David Owen

Let's hope that January 14 to 20, 2019 is not a busy week for the Brexit negotiations.

Why? Because the name Michel Barnier features on the extensive, 32-strong International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sustainability and Legacy Commission, and the IOC Commissions' meetings for 2018 are due to take place over that period.

I do not wish to pick on Barnier, whose CV includes time as Co-President of the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympic Organising Committee as well as his current job as the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator.

But it does rather invite questions about the IOC Commissions' composition and raison d’être to see the name of a man who one would expect to be wholly consumed at this time by another demanding and important dossier, continuing to appear on the latest list of IOC Commission members.

And, yes, I can appreciate that the IOC has an obvious and legitimate need for friends in high places.

One seldom spends long fossicking about in the Olympic undergrowth nowadays before encountering a reference to Agenda 2020.

Accordingly, last week's Commission-related press release concludes by intoning that "the review of the scope and composition of the IOC Commissions was one of the 40 recommendations of Olympic Agenda 2020".

My well-thumbed copy of the context and background of Agenda 2020 indicates that this was Recommendation 40 and that the wording was for “The President [my italics] to review the scope and composition of the IOC Commissions".

So what may we deduce have been Thomas Bach's conclusions from this review?

In a period when money is tighter than in the recent past and when power, I and I am sure other observers would argue, has been considerably centralised with the President and the key full-time IOC directors in Lausanne, perhaps it might have been judged appropriate to do some pruning.

After all, Sustainability and Legacy is far from the only Commission with 30-plus members and the most recent IOC accounts state that the daily indemnity for IOC members for all meetings including Commissions is $450 (£350/€400).

Michel Barnier will juggle his positions as chief Brexit negotiator and a member of the IOC's Sustainability and Legacy Commission ©Getty Images
Michel Barnier will juggle his positions as chief Brexit negotiator and a member of the IOC's Sustainability and Legacy Commission ©Getty Images

(Not all Commission members are IOC members, but, with one exception, all Commission chairs are and their daily indemnity is set at $900 (£700/€800).

My back-of-envelope calculations suggest, however, that Bach has been notably restrained with the secateurs.

Going through a Commission list from 2012, i.e just before the Bach era, and stripping out all Evaluation and Coordination Commissions, whose function is both indispensable and self-evident, I arrived at a total of 355 members split between 21 Commissions.

Six years on, there are 20 Commissions, with some titles and presumably remits having changed, but I calculated that the number of members had risen to 419 - more than 20 per Commission on average.

(I did not take into account members of multiple Commissions, but it seems to me their prevalence has remained fairly similar over the period under review.)

If there were a gold medal for growth, it would probably be awarded to the Athletes' Entourage Commission, known simply as the Entourage Commission in 2012.

Now, as then, it is chaired by Ukraine's Sergey Bubka, but whereas six years ago it had 11 members, now numbers have soared to 37. 

Happily, I am not yet cynical enough to parrot Peter Coni, that consummate sports politician of the late 20th century, who observed after the long-defunct Tripartite Commission, once a seat of real power, had been tripled in size to 27 members that the "inevitable result" was that it became "too large to be of any real use at all".

Nonetheless, it seems pertinent to mention that for my money the most influential of the current Commissions - Legal Affairs - now has only six members.

This is down from eight a year ago and follows the exclusion of Richard Pound Q.C., the eminences grises' eminence grise when it comes to the last three or more decades of Olympic history.

It is no secret that the veteran Canadian has a tendency to speak out in ways not always appreciated by the current leadership group.

For that reason, while an IOC spokesperson spoke of shifting the composition onto the next generation, Pound's omission from this key Commission seems to me to send out a deterrent message to others who might be minded to speak out in similar style.

He remains on both the Communications and Marketing bodies.

Richard Pound has been removed from the Legal Affairs Commission ©Getty Images
Richard Pound has been removed from the Legal Affairs Commission ©Getty Images

"These are all decisions taken by the President who is entitled to take whatever decision he wants," Pound told insidethegames after his absence from the latest Legal Affairs panel emerged.

Otherwise, besides extending the Presidential patronage web and helping to identify new IOC membership material, a prime function of the Commissions almost five years into Bach's Presidency seems to be to show that the IOC is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to gender equality.

This was certainly the headline message of the press release, which trumpeted that "42.7 per cent of the positions across the 26 IOC Commissions will now be held by women - a historic high".

One does not want to be too sniffy about this: the IOC has set a genuinely good example in this field and made much headway; the first women IOC members, lest it be forgotten, were elected only in 1981.

Let's just say it will be even better if and when a similar gender ratio is attained among the small group of individuals who wield real power in today's Olympic Movement.

I would include relatively few Commission chairs among this select band, but totting up the present incumbents, I make it 21 men and five women.

That is equivalent to a female ratio of just over 19 per cent.