inside Olympics
Interview with

Dick Pound


Question 1. You have had a long association with the Olympics, first as a competitor, then for 25 years as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), then on the IOC Executive Board and twice as IOC Vice President, your new book uses this background to take a look at some of the major issues facing the IOC – judging, doping, politics and terror, human rights, corporate sponsorship, managing TV rights, selecting hosts, etc.  The list of challenges is quite long and your book gives a detailed insight to most of them.  Despite this, you are still optimistic about the Olympics and its potential for good.  Why?

Answer:  I remain very optimistic about the future.  Identifying some of the problems and the manner in which they have been dealt with to date is, in my view, one of the best ways to move forward in a positive fashion.  It is as important to identify what we have not done so well as to observe what we have done very well.

Question 2. The selection of Athens for the 2004 games was not universal –the vote you note was 66-41.  You also note that you did not vote for Athens but preferred its competitor – Rome.  Still, you seem to be hopeful that Athens will rise to the challenge and hopeful that Athens may lead to a renewal in Olympic spirit.  You also note in the book “The Greeks have taken on a huge challenge, arguably too big for their capacity, but they are nevertheless going to do everything they can to pull it off.”  Has you view of how well the Greek government will host the 2004 Olympics changed since the publishing of the book  and what do you see as the major unmet challenges that still may prove embarrassments to all?

 Answer:  Whether one voted for Athens or for one of its rivals, it was known by everyone that the Games in Athens would be a special challenge, both because of the “last-minute” culture and the fact that Greece is the smallest country in more than half a century to host the Games (and when they were in Helsinki, they were not nearly as large and complex as they are now).  The concerns I expressed at the time of publication remain the same – as do my hopes that they will be able to pull it off at the last minute.

Question 3. You are quite critical of problems in the judging system used in international athletics and cite the examples of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games in the pairs figure skating event among others.  Over the last two years, there has been much discussion of this issue and one would hope changes.  How confident are you and if so, why or why not, that the judging we will actually see in the 2004 Athens game will really be better?

Answer:  This is one of the problems that will only be solved by exposing it as a problem and drawing attention to it.  It arose because no one was willing to stand up and say that the judging was incompetent or corrupt.  I think that judges will be more aware now that they, too, will be judged and I hope this will produce better performances from the officials.

Question 4. You were the founding chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency, established in 1999 and have always been an active and vocal critic against the use of performance enhancing substance abuse by athletes.  From recent discussion during the recent U.S. track and field trials and also from the recent controversy over this issue in the Tour de France bicycle race, this issue has not gone away.  What is your sense of where the Olympics is internationally on this issue?  Also, what additional steps do you feel are needed to really put this issue behind us?

Answer:  The Olympics themselves have always been leaders, but suffered from the fact that the Games only happen once each four years.  All of the rest of the time, it is the international federations (with their national federations) and national Olympic committees who control the athletes.  I think the IOC should have been more rigorous sooner in insisting that, as a condition of Olympic participation, sports should have had to implement more rigorous anti-doping programs.  We need more and better research, more extensive education (for athletes, coaches, parents, officials and governments) for a greater understanding of the ethical and health issues and comprehensive unannounced out-of-competition testing programs.

Question 5.  In Chapter 4 you give a long and detailed review of the issues of politics and terror in the Olympic movement.  Over the years, the Olympics has had to deal with threats of boycotts by national teams on numerous occasions during the pre-cold war, cold war and post war period.  In many ways the threat of a boycott seems to run counter to the whole Olympic ethos.  What is your own view on the acceptability of a boycott threat and are there situations under which you would condone and even advocate such a boycott?

 Answer:  A boycott is a systematic action to attempt to influence political conduct.  My view has always been that this action is inappropriate in an Olympic context and that, in addition, it is an ineffective weapon that does not damage the target country, but only punishes the athletes of the boycotting country.  The difference between the political boycotts directed at host countries and the expulsion of South Africa from the Olympic Movement was that the latter was a sport matter, namely the apartheid policy affecting sport and sportsmen directly.

Question 6. Also in Chapter 4 you note, “the biggest worry for organizers of modern Olympic Games including, in particular, Athens in 2004, is the threat of terrorism.”  Later you note “This combination of infelicitous circumstances has led to an unprecedented security effort that will make Athens all but an armed camp.”  This later quote seems supported by recent news that the U.S. government will be sending a U.S. Military Special Forces team to the Olympics.  Do you believe that this high level of security will decline after Athens as we move further from the regional turmoil that characterizes this region or is what we seeing part of a long term refocusing of the Olympics toward security and toward risk management?

Answer:  The problem in the world today in the post-9/11 era is that no place on earth can be declared absolutely safe from terrorism.  There are, of course, certain specific geographical factors that affect Athens more than other places, but the IOC knew about those at the time the Games were awarded.  The new overlay was not anticipated when the Games were awarded in 1997.  But this type of risk management is not (unfortunately) new to the IOC, which has now had 32 years of precisely those types of concerns, following Munich in 1972.  Security and risk management are part of the Olympic package – as well as for almost every national and international gathering today.

