Nick Butler ©ITG

Patrick Baumann was politeness personified when we met in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel during a particularly freezing day at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang recently.

He insisted on paying for coffees, to "warm us up", before patiently debating a broad spectrum of sporting issues for over an hour.

The 50-year-old is seen as one of the more capable administrators in sport and as one of the safest pairs of hands to turn to whenever a problem needs solving.

We like to talk about sporting leaders wearing lots of different hats and Baumann’s wardrobe is brimming with bowlers, flat-caps, sombreros and a trilby

Baumann replaced Frankie Fredericks as chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission for 2024 and 2028 last year and has now been appointed chair for the Los Angeles 2028 Coordination panel.

If you type his name into the insidethegames search engine, his name features in 11 stories connected to Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) in the last 12 months. Olympic bidding business trails closely behind with 10.

The International Basketball Federation FIBA), where he remains the secretary general, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), where he is an Executive Committee member, tie for a distant third with five stories apiece. Lausanne 2020, where he is President of the Winter Youth Olympic Organising Committee, and the potential Swiss 2026 Winter Olympic bid from Sion were languishing further back.

"Basketball is still my main priority," Baumann reflected. "It’s always good to get back home to FIBA and get into my office and, when I do, one of my managers, who has been there 24 years, says ‘Oh finally, you are back’…

"It’s hard, it takes a bit longer than a normal eight hours. You go home you have dinner, you see your family and put them to bed and then you go back to your computer and start typing and think, ‘Oh today I didn’t do Lausanne 2020 so let me go back to that'. You have to be a little more efficient in organising and sometimes people have to ask you twice."

Patrick Baumann, second right, headed the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games and will be chair of the Coordination Commission for Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images
Patrick Baumann, second right, headed the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games and will be chair of the Coordination Commission for Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images

Baumann himself brought up the potential for conflicts of interest and how many are sceptical about "independence" in sport. But he fights back when we broach the topic of anti-doping and the perennial "fox guarding the henhouse" argument.

"We IFs (International Federatios) have been taking a lot of hits," he said. "People say, 'We don’t care about this, we only care about our commercial success and sport and so forth and that we are permanently conflicted'.

"We disagree. I cannot say that some in our family have not made mistakes, that has come out and has been fuelling this perception of a conflict of interest. But we’ve been fighting against doping for decades and trying to keep the sport clean. To avoid that perception, we are happy to move towards the International Testing Agency (ITA)."

The ITA is, at present, more a theory than a practice. At Pyeongchang 2018, it inherited personnel from the Doping Free Sport Unit of GAISF which already orchestrates testing programme across 40 sports. Nobody, including the IOC, seemed quite sure who exactly was doing what and we were referred to different acronyms on different days. Its financial model also remains uncertain.

Baumann is more comfortable talking about the philosophy behind it.

"It should be somehow under WADA, as the regulatory arm, with the ITA the operational testing agency, and I think that would be absolutely fine," he said. "I am happy to pay for it, but I want someone else to do it and make the rules. If I am driving too fast on the street, I get a fine or end up in prison. I have to respect rules by the authorities.

"Whether you catch a big star or a more normal athlete, that’s life. It is better not to have this in our house to decide. We just have to bring the expertise."

Baumann also questioned the motives of National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADO) who so love to criticise the way sport runs drug testing.

“If you look at some of the scandals that have shaken the world, they don’t necessarily just have an IF at the spear of that particular scandal," he argued. "In some cases, there is a perceived if not a proven conflict of interest when a NADO takes decisions for its own athletes.

"NADO’s go out and are trying to catch other organisations do their tests in order to have more tests and more volume, so there is also a business perspective

"I think that is something that, if you really want to get rid of those conflicts of interests, then the ITA - in whatever form it evolves - should also be a home for the NADOs, so nobody can effectively claim 'we are the best'. From an IF perspective, we feel that NADOs also have some things to learn."

Patrick Baumann claims his main focus remains as secretary general of the International Basketball Federation ©FIBA
Patrick Baumann claims his main focus remains as secretary general of the International Basketball Federation ©FIBA

­This would be a huge undertaking and, given how a majority of the ITA Board are figures directly within the Olympic Movement, one which would raise eyebrows regarding independence.

Baumann continued by expressing confidence in the ability of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to eventually assume responsibility for sanctioning all doping cases. CAS also now has the exclusive power to resolve all disputes within GAISF.

He cautiously defended the Lausanne-based body when asked about the criticism the body received in January when overruling the majority of IOC suspensions issued against Russian athletes accused of doping at Sochi 2014.

