David Owen ©ITG

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) lost one of its most distinctive and thought-provoking voices when Richard Peterkin stepped down as full member at the end of last year, on attaining the applicable age-limit. 

The chartered accountant from the small Caribbean island of Saint Lucia has clocked up just under a decade since he entered sport's most prestigious club in 2009. 

Before he left, the 70-year-old consented to an interview reflecting on his time, as he put it at one point, "in the belly of the beast".

Peterkin was admitted in a year when the IOC felt confident enough to thumb its nose at a United States President, by making the adventurous choice of Rio de Janeiro as host of the 2016 Olympics, in preference to Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. 

Given the transformation that has swept over Olympic affairs since then, it is no surprise that change is a recurrent theme of our conversation.

"When Thomas Bach was campaigning for the IOC Presidency, one of the phrases he used repeatedly was, 'we must change or be changed,'" Peterkin recalls. 

"I do not think that even he can have realised how prescient those words were.

Richard Peterkin has come to the end of his time as an IOC member ©Getty Images
Richard Peterkin has come to the end of his time as an IOC member ©Getty Images

"Almost from the moment he became President in 2013, the challenges posed as a consequence mainly of outside influences such as the state of the global economy have become severe. 

"Having to deal with all of this has taken an enormous amount of time, energy and money. 

"I believe we have made a lot of progress, even if the main missions are not yet fully accomplished. 

"We have reacted to the need for change before we were changed."

Peterkin cites as an example progress made towards equality of representation and opportunity for women. 

"This has meant,"he says, "that when campaigns such as #metoo have materialised, we have been able to say, 'we have been talking about such issues for years.'"

Regarding the state of the Olympic Movement as his time on the IOC drew to a close, Peterkin identified three "major challenges".

• Generating "credible" bids for the Olympic Games, especially the Winter Games. "Assuring the resident populations that there is a legacy for them and that it is not going to cost $51 billion (£40 billion/€57 billion) - that remains a challenge," he says.

• Doping – a scourge he predicts may be with us for decades. 

"You think you have won one battle and another one pops up," he says. "There seem to be more and more people prepared to introduce new ways of doping. 

"Even at state level, it has appeared that certain states were not doing what they should have been. 

"One of my hopes now is that everyone will find agreement about how to approach this problem."

Richard Peterkin has identified "three major challenges" for the Olympic Movement ©Getty Images
Richard Peterkin has identified "three major challenges" for the Olympic Movement ©Getty Images

• Corruption, which "is still an issue". While he does not see the IOC itself as at fault here, Peterkin believes there are still institutions that "do not have sufficiently good governance to ensure that corruption cannot become a problem".

On the positive side, he feels that the Olympic brand has shown itself to be "amazingly strong and resilient". 

"Major companies are continuing to extend their sponsorship agreements," he points out, adding that these brands "can be a great force for good by insisting on proper governance in the sports bodies they support and pulling their sponsorship when things go wrong".

He goes on: "The IOC is a very transparent organisation and still has the financial strength which means that if we need to take on more bidding costs or professional staff, we can do so. 

"We have the future commitments from sponsors and broadcasters to enable that money to be replaced."

He is also supportive of the Agenda 2020 reform initiative for "institutionalising the idea of scrutinising the IOC's processes" and "getting us into the habit of questioning things". 

This is important in turbulent economic and political times.

"Who could have foreseen what has happened in global politics in the past few years?" he asks rhetorically. 

"The process of change in the world is speeding up all the time. 

"That makes it very difficult for any organisation to commit to global principles and ideals if it is using outdated processes and rules.

"The IOC now finds itself in a world that is a lot more polarised and has to thread a way through that in order to achieve the level of support from Governments that it inevitably needs."

Peterkin says he will depart the IOC with "mixed feelings". There are, he says, "some things I would have liked to have done and other things I would have liked to have done better".

"When I started, I served on Commissions such as Solidarity and Finance where I felt I had expertise," he said. 

"I felt competent and that I could have an impact. 

Richard Peterkin described IOC members as "volunteers" helping to guide staff along ©Getty Images
Richard Peterkin described IOC members as "volunteers" helping to guide staff along ©Getty Images

"But I learnt that the IOC - as it must do - has a bureaucracy and a professional management that deals with these issues and that, since those folks are permanent staff, we were mainly there, as volunteers, to help to guide them along.

"Even so, at least I felt I was in the belly of the beast that was doing wonders for sport in the world.

"When the time came for change, however, I ended up on Commissions where I did not have such capacity to influence change. 

"If you are not on the Executive Board, you are not going to be in a position to deal with specific issues or help resolve them. 

"Ordinary members are not marginalised, but it would be impossible for all decisions to be made by a Session. 

"I have tried my best to comment on things. But if you are confident that the governance framework allows for the proper election of leaders and that the leaders are trying to get the best information they can before taking decisions, you have to accept that they will not have time to discuss every detail of how each decision was taken. 

"And if you disagree publicly with a decision, you have to ask yourself whether you are sufficiently informed to do so."

As for the future, Peterkin - who will continue as treasurer of Panam Sports, the regional sports organisation for the Americas - says he is "very curious about the recent rapprochement with esports" and whether they, or for that matter extreme sports or urban sports, will "do the trick by keeping young people interested".

Richard Peterkin is monitoring the development of esports ©Getty Images
Richard Peterkin is monitoring the development of esports ©Getty Images

He goes on: "We have to move away over time from an entrenched programme of 28 Olympic sports. 

"We have to make it easier for sports, or disciplines, to come in or out.

"Maybe in five years' time, some sport that does not even exist now will be banging on the door of the Olympics. 

"What is important is that we are open to embracing change, so that the Olympic values can continue to be transmitted via the most effective vehicles.

"The encouraging thing at the moment is that nothing is being dismissed out of hand."

In closing, he expressed the hope that the nomination and election of new members would soon include other capable persons from the Caribbean.