Question 7. You were Chairman of the IOC Television Negotiation Committee (1983-2001), and Chairman of the IOC Marketing Committee until 2001, historically the IOC had an anti-commercial bias.  This has changed and sponsors and long term negotiation of broadcast partnerships are now firmly a part of the IOC’s business model.  You played a significant role in this change in focus over the years.  Are you satisfied that the IOC has gotten the balance between a need for financial stability and the competing danger of over exposure or over commercialization correct and if so why?

Answer:  Yes.  It has always been part of our approach to marketing that the Olympics are special.  They are the only international sports event that does not allow commercial advertising in the stadium or on the athletes.  Sponsors have come to respect that philosophy.  Their support along with broadcast rights have made it possible to completely change the economic model for financing the Games and have added significant amounts to the international sports system, allowing IFs and NOCs to provide better support for sports development and athletes.  I do not believe that there is over-commercialization of the Games.

Question 8. Partially because of your role in the investigation of the Salt Lake City bribery scandal and the adoption of new regulations and an ethics watchdog to oversee interaction between IOC members and bidding cities, IOC procedures in reviewing and selecting host cities has changed.  What do you feel were the two most significant changes made and why?  Also, are you satisfied that the IOC has gone far enough in changing procedures and do you believe a similar situation to what happened in Salt Lake City could occur again?

Answer:  The most significant features have been the adoption of a specific code of conduct for IOC members and the establishment of an Ethics Commission on which a majority of the members are not IOC members.  These are both examples of best practices on an international scale.  The matter of visits, etc. to candidate cities is one essentially of detail.  I think the process will prevent anything on the scale of Salt Lake City from ever happening again, but one must still be on guard against specific actions that are questionable.  At least we now have a mechanism to investigate and to deal with such cases.

Question 9. China and also Asia are very excited about Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics in 2008.  China has already commenced a major building program for facilities and seems well advanced in its preparations.  If you were to counsel the Chinese authorities on issues that need attention and that later could cause unanticipated complications, what would those issues be and why are they important?

Answer:  I should say from the outset that I have great confidence in China and expect that Beijing will deliver memorable Games.  In fact, I supported the Beijing bid for the 2000 Games.  I doubt that there is anyone in the world that has any concern that China can deliver great Games.  My advice, if asked, would be to remember that (as is the case with all Games) the Games are an international event to be held in Beijing, not a Beijing event to which foreigners happen to be invited.  This requires special understanding of the role of the host nation.

Question 10. Juan Antonio Samaranch was one of the IOC’s longer serving and also controversial IOC President’s.  In your chapter, “Passing the Torch: Samaranch” you review the four IOC President’s you worked with.  What would you say were President Samaranch’s three biggest successes and what would you also list as his three biggest failures?

His three biggest successes were unification of the Olympic Movement, making it universal (202 countries) and making it financially independent.  His three biggest failures were (to some extent arising out of the successes) to let some people into the IOC who did not meet the standards that should apply to the members of the IOC, not being more aggressive in fighting against drugs in sport and staying too long.

Question 11. What role can the Olympic movement play for today and tomorrow’s youth and how optimistic are you that the Olympics will continue to play a leading role in sports in the coming century?      

Answer:  I think the Olympic Movement, with its combination of sport, education and culture, has the potential to do more for the youth of the world and their society that any other single force I can imagine.  The calculus is quite simple and can be translated into everything one does: self-respect, respect for others, self-discipline, setting and achieving goals and Fair Play.  If society were to be filled with citizens operating on those principles, I would be very satisfied

About the Author:  Richard W. Pound has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (OIC) for over 25 years.  He has served on the IOC Executive Board, and in 1987 was elected vice-president for a four-year term and served a second term from 1996 to 2000.  During the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, he was acting president, and in 2001 ran unsuccessfully in the election to replace Juan Anotinio Samaranch as the eighth president of the IOC.

Pound is the founding chair of the World Anit-Doping Agency, which was established in 1999.  He was also Chairman of the IOC Television Negotiation Committee (1983-2001), and Chairman of the IOC marketing Committee until 2001.  Pound served as the Chair of the Coordination Commission for the 1996 Olympic Games, and as a director of the Organizing Committee for the 1998 Olympic winter Games in Calgary, Alberta.  It was partly because of Pound's investigation of the recent Salt Lake City bribery scandal that new regulations and an ethics watchdog to oversee interaction between IOC members and bidding cities were created.  He is a past president, director, and executive committee member of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Born in Canada in 1942, Pound began his athletic career as a competitive swimmer.  At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he was a double Olympic finalist, finishing fourth in the 400 meter medley relay and sixes in the 100 meter freestyle.  he went on to win four medals - a gold, a bronze, and two silvers - at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Pound was educated in Montreal, receiving degrees in commerce and law from McGill.  He is currently a partner in the law firm Stikeman Elliott.  In 1999, he was made the seventeenth chancellor of McGill University.

About the Interviewer: Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia.

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.

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