Michael Pavitt

I very much enjoyed reading through the International Basketball Federation's (FIBA) update from their first Mid-Term Congress, with the governing body listing the workshops and key discussions which took place over two days in Hong Kong.

As well as coming up with an internal assessment which claims they are on the right track, there were a couple of interesting points to note. For instance, the organisation introduced a new rule permitting players to wear headgear, including hijabs, after a proposal from their Technical Commission. Granted this was overdue, but it is still meaningful progress.

FIBA have also been building up to the launch of their new competition system in November. This will involve national teams playing regular home and away games over a four-year cycle, with these events serving as qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 Continental Cups. It is claimed this will help boost exposure for the sport across the world.

The governing body have been pressing for 3x3 basketball to be added to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as a new event, with insidethegames readers voting in a poll last month that this is the most interesting proposal put forward by an International Federation.

Looking at this, FIBA have a lot of interesting things they can say about how they are trying to grow the sport and help drive youth involvement through 3x3.

Yet, they resort to using the meaningless Olympic soundbites that have become all too common in the past couple of years.

"We find ourselves in an environment where it's a case of 'change or be changed' and we definitely want to be in control of our own destiny," said Patrick Baumann, FIBA secretary general, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and President of the body formerly known as SportAccord, the Global Association of International Sports Federations.

"FIBA has embraced the spirit of Olympic Agenda 2020, the strategic road-map for the future of the Olympic Movement," added Yu Zaiqing. 

The IOC vice president, referencing 3x3 basketball, goes on to say that "engaging with youth is another major cornerstone of Olympic Agenda 2020".

So what?

Olympic Agenda 2020 has become an overused and meaningless phrase ©Getty Images
Olympic Agenda 2020 has become an overused and meaningless phrase ©Getty Images

"Change or be changed" and "spirit of Olympic Agenda 2020" are phrases that have virtually no meaning and are now just mere platitudes. 

These phrases are bankers on your Olympic soundbite bingo cards at any event held by the Movement.

They can be filed alongside the likes of ""good governance", "transparency", "integrity", "accountability", "this sport is in my DNA" and "getting couch potatoes off the couch".

While quotes may have been merely attributed to Baumann and Yu in this instance, these kinds of phrases have seemingly been conditioned into every International Federation. Everyone else has been conditioned to start falling asleep when one of these utterances is said.

At a time when it is obvious that the Olympic Movement needs to engage with the public to remain relevant and restore confidence, repeating the same drivel cannot be an effective strategy to achieve this. Both the bidding cities for the 2024 Olympic Games have been equally guilty.

If you ask your average person on the street what Olympic Agenda 2020 means, they will probably stare at you blankly. Ask them about the Olympic Games and it is likely they will reference costs.

The platitudes are only effective in making the Olympic world appear distant from the general population. Sporting officials increasingly become viewed in the same manner as politicians - which effectively they are - with all soundbite and no substance.

Every mention of good governance and transparency looks increasingly ridiculous when it is swiftly followed by another official releasing a statement "denying all allegations" against them. FIFA, for instance, is still reeling from the scandals which have and are continuing to hit the organisation as various legal bodies continue investigations.

While the governing body have been making headlines for expanding the World Cup, how much of an effort has been made to convince the public that they have moved on and are a different organisation from the one under Sepp Blatter?

John Coates retained his position as President of the Australian Olympic Committee but instructing delegates of preferred candidates during the election has been criticised by some people ©Getty Images
John Coates retained his position as President of the Australian Olympic Committee but instructing delegates of preferred candidates during the election has been criticised by some people ©Getty Images

The idea of good governance was dealt another blow earlier this week when a high court order from the Kenya Taekwondo Association caused the National Olympic Committee of Kenya elections to be postponed. The IOC must be wincing as the debacle in Kenya continues, with months of headlines which fail to paint the Movement in a positive light.

While the organisation and Tokyo 2020 must undoubtedly be pleased that John Coates was re-elected as the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President yesterday, the election can hardly be viewed as a public relations success.

Headlines alleging bullying at the AOC have not been good for the organisation, regardless of the undoubted capabilities of Coates.

Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to see the actual number of votes received by candidates announced during the vote, which has not been the case at similar elections in the Olympic Movement. 

The transparency on that front was ignored by those following the election, with two other aspects instead being the subject of criticism.

The first was that Coates, as President, was entitled to address the Annual General Meeting but his challenger was not. The second was that text messages were sent to voting delegates which advised them what candidates to vote for. 

Personally, I think it is obvious that the Presidential candidates would have a preferred executive team to lead the organisation and it is clear discussions to this effect would have taken place in the build-up.

"This was an election, a contested election," Coates told the Herald Sun when questioned about this. "Those texts were no different in content to emails that I've been sending - and have been reported - over the last few weeks in terms of my preferred team. No apology for that, it was an election and so be it."

Coates has a point and achieved the result that he and many wanted, but it feels somewhat like an own goal in terms of public perception. 

Although the voting governing bodies clearly had the free will to abide by the text instructions or ignore them entirely, the public could view the elections as a stage-managed affair when five of the six preferred candidates are voted in.

When public faith in sporting organisations is low, giving this perception could risk denting confidence further. 

Coupled with the inability to meaningfully engage with the public, this is something the Olympic Movement cannot afford.