By Duncan Mackay

Duncan Mackay 2If Marius Vizer was looking to pick the brains of a couple of political heavyweights to get some tips for his campaign to become the new President of SportAccord then he had the perfect opportunity during London 2012.

In what was a stunning picture opportunity for the head of the International Judo Federation (IJF), Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up at ExCeL to spend his only day at the Olympics  in London watching judo, and was accompanied by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

And in a piece of theatre that would have been difficult to choreograph, Russia's Tagir Khaibulaev, won the gold medal for Russia in the -100 kilograms category, while Gemma Gibbons won an emotional silver for Britain in the -78kg.

Putin is the Honorary President of both the European Judo Union (EJU) and of the IJF who Vizer awarded, three years ago, the 8th dan. But London 2012 was the first time he had actually watched judo at the Olympics.

"A lot of people asked me, 'How did you manage that?'" Vizer smiled. "It was amazing to have one British athlete and one Russian in the final block. It was an incredible combination of synergy, destiny and luck. It was an honour for our sport to have two such great personalities there."

Marius Vizer with Vladimir Putin and David Cameron London 2012Marius Vizer (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron at London 2012

London 2012 was an important stop on the road map which Vizer set out for judo when he took over as President from South Korea's Park Yong-sung five years earlier. "It was for me and our sport one of the most successful Olympic Games," he told insidethegames. "It was the most successful in terms of presentation and administration. Judo was sold out with spectators every day, in fact we could have filled a venue with 30 to 40,000 people every day – no problem."

The success of London 2012 was reflected in the fact that when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board met in Lausanne last month, judo's position as one of the core sports on the programme after Rio 2016 was never in jeopardy. It was the first time that the IOC Programme Commission had not ranked the sport in the bottom three since they started reviewing the success of each sport after every Olympics.

There is little sign, outwardly at least, of celebration from Vizer. "We have achieved a lot of positive steps," he said. "But we still have more work to do in continuing the reform of the programme. We have set ourselves targets. Me - and my team - always like to improve the quality. I am convinced that we are on the right path but the process will never be finished. There are always new challenges in front of us."

Since Vizer took over he has set-up a World Judo Tour, a series of annual competitions consisting of five Grand Prix, four Grand Slams and at the end of each season the World Masters, as well as an annual World Championships. The top players share in an elite prize fund of $1.5 million (£1 million/€1.2 million). 

He has also established a development programme for its smaller emerging members and has started Judo for Peace and Judo for Children programmes, charitable foundations which help spread the sport's message and how it can help in social development. 

Since London 2012, the IJF has already introduced a series of new rules designed to make the sport quicker by encouraging more attacking. The changes include ending the time limit on the golden score, which means a match does not end until one of the contestants scores or gets a penalty, and issuing guidance that the ippon score - the most famous throw in judo - should only be given to throws that result in "real impact".

The number of referees on the mat has also been reduced from three to one, with one referee sitting at the table with the video, in an effort to help make the sport more attractive to televison.

Dusseldorf Judo Grand Prix 2The IJF has already introduced a number of changes since London 2012

"The first priority is always to make the judo more spectacular, more understandable for the media and the spectators, not only for the judo community, but for everybody," said Vizer. "After London we have already sat down together and analysed lots of things, including the impact judo has made.

"We have adjusted and corrected some of the rules, a process we have already started at the beginning of this year. We will continue until the Rio World Championships [due to be held between August 26 and September 1] when we will make an evaluation and decide what changes we continue."

Of course, as everyone now knows, the sport which proved to be the most vulnerable when the IOC met to decide which one to cut from the core programme was wrestling, whose Olympic history, which dates back to 708BC, counted for nothing. Vizer feels sympathy for International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) and the fact that they were blind to the situation until after it happened.

"For every sport - Olympic and non-Olympic - we have to express our solidarity," said Vizer.  "Everyone has a responsibility to modernise and to adapt. But it is not an easy situation [for wrestling] nor for us. There should be some sort of warning when a sport is facing a difficult moment."

