Ugly Olympic conflict breaks into open at Sochi conference
LONDON (AP) Never in recent memory has the Olympic movement seen anything quite like this.
It came like a thunderbolt Monday - an Olympic powerbroker publicly rebuking the IOC and its president at a global conference.
Launching the withering broadside was Marius Vizer, head of the umbrella body representing Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations known as SportAccord.
His target was a surprised Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president sitting right there in the front row of the convention hall in Sochi, Russia.
It was the host ripping into his invited guest.
SportAccord? More like SportDiscord.
Vizer's speech shattered any pretense of unity among the so-called Olympic family, laid bare his simmering feud with Bach and ignited a backlash by top sports federations who support the IOC leader.
Questions and answers behind the Olympic conflict:
Q: What is SportAccord?
A: It's an international body that represents more than 100 sports federations, ranging from the established Olympic sports to billiards and bodybuilding. It was formerly known as GAISF, or General Association of International Sports Federations. It was rebranded in 2009 and moved offices to Lausanne, Switzerland. It organizes an annual conference known as the SportAccord Convention, first held in 2003. It also runs some multi-sports events such as the World Combat Games and World Mind Games.
Q: Who is Marius Vizer?
A: He's a Romanian-born Austrian and former judoka and judo coach. He has been president of the International Judo Federation since 2007. In 2013, he was elected as SportAccord president to complete the remaining two years of the term of former cycling federation chief Hein Verbruggen. Vizer was re-elected unopposed Monday to a full four-year term. He has close ties with Russia. SportAccord decided to hold its annual convention in Sochi again next year and in Russia as well in 2017 and 2018, with Moscow and St. Petersburg as hosts. Vizer's stern demeanor and thirst for power have not helped him win friends and allies inside the IOC.
Q: What does Vizer want?
A: Power and influence for himself and the federations. He launched his campaign for SportAccord president by pledging to establish a ''United World Championships,'' to be held at a single location every four years for all the federations. Naturally, this didn't sit well with the IOC, which organizes the Olympics. Vizer's project has never materialized but he announced plans Monday for another new multi-sports event, the World Beach Games, to debut in 2019 in - where else? - Sochi.
Q: What did Vizer say about Bach and the IOC?
A: Among other things, he said the IOC system was ''expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.'' Vizer accused Bach of turning his back on the federations, having no business plan for his Olympic TV channel, keeping key players - like himself - out of the IOC and out of the voting for Olympic host cities. He made it personal, too, saying he had tried to forge a relationship of mutual respect with Bach but ''unfortunately it never became reality.''
Q What was behind Vizer's outburst?
A: He was clearly perturbed after the IOC decided in February that it would not hold an executive board meeting at the Sochi SportAccord conference. The snub came after the IOC board had met at every previous SportAccord convention, giving it added prestige and media coverage. Vizer also felt the IOC undermined his conference by barring the two bid cities for the 2022 Winter Games - Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan - from making presentations. Bid cities have made presentations at previous meetings.
Q: What was Vizer thinking?
A: Not clear. He was on friendly soil, speaking to his own members and thought he would put his point across directly to show his authority. He also seemed to want to settle a score with Bach.
Q: What did Bach have to say?
A: Bach said Vizer was speaking only for himself. He said he had talked with Vizer's colleagues throughout the Olympic world and ''my impression is a little bit that your opinion you have is exclusively for you.'' He suggested Vizer talk to the two federation representatives on the IOC executive board who ''can fully inform and advise you what is going on.'' Bach stayed in Sochi for SportAccord's official opening ceremony before leaving as scheduled later in the day.
Q: How did the federations react?
A: The major sports federations rose up against Vizer and rallied behind Bach. The biggest Olympic federation, track and field's IAAF, immediately pulled out as a member of SportAccord in protest. The shooting federation also withdrew. More than a dozen federations - including the IAAF, FIFA and the swimming, tennis and basketball bodies - signed a letter criticizing Vizer's comments and backing Bach. Another key powerbroker, Kuwait's Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, head of the Association of National Olympic Committees, came out to defend Bach. The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations will meet Tuesday as its members decide whether to quit SportAccord.
Q: What now for Vizer and SportAccord?
A: The future for both is unclear after the ugly rupture with the IOC. How many members will pull out of SportAccord? Will Vizer and the organization become total outsiders with no influence? One thing is certain: Vizer's claim to IOC membership is now dead and buried.
Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Sochi, Russia, contributed to this report.