IOC member Denis Oswald on London 2012, wrestling, Qatar and the future of the Olympic Games

19 March 2013 | Posted in Features - Interviews | By David Cushnan | Contact the author

IOC member Denis Oswald on London 2012, wrestling, Qatar and the future of the Olympic Games

Denis Oswald (above) is the president of rowing’s international federation, FISA, and a potential candidate for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Swiss lawyer, who oversaw preparations for London 2012 as chair of the IOC’s coordination committee sat down with SportsPro during his visit to the ICSS Securing Sport 2013 conference in Doha, for a whistlestop conversation on the sports politics issues of the day. On the agenda: Qatar, wrestling’s exclusion from the Olympic Games and the future of the IOC itself.

Here in Doha, how would you assess Qatar’s huge investment in sport and the way they have gone about it?

I think they have a genuine interest in sport. Of course they are looking to large events, to get the visibility and to probably put their name on the map. But in addition, like this project, they do a lot for the benefit of sport and are probably not getting much in return. They are putting in money to help sport fight against match fixing and the manipulation of competition, and it’s good that countries with the resources to do it are doing it without expecting much in return - nothing equivalent to what they are putting into the project.

As someone who was involved and saw the build-up at close hand, is London 2012 delivering on what it promised in terms of legacy?

Yes. If you compare with other organisers, they had no rush - like Athens , where they were not sure if they would finish on time and had no real time to plan the legacy. London, on the contrary, already at the time of bidding had thought of legacy - the hard legacy, of course, what they were going to build and keep, what they were going to build on a temporary basis because there was no need for the future, all of that was carefully planned. Also, the legacy of getting more people to practise sport, sport in schools. They had quite a number of initiatives that they had organised and planned. Of course, it’s not always exactly the way you’d hoped it would go - maybe they had targets for the number of people playing sports that were not met, but globally I think it was a huge success. If I compare with other cities, I don’t think any other had such a good legacy as London.

From your position at the head of an Olympic sport, what advice do you have for wrestling to salvage its current situation?

It was decided by the IOC Executive Board and I am no longer on the board, so I don’t know the detail of the discussions, I have not seen the report prepared by the sport department, but I must say I was very much surprised by the decision. Probably some other sports would have less reason to be on the Olympic programme than wrestling. If you see the reaction, I’m pretty much convinced that they will come back. They’ve now joined the seven sports which are candidates but if they come back the final result will be there will be no new sport, and in a way that was not the purpose of all this – it’s a pity. We have a little bit of an awkward situation as well because the number of  core sports was reduced to 25. Under normal circumstances, it would give you three places but because golf and rugby has not yet been on the programme you cannot throw them away without giving them a chance – that’s why there’s only one spot. Normally, you would get three spots and that gives you a bit more flexibility in bringing new sports in. But again, I was very much surprised. Maybe they should have organised their sport a bit more. I remember a discussion where they were asked why they have the Greco-Roman style and the freestyle and whether they could be part of the efforts to reduce the number of athletes. They never really reacted. They don’t have a good balance between men and women, maybe that’s another reason. I don’t know, it’s just a guess.

"Some other sports would have less reason to be on the Olympic programme than wrestling. If you see the reaction, I’m pretty much convinced that they will come back."

Should every Olympic sport consider this a warning?

Probably, because nobody expected it - and wrestling itself was not prepared for that. They were sure they were secure and so on. It shows that it can be sports you don’t expect deleted from the programme. Everybody has to be careful and make sure they make progress and keep their sport up to date.

The common suggestion is that the IOC has a wider plan to modernise the summer Olympics and bring down the average age of the audience; is that the reality, is that a genuine philosophy for the IOC at the moment?

It seems, according to some statistics, mainly coming from the US, that there is an age class between 20 and 35 who are really not interested in the Olympic Games - or even 18 to 30. The question is what can you do to make the Games more attractive for this class of people. At the same time, you have to make sure you don’t lose the older ones and maybe they are more interested in the traditional sports. It’s not so easy to say bring in skateboarding or whatever; BMX was added for that reason and maybe one or two others, but [we should] be careful not to lose the traditional ones, because they are really the core sports. Nobody would think of deleting athletics or swimming or these traditional sports, but still the programme is a very good balance between individual sports, team sports, combat sports and so on. If you take one out you have to be careful you keep that balance.

As he approaches the final stint of his presidency, what would you say about Jacques Rogge’s tenure at the head of the IOC?

If you look at where we were 12 years ago he has certainly achieved a lot. He has created the Youth Olympic Games, modernised a number of things, made progress from the commercial point of view, which, whether we like it or not, is what helps sport to democratise: nowadays you can have African athletes [at the Games], for example, because it is paid for them to come. Years ago, if you look at the medal table it was a lot more concentrated on some traditional countries. All this has been progress during this 12 years. I think he will leave a very good legacy.

Are you interested in the presidency?

I’m interested. I’ve got a number of positions where I have been able to observe and obviously my vision and ideas about what the IOC could do, but I have not yet decided. I have a number of colleagues encouraging me, but on the other hand it’s not an easy decision to take. I would like also to try and find out if my vision is shared by a certain number of people and if these people will give me their support. I don’t want to run and get ten votes, so that’s what I’m trying to assess at the moment.

When will you decide when to run?

Per the rule, it’s three months before - so 10th June. But I have not set any date or whatever. It depends on the occasions I have to meet some colleagues and slowly I will feel whether I have support or not. Then I will take my decision.

What should the main priorities be for the new president, whoever it is?

To me, I think it is very important we protect our main asset, which is the Olympic Games. I was surprised to hear a few days ago a candidate to be president of SportAccord saying he wants to organise joint world championships, all sports together in the same place, every four years. If this is not a threat for the Olympic Games, I don’t know what it is. I think we should determine what we want because we cannot have every year a kind of Olympic Games under different names. The Olympic Games are very special for the athletes, for everybody and some people not interested in sport, who don’t watch sport on television, make an exception for the Olympic Games because it is the Olympic Games. This is something we should protect. If I were in the position, certainly I would give a lot of attention to that.

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