David Owen

Well might Chile's Neven Ilic ask "What is the role of ANOC - the Association of National Olympic Committees - for the future?"

Costs in international sport are rising fast; TV revenues are growing much slower than in the good old days, even for blue-chip properties; new income streams are proving slow to crank up; and a high proportion of proceeds from sponsorship is not in cash.

There are still pockets of conspicuous spending on sport, though not necessarily Olympic sport, most notably from Saudi Arabia.

At times like these, it is fitting, and actually healthy, for the well-padded bureaucracy that has built up during the boom years to be put under pressure to justify its existence.

The alternative is that cash trickling down to the majority of athletes and grass-roots will dwindle.

I have argued before that the more absurdly-proportioned International Olympic Committee (IOC) Commissions, which help swell the President's extensive patronage network, should be pruned or axed.

And if the IOC itself is to be little more than an echo-chamber for the organisation’s leadership, supported by a beefed-up administration, then it needs nowhere near the current 102 members.

When a permanent General Assembly of National Olympic Committees (NOCs) was first established in the late 1960s, under the energetic leadership of Italy’s Giulio Onesti, its intended role was crystal clear.

This was to forge a movement that would more effectively lobby the IOC and other organisations on behalf of NOCs on matters of common interest.

Panam Sports President Neven Ilic recently asked what is the role of ANOC in the future ©Getty Images
Panam Sports President Neven Ilic recently asked what is the role of ANOC in the future ©Getty Images

The impetus to establish such an entity at that time was provided by the money that was just starting to cascade into international sport from broadcasters, transforming this branch of the fast-growing leisure sector into a bona fide business.

It was no coincidence that the International Sports Federations (IFs) banded together at almost exactly the same time to form the organisation which began life as the General Assembly of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

I can see no valid reason why ANOC’s fundamental role should be different today from its formative years more than half a century ago, even if the particular matters of common interest have changed with the times.

But of course, if you are to lobby effectively, rather than acting as yet another IOC echo-chamber, you need a certain amount of distance or independence.

You might deem it not ideal, in other words, for the ANOC leader to be a member of the IOC's Executive Board, as Robin Mitchell - set to be confirmed this week in Seoul as permanent ANOC President - has been since 2017.

It is impossible to ignore, in light of Ilic’s refreshingly provocative pre-General Assembly comments, the fate that is apparently soon to befall ANOC’s twin body GAISF.

The IF umbrella organisation seems on course to be dissolved at, or soon after, a meeting late next month scheduled to be held in the IOC fief of Lausanne.

GAISF President Ivo Ferriani, another IOC Executive Board member, has argued that the organisation’s services are "less useful" and "increased the risk of unnecessary duplication".

The ANOC General Assembly is set to begin in Seoul tomorrow ©ITG
The ANOC General Assembly is set to begin in Seoul tomorrow ©ITG

There is still, though, deemed to be a valid function for fantastically obscure bodies such as the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF) and the Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport (AIMS).

Admittedly, it is hard to imagine these minnows ever posing the slightest threat to the IOC.

If one were to take the GAISF approach as a possible direction of travel for ANOC, I suppose the logic could be said to point towards its absorption by smaller, presumably regional, bodies.

Perhaps this might even be what Ilic - the President of Panam Sports - has in mind.

The bigger picture, though, is the thing, and this is that international sport, beyond those players which consent to be showered with petro-dollars, is entering a difficult period financially - more difficult probably than most sports decision-makers have experienced in their time as top administrators.

There is likely to be a fair bit of blood-letting before the good times return; it seems unlikely that GAISF will be the only casualty.

One can only hope that the structural changes which do emerge are promulgated with the greater good of international sport in mind, particularly given the disturbing nature of recent geopolitical trends.

With the best will in the world, it is hard to be overly optimistic.