One by one, the six candidates took their turn at the podium, trying to drum up support in their bid for the most powerful job in international sports.
With just over two months before the election, the race to become the next International Olympic Committee president came into sharp focus Thursday with the contenders taking their case directly to the voters.
The candidates each made 15-minute presentations to the general assembly, the first time such campaign speeches have been held in an IOC presidential race.
IOC President Jacques Rogge is leaving after 12 years in office. His successor will be elected by secret ballot on Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
With more than 80 IOC members in the hall, Thursday’s presentations were made behind closed doors and no questions were allowed.
When it was over, the most visibly emotional candidate was Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, whose eyes welled up as he talked about the experience.
”I said everything that was in my heart,” he said, nearly choking up. ”This was a chat with my colleagues. It was extremely emotional, extremely moving for me.”
Also speaking were IOC Vice Presidents Thomas Bach of Germany and Ng Ser Miang of Singapore, executive board members Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and C.K. Wu of Taiwan, and former board member Denis Oswald of Switzerland.
Members said Carrion made a powerful impact and that Bach, long considered the front-runner, also put in a strong performance.
Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said the presentations will help members make up their minds.
”It tends to confirm a rough order,” he said. ”You think, `How would this person look standing up in front of the world representing the organization?’ It’s a helpful exercise. It’s far better than, `Let’s have a coffee.’ This is a kind of a platform.”
Carrion gave his speech without notes or PowerPoint presentation.
”I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t practice it two or three time,” he said. ”But I knew what I wanted to say. The gods were favorable today. It felt good. I had said it 20 times, and it just came out. I think they liked it. I liked the reaction.”
The 60-year-old Carrion is chairman of the finance commission, and he negotiated the record $4.38 billion U.S. TV rights deal with NBC through 2020.
”The world is changing very quickly,” he said. ”People are marching in the streets demanding transparency and accountability. We are in a very, very good spot right now, but it would be foolish to think that we are immune or exempt from all that is going on in the world.”
While Carrion has earned a reputation as the IOC’s financial czar, he said money is not the most important issue for the next president.
”We are an organization that is based on values and strong emotions,” he said. ”The minute we forget that, then we’re lost.”
Bach, a 59-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing gold medalist, has served at the top levels of the IOC for years. He leads most of the IOC’s investigations into doping cases and heads the German Olympic Sports Confederation.
”I enjoyed the experience,” Bach said after the presentation. ”I was looking forward to it with excitement, like in a sports competition when you finally enter the stage and you can perform. It’s not up to me to grade the performance but I have a good feeling.”
One of the issues singled out by Bach was the fight against doping.
”We have to make clear the ultimate goal is protecting the clean athletes,” he said. ”Catching the cheats or exposing noncompliance (with the World Anti-Doping Code) is only a means to achieve this ultimate goal. We have to invest more in scientific research and the tests have to be even more targeted than now.”
Ng, a 64-year-old diplomat and businessman, chaired the organizing committee for the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and is viewed as a strong contender from Asia.
”I feel good about my presentation,” he said. ”I talked about the need to protect the integrity, the need for independence. I was able to share my views on the future, in particular the Youth Games, and putting youth at the middle of the Olympic movement.”
Oswald, a 66-year-old lawyer and president of the international rowing federation, headed the IOC coordination commissions for the Athens and London Olympics. He said Thursday’s presentation was a new challenge.
”You are judged,” he said. ”You are not so much judged when you present a report about coordination commissions. You felt it was important, it was our only opportunity to address our members. I would have hoped it would be open to the public and to the journalists, but it was not our decision.”
Wu, head of the international amateur boxing association, said, if elected, he would propose that all six candidates meet and put their proposals together into a ”master plan.”
Bubka, the former pole vault champion from Ukraine, is by far the youngest candidate at 49. He proposes the creation of several councils that would help advise the IOC on key issues.