A big part of his sport's evolution, Vizer believes, is successfully getting team judo on the Olympic programme for Rio 2016. "For us it is a very important issue," he said. "Team judo can help make us more dynamic, bring that patriotic spirit. It is a chance for them [national teams] to express their value and spirit. I am confident it would be a very successful and exciting event."

Japan Womens Judo national team head coach Ryuji Sonoda bows for apology during a press conferenceJapan women's head coach Ryuji Sonoda bows for apology during a press conference in Tokyo after admitting allegations that female judokas had been abused

If one thing has cast a shadow over judo since London 2012 it is the scandal which has erupted in Japan, the sport's spiritual home, over revelations that members of the country's women's Olympic team had been physically abused by coaches, including being beaten with a wooden sword. It led to Ryuji Sonoda, the Japanese judo women's head coach, apologising for his actions and resigning after admitting that the allegations were "more or less true". It must have left Jigoro Kano, the sport's creator, spinning in his grave.

For Vizer, a man imbued in judo, the scandal has been distressing. "It is pity that such a negative process is having to take place but, at the same time, the judo athletes were the first to have the courage to come forward and report the methods that were used," he said. "The situation has to be fully investigated and those that have done wrong get punished, but in the right way. I hope that it will never happen again. When we receive the final report, together with All Japan Judo Federation, we will take the right decision."

Vizer's influence on world sport could soon increase significantly if his campaign to be the new SportAccord President is successful. He has lodged his candidature with SportAccord's headquarters in Lausanne and is the favourite to replace Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, who is stepping down having held the post since 2004. 

"For me it was not an easy decision," Vizer told insidethegames. "I love my sport very much and follow it with much passion and I want to continue my involvement with it. But I believe that I can transfer what I have learned here to SportAccord."

SportAccord is the umbrella organisation for all Olympic and non-Olympic international sports federations as well as organisers of multi-sports games and sport-related international associations. 

Its orgins stretch back to 1921 when the international sports federations expressed the need for a representative of their common objectives and interests. Under the direction of Paul Rousseau, secretary general of the International Cycling Union (UCI), a permanent bureau was established to facilitate the dialogue with the Olympic authorities.

In 1967, 26 international sports federations met in Lausanne and agreed on the need to increase permanent liaisons and the name General Assembly of International Sports Federations (GAISF) was adopted. In order to establish a more formalised organisation, GAISF was set-up along proper lines in 1976 and the headquarters were moved to Monaco two years later.

Reacting to the increasing pressure on International Federations to professionalise and develop, GAISF in collaboration with the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF), launched the first SportAccord International Convention in 2003. In March 2009, GAISF was rebranded SportAccord and, in the same year, its offices returned to Lausanne, the Olympic Capital.

It has already come a long way since the turn of the new millennium but Vizer's plans would revolutionise it and make SportAccord a major player on the world stage. "I believe I have the way and the strategy to transform SportAccord  from a bureaucratic organisation into something that could support international and national sports federations, Olympic and non-Olympics. In partnership, working together, sport has unlimited potential. SportAccord is a very powerful organisation which has much more potential if it works in partnership."

Marius Vizer with Lothar Matthaus and Ciprian MaricaMarius Vizer (right), with former German football captain Lothar Matthäus (centre) and Romania's Ciprian Marica (left), who plays for Bundesliga club Schalke 04, at the International Judo Federation Grand Prix in Düsseldorf in February

Vizer's plans, if he he is elected during the SportAccord Convention in St Petersburg between May 26 and 31, include introducing a united World Championships every four years for Olympic and non-Olympic sports in the same country. "We can use big countries, like the United States, Russia, China or India, or two or three medium-sized countries, without requiring investment in infrastructure," said Vizer. "But, at the same time, it would create huge promotional opportunities for cities and countries."