"CAS has served us very well, but it doesn’t mean that from time to time, you get a decision that you may not have expected," Baumann said. "It does require you to rethink whether you did something wrong, or didn’t have enough proof, or didn’t argue your case correctly, or whether there is a problem in the system and then it is up to CAS to try and improve it."

Should Thomas Bach not have given a similarly measures response, I venture, rather than giving the impression of only supporting CAS when it delivers verdicts he wants?

"He was probably frustrated and that is human," Baumann smiled in response. "He and the whole administration of the IOC have been investing huge time and resources in trying to prove that there has been a systematic approach towards doping [in Russia]. It has cost him a lot of time and effort.”

GAISF under Baumann is already assuming a very different shape from how SportAccord was under Marius Vizer, effectively forced out of office in 2015 after daring to criticise the IOC and shape it as a potential rival.

Baumann was elected less than a year later, and the organisation now seems fully aligned and back in the "family". There are not expected to be any disputes this year when everyone meets at the SportAccord, due to open in Thailand's capital Bangkok tomorrow and conclude with the GAISF General Assembly on Friday (April 20). 

The name change is emblematic of a shift back to a body designed to provide services rather than play politics. A new two-year rotating system has been introduced to curb Presidential power and Baumann is already halfway through a term which must end in 2020.

This does not mean they cannot argue with the IOC when necessary, he insisted, although they will do so internally rather than in public. "My son, my daughter, they disagree with me all the time, but they are still in the house," Baumann quipped.

Patrick Baumann has repaired the relationship between GAISF - formerly known as SportAccord - and the IOC ©Getty Images
Patrick Baumann has repaired the relationship between GAISF - formerly known as SportAccord - and the IOC ©Getty Images

GAISF represents 109 sporting bodies all in all.

So what services do they get to justify their subscriptions.

The DFSU, for many, was the most substantial but should soon be swallowed up totally by the ITA.

Organising multi-sport Games is another objective. A contract has been signed with Chinese Taipei to hold a revived World Combat Games in the second half of 2019. A World Mind Games should be resurrected, while a potential World Urban Games and some involvement in the Association of National Olympic Committees’ World Beach Games are other options.

It is hoped that these events will generate revenue and potentially encourage sponsors to come on board.

A request by Winter International Federation is to set-up an external “independent” ethics commission to look at cases on their behalf is also being considered, along with a more central role in monitoring harassment and abuse in sport. 

A DotSport domain name initiative is also being belatedly rolled-out after years of delays which, it is hoped, will "change the course of digital communications" for sporting bodies.

Baumann also talks at length about ways to help International Federations evolve and innovate.

This involves a delicate balancing act between embracing new sports and stopping numbers swelling too much. He encourages smaller sports to consider aligning themselves with larger ones as it could prove mutually beneficial. 

Controversially, he also floats the idea of the International Canoe Federation and the International Surfing Association eventually joinning forces rather than argue over who has the right to the discipline of stand-up paddle.

The amalgamation of parkour into gymnastics is another example.

"With observer status, we tried to open the door but also tried to push new ones to move towards either than being just good federations, if smaller, or finding the right partner to go with,” Baumann added. "Some are trying to do this just to jump over the steps. 

"If an Olympic Federation takes them on, they might be faster onto the Olympic programme. That’s a smart and intelligent business calculation, but sometimes it takes a little bit more than just ‘jumping over everything else and, boom!

"It’s an interesting moment right now: working out what is trendy and will remain trendy and whether something is promoter-driven or has a national structure…”

Patrick Baumann claims the International Federations
Patrick Baumann claims the International Federations "walk the walk every day" ©Getty Images

Baumann nearly snapped when I bring up a comment uttered by Canada's Richard Pound at the IOC Session during Pyeongchang 2018 about sporting bodies being better at talking than walking.

"We walk the walk every day, we are not just talking," Baumann said.

I attempt appeasement by suggesting that GAISF can be a forum to walk the talk. "We can be a multiplier and give that service to the sports family," he concurred.

I am still not completely sure about Baumann’s motivation and ambition. He is more down to earth and has less of an ego than many sporting leaders, but it is equally possible that he is just better at masking it.

Would he ever consider a tilt for the IOC President when Bach steps down in 2021 or, more likely, 2025?

After a short pause, he answered: "I am happy to do what I do, and I want to do it well. I have enough now on my desk and cannot think of other things. 

"We have a very capable President who has great Executive Board members. That is a question for the next decade. Today I am really happy with what I have.

"It is a real honour to work for the IOC Coordination Commission and I want to do this well. That is more than enough."

Like GAISF, he seems more content to provide services rather than court real power.

But he is certainly one to keep an eye on in case he one day does begins to move out of the shadows.