David Owen

Never let a good crisis go to waste: it is an adage seemingly attributed, like so many others, to Winston Churchill.

And, 75 or so years later, it still has legs - at least that is what I found myself thinking last Sunday (October 24) as I worked my way through a series of presentation slides outlining the state of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) finances.

Specifically, I concluded that Thomas Bach’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) appeared to be taking advantage of the financial problems in Olympicland unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic to bring ANOC back firmly to heel.

Briefly: during the Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah era from 2012 to 2018, ANOC’s public profile rose and rose.

There was the World Beach Games project, initially in partnership with SportAccord; there was an elegant new headquarters, complete with "must have" garden-party launch invitation; and there were the inaugural ANOC Awards in Bangkok in 2014 - the "Oscars of sport", as Sheikh Ahmad styled them.

Oh and let’s not forget the important part the Kuwaiti was said to have played in Bach’s election to the top job in 2013.

This era is now, of course, over. The story that Sunday’s slides alerted me to is that Bach’s IOC appears to be using the leverage its wealth affords to make sure ANOC cannot soar that high again, at least not for the foreseeable future.

"COVID-19 has made cash - and hence the IOC - king," I wrote in April 2020. With what we now see happening to ANOC, I am tempted to say, "I rest my case".

Around three months after that column was published, with the pandemic killing thousands and disrupting everything, the IOC announced that it had "already provided around $100 million (£72.7 million/€85.9 million) of financial support" to the Olympic Movement.

It explained that $63 million (£45,8 million/€54.1 million) had been allocated to International Federations (IFs) and $37 million (£26.9 million/€31.8 million) to National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

The World Beach Games is one way ANOC's profile has increased ©Getty Images
The World Beach Games is one way ANOC's profile has increased ©Getty Images

What it did not say was that it would claw back roughly the same amount as that NOC allocation from the subsidy provided to ANOC for the 2021 to 2024 Olympic cycle.

To appreciate this, we needed to see Sunday’s slides. There it was written that, whereas the "IOC Subvention" had amounted to $53.8 million (£39.1 million/€46.2 million) over the 2017-2020 Olympic cycle, for 2021-2024 it was budgeted at $16 million (£11.6 million/€13.7 million).

As the slide said: "Total reduction over the next four years amounts to $37.8 million (£27.5 million/€32.5 million), or a reduction of 70 per cent compared to the previous quadrennial".

To be fair, the justification given is not the $37 million (£26.9 million/€31.8 million) NOC allocation trumpeted by the IOC in July 2020, but the big increase in Olympic Solidarity's 2021-2024 budget announced a few months later. This was put at 16 per cent overall and 25 per cent for "direct athlete support programmes".

But the impact on ANOC of a 70 per cent cut in its IOC subvention is the same either way. I also suspect that most independent financial experts would conclude, looking at its balance sheet, that the IOC remains rich enough not to need to cut ANOC’s money from a purely financial perspective.

It should also be underlined that ANOC put together its own $11.65 million (£8.5 million/€10 million) COVID-19 funding package for NOCs, even though this left it with a deficit of $5.5 million (£4 million/€4.7 million) for the 2017-2020 cycle.

The 2021-2024 budget endorsed by the ANOC General Assembly this week now envisages that the body’s cash balance will plummet from $20.5 million (£14.9 million/€17.6 million) at end-2020 to just $2.5 million (£1.8 million/€2.15 million) at end-2024.

It was under Juan Antonio Samaranch (the elder) that the IOC learnt how a healthy financial position bolstered its independence of action; I think ANOC - which, frankly, was always vulnerable given its near total dependence for income on the IOC - is in the process of discovering that the inverse is also true.

All of which puts veteran Fijian Robin Mitchell in an interesting position now that he has thrown his hat into the ring for next year’s Presidential election. Or perhaps I should say "one of his hats".

Robin Mitchell is to stand to become ANOC's permanent President next year ©Getty Images
Robin Mitchell is to stand to become ANOC's permanent President next year ©Getty Images

Not only has Mitchell been ANOC Acting President since 2018, he is the 12th most senior IOC member, having joined in 1994. He has, moreover, been a member of the inner sanctum of the IOC Executive Board since 2017 and chair of the Olympic Solidarity Commission since 2018. Oh, and his IOC CV also lists him as President of the Oceania National Olympic Committees since 2009.

One must assume that Bach and his allies would back him to the hilt in the event of other contenders emerging. This would normally be the most powerful of trump cards, and may yet deter others of weight from putting their names forward.

But the story of how far ANOC has fallen - as delineated by those slides - suggests that another challenger’s campaign would almost write itself.

As a number of IFs are finding, it makes good, pragmatic sense to diversify your income and thereby limit the extent to which you are financially dependent on the IOC.

NOCs are somewhat different: the Olympics is their be all and end all. Nonetheless, a candidate for the ANOC Presidency with a credible plan to develop a reliable non-IOC-dependent income stream - or better, income streams - might make for a worthwhile contest.

Such a race might, in turn, assist ANOC members to do some much-needed thinking about whether they see a future for the organisation as more than a tame adjunct of the IOC, and if so, as what?

They might not get another chance.