David Owen: There is a place for royalty in the IOC, but at present it is over-represented

Wednesday, 30 January 2013
David OwenWhat do Her Serene Highness the Princess Nora of Liechtenstein, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark have in common?

Right, as many of you will at once have spotted, all are International Olympic Committee (IOC) members.

So are Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal (Princess Anne to most of us), His Royal Highness Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz and His Serene Highness the Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco.

And His Royal Highness Prince Tunku Imran. And, until later this year, His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange.

Yes, the most powerful club in world sport is chock-full of royal/ruling family members.

To be precise, there are at present 101 IOC members altogether.

And, going through the list, I counted nine princes and princesses, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, who I believe is nephew of the present Emir, Sheikh Tamim, described as heir apparent to the throne of Qatar, and His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who is head of that small state.

So let's call that 12 - and you don't need Pierre de Fermat's mathematical genius to work out that that amounts to a whisker under 12 percent of the current IOC membership.

And that in a nutshell is why I hope that when it gets around to replacing the Prince of Orange, who is soon to succeed his mother Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands, the IOC resists any impulse to induct yet another royal or ruling family member.

Prince of Oranga at London 2012The Prince of Orange, pictured here celebrating Dutch success at London 2012, has been an enthusiastic member of the IOC but is now stepping down after becoming King

In nurturing this hope, I mean nothing remotely personal: the Prince has been, by all accounts, a popular and active IOC member.

Nor am I a dyed-in-the-wool Olympic republican: I can quite appreciate why a sprinkling of royals is no bad thing for a body such as the IOC, for all sorts of reasons: the sense of grandeur and pageantry it confers; the help with staying above the cut and thrust of everyday sporting politics, as the IOC must; the assurance royalty can still provide of getting the ear of political leaders when occasion demands.

You would be hard-pressed to argue, furthermore, that a good proportion of the present royal incumbents have not been well worth their salt as IOC representatives.

But 12 per cent!?

The IOC gets enough criticism as it is for being pompous and arrogant; such a quota serves only to make it an easy target for those barbs, no matter how respectful and approachable the princes and princesses themselves might be.

Nor is that 12 per cent figure the legacy of some bygone era when the world was more deferential and people were content to accept their place in the grand scheme of things: exactly half of the individuals concerned (four princes, one princess and a Sheikh) have become IOC members since Jacques Rogge took over as IOC President in 2001.

Princess Anne at London 2012The Princess Royal is one of several royal members of the IOC

It is partly the result of the very active role in staging major sports events now being played by wealthy Middle East states such as United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

And I can appreciate how the IOC must seem in some ways an ideal forum for the talents of underemployed royal family members from countries where, nowadays, the business of day-to-day government is undertaken by democratically-mandated bodies.

But look at it another way: try explaining to the proverbial (wo)man on the Clapham omnibus why nine princes and princesses are IOC members, yet Seb Coe and Tanni Grey-Thompson aren't.

I have also come to think that the IOC's own democratic reflexes need encouragement: while probably the most important decisions - Summer and Winter Olympic/Paralympic hosts; choice of President – are decided by vote of all IOC members, one or two other key choices, such as which Applicant cities in an Olympic race are granted Candidate city status, are left to the Executive Board.

Under such circumstances, I am not at all sure that the presence in the IOC of so many members of royal and/or ruling families sends out the right signals.

Yes, there is a place for royalty in the IOC, but I would argue that a period of rebalancing is needed.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed  here.
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