, translations) based near Geneva, Switzerland. Let me know if I can help you.
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