It is a lovely day in Britain today. Blue sky, blossom and an air of gentle optimism that only spring can bring.
Yet when running this morning, I couldn’t help feel something was missing in comparison with last Monday. It was simply too quiet and uneventful and I was almost hoping someone would leap out of the bushes and start ranting about a “lack of transparency” and “respect” and how the spring sunshine was somehow “expired, outdated, wrong and unfair”.
Last week’s spat during the SportAccord Convention, interpreted by some as a declaration of war, between SportAccord head honcho Marius Vizer and his International Olympic Committee (IOC) counterpart Thomas Bach may have registered little to most of the world.
Two grey men in suits moaning about projects and responsibilities no-one knows or particularly cares that much about.
But, in our little world, it was nothing short of tumultuous. So different and more open than things usually are in the Olympic Movement, and with repercussions that will be felt for months and years to come.
To all those present last week, analysing it over and over again in the bars and corridors afterwards, the great "Battle of Sochi" seemed at times the Movement’s equivalent of the Crossing of the Rubicon or the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Now everyone is back home and dust is beginning to settle, this does appear something of an exaggeration. Yet, while everything is likely to go quiet for a few weeks now, Vizer’s words and the subsequent reaction will not have been forgotten. Even now, carefully crafted plans are being honed and new approaches ironed out; with all manner of different people and groups affected.
Aside from us journalists present at the coastal resort, who were reaping the benefits of having attended the annual Convention when many of our colleagues opted to stay away, there were other obvious “winners” of last week’s reverberations.
The Olympic International Federations were the most obvious example, finally given an opportunity to air long-held grievances about SportAccord, and to question what they see as "duplication" with other bodies. Despite some confusion, only four Federations - representing archery, athletics, canoeing and shooting - have actually resigned or suspended their membership thus far, with all other summer ones except for the International Judo Federation having supported the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations’ (ASOIF) decision to “disassociate”.
But it has been made clear that cordiality will only return if Vizer’s is prepared to concede to many of ASOIF's demands and to tone down its seemingly ever-escalating ambition and scope.
“SportAccord calls itself an umbrella organisation,” we were told. “But it is not raining.”
As colleagues have already pointed out, by being so quick to jump to the IOC’s side, the Federation's have also given themselves greater bargaining power in future negotiations. How could the IOC consider dropping events in athletics or shooting, for example, when these two were the first to demonstrate their loyalty? To borrow a term I learnt at school, it is an example of “pork-barrel politics” at play, in a world where favours are very rarely forgotten.
Aside from groups who were expecting more of a grilling last week but were spared by attention being so diverted, such as Organising Committees for both Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, the other clear "winner" was the Association of National Olympic Committees and its President, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah. “The Sheikh”, as he is generally known, was seen, along with Bach and Vizer, as one of the three great powerbrokers of sport politics, but with Vizer now under fire, his influence and importance to Bach has grown ever further.
An obvious "loser" was the SportAccord Convention itself. Although, as they tell us over and over again, the Convention and SportAccord are not the same entity, with the latter body only one of four stakeholders, it is seen as Vizer’s baby, and it is likely the IOC will now attempt to push it further to the sidelines.
There were many other reasons why this year’s Convention seemed low-key and underwhelming in terms of the delegates’ presence and panel discussions, but the Bach-Vizer spat certainly contributed. For this reason, Russia was another loser, with little focus on the Olympic legacy and the country probably now looking for a way out of hosting the next four editions.
Vizer is/was undoubtedly close to the Russians, but the world’s largest nation is unlikely to sacrifice its ultimate ambition of hosting a Summer Olympics by aligning itself against the IOC.
Russia will also be keen to keep the World Beach Games in Sochi, surprisingly awarded last week in an announcement which got somewhat lost amid other news, which could mean reaching out to ANOC and Sheikh Ahmad, the other initial stakeholder in an event which is hoped to one day become the third largest one in sport.
Non-Olympic Federations have also suffered, and, while many of them seemed just as appalled by Vizer’s words as the Olympic ones, they now face the fatal weakening of the main body which represents their interests, as well as the leader who they supported over his IOC-backed opponent Bernard Lapasset two years ago.
It is harder to pigeon-hole the IOC into either one of these two "winners" or "losers" categories.
Although the IOC seemingly “won” the Battle, it has not yet won the war, and every next step is going to be closely scrutinised.
What is clear is that, while people strongly objected to his manner of speaking, most agreed with a lot of what Vizer actually said. As we have been banging on about for months, there is a feeling that Agenda 2020 is a lot of rhetoric but very little substance, and there is still a strong view that investment is not going to the right places, i.e. the athletes.
When I raised these points to a group of IOC-officials last week, they all said, “Okay, but what about the Olympic TV Channel, that is certainly a real change”.
Perhaps, but perhaps not. Although it is a grand idea, there is still a lot of confusion about how exactly it is going to work in practice, and with every speech I hear about it, I am invariably left more rather than less confused.
Bach’s 18-month long honeymoon period is certainly now over and it is imperative the IOC gets the TV Channel right, or I sense the trickles of scepticism we currently see about the Bachean reform will become more of a torrent.
With meetings supposedly taking place this week between many of the top movers and shakers, it is interesting to speculate what will happen next.
The IOC will probably wait and see for a while. Will the tide of opposition to Vizer carry him out of the picture, or will he survive what proves to be a waza-ari rather than an ippon, and re-emerge later in the year?
If he does, one left-field idea that has been expressed is offering Vizer IOC membership at next year’s IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro. To borrow another rather wonderful line I learnt studying politics, US President Lyndon B. Johnson once argued it was better to have someone “inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”.
A crude analogy, but a useful one, and if Vizer was to agree to membership on the condition of “collective responsibility”, (i.e. non-criticism), that would surely be better than to have him waging war on the sidelines. And if he turned down the chance of membership, Bach would have carte blanche to act as he wishes, as he had at least tried to offer an olive branch.
Vizer, in turn, has to make a decision about next year’s SportAccord Convention, which can, as we understand it, be moved from Russia if a better bid comes in. He also has to decide how far, if atall, he is prepared to lessen the scope of SportAccord, and if he is prepared to tone down his renowned political dogmatism for some less characteristic nous and compromise?
Based on what we all know of Vizer, I would say possibly not, and while this would probably be a hindrance for the sports world to at least some extent, it would be great for us covering the twist, turns and machinations ahead.
For, as nice as today is, the prospect of more Monday morning’s like last week makes me excited already.