He proposes to introduce the World Championships concept in tandem with other ideas, including an International Bank of Sport, International Insurance of Sport and International Lottery of Sport, in partnership with top companies which are experts in these fields.

"My objective is to transform SportAccord into an efficient and lucrative organisation, that preserves the interest of International Federations, Continental Unions and National Federations in all sports, working in convergence with and supporting the Olympic Movement," said Vizer in documents filed as part of his candidature. 

"I have spoken with a lot of leaders of International Federations and most of them find the project very attractive and they consider it as a big positive challenge," he said. "It would generate money for education and for higher quality preparation for the Games, because we have to know the reality of sport in some countries in the world, particularly in Africa, some of the Asian countries, some of the Eastern European countries, in some parts of the Americas."

Significantly, Vizer plans to work closely with the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) to help some of his plans come to fruition. There has always been an underlying tension between the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the International Federations, mainly over the distribution of money generated by the Olympics. ANOC would prove a powerful ally in helping him launch his united World Championships proposal, which will inevitably draw criticism that it would be a competing event against the Olympics.

Marius Vizer profileMarius Vizer has proposed some radical changes if he is elected the new President of SportAccord at St Petersburg in May

"I do not believe that it would cause any controversy or conflict because my intention is to work with the International Olympic Committee," said Vizer. "We want to be a partner with ANOC in the project for the benefit of the sport. We have to find a solution to finance the base of the sport, the national federations.

"If you look at today's society it is concentrated in the direction of globalisation and we have to do the same. I am sure there are lots of companies in the market who would be attracted to this project and be a partner for it.

"I respect very much the Olympic spirit. The Olympic Games is today the highest expression of Olympic spirit and the value of the sport. The event that I propose is nothing to do with being against the Olympics – it is to finance and support the National Federations, children and youth sport for the quality and benefit of the Olympic Games.

"I think this is a convergent project with the IOC, ANOC, the NOCs (National Olympic Committees), including the national federations. They have a very important role."

For Vizer, becoming one of the most important men in world sport would be the latest step on a journey which started at a military academy in Romania, where he specialised in chemistry. He competed in judo until he was 24 before turning to coaching where he found notable success, training several top Romanians, including Adrian Croitoru, the 2000 European champion in the 90kg category.

Marius Vizer with Jacques RoggeMarius Vizer with IOC President Jacques Rogge

He turned to administration in 1995 when he became the President of the Romanian Judo Federation before taking up the same position at the EJU in 2005, a post he held until he assumed the top position at the IJF in 2007. 

Vizer, who speaks eight languages, was born and brought up in Romania but is now an Austrian citizen. His staff at the IJF is drawn from several countries. "I am convinced that any sector of society - economic, political or sport - needs leaders as managers, not leaders as politicians," he said.

"I talk about people who can bring more to the sport, they have to work, they have to dedicate themselves with passion, with professionalism. They have to express their wishes so they can contribute. It is the right way. For example, I like myself to work together with professional people, with the best people, to attract in our community real values with people with dedication and professionalism.

"I think always to choose the best people to jump to the next level, to the next quality. Between us sports people we have to promote the principles of fair play, of the level of the leadership of the sport. We have to think what is the best for our sport because we are in charge of ourselves.

"I also think the way to support each other is to embrace the enthusiasm and strategy of each other. I am also convinced that the IOC, NOCs, the federations will support this project because it is for the benefit of athletes, coaches, referees, national federations and NOCs.

"Sport has given me a lot. I received a lot from it, my way of education, my personality. It gave me a chance of direction, my career outside of the sport. I know all the levels of the sport very well. Having made all these steps and gained my experience I want to give back to sport the best values experience and knowledge of my life."

Duncan Mackay is the award winning editor of insidethegames. A former UK Sports Journalist of the Year and UK Sports Internet Writer of the Year, he previously worked for The Guardian and The Observer. London 2012 was the eleventh Olympics he has covered