Celebrating the 2010 Olympic Games, especially British Columbia, provides an opportunity to look back on six decades of personal involvement in the Olympic movement and to reflect on some fascinating international relationships in a world that is changing faster and more profoundly than at any time in recorded history.
Of course, as a small boy in the northern BC coastal paper town of Ocean Falls, I did not realize at the time that I was part of the Olympic movement. My only immediate concern was to get from one side to the other of the swimming pool, built by the company that owned the paper mill, as quickly as I could without drowning — often a near thing. Fear is a wonderful motivator. Perhaps confusing the product of terror with talent, the swimming coach concluded that I might have some potential, and I was invited to become part of the swimming club. This was a mixed blessing, since although it was a great honour to be asked, it also meant that I now had to swim many lengths of the pool — 60 feet, instead of only once across the width of 25 feet.
Ocean Falls is a quintessential Canadian story, one appreciated even more after the fact than during the experience, although growing up there was exciting even at the time. Located on the BC coast about level with the southern Queen Charlotte Islands, near where Alexander Mackenzie first reached the Pacific, Ocean Falls, a town of about 3,000 in in its heyday, was reachable only by boat (or the occasional seaplane). It consisted of a pulp and paper mill on one side of an inlet and a townsite on the other, connected by a bridge. The mill was built in the early 1900s. A dam was built above the inlet, to store water and to provide power for the mill and townsite, with some bunker-fired boilers in case the generated hydroelectricity failed. My father’s job as plant engineer included managing the water levels so that the (relatively) expensive bunker fuel was used as little as possible. Because the town was built on the side of steep mountains, it was a virtual certainty that, sooner or later, everyone would fall into the saltwater inlet or the freshwater lake behind the dam. The mill owners decided to use the profits earned from the beer parlour to build an indoor swimming pool and to try to ensure that everyone, especially the children, learned how to swim.
To this was added an overlay of hiring not just someone who could teach the rudiments of survival swimming, but a swimming coach. From this developed the competitive swimming club, of which I became a timid part. The coach, George Gate (recently awarded the Order of Canada for his achievements), had a vision of creating more than just a local club. I remember, when I was 10 years old, being told by him that he intended to enter me in a race in Vancouver against the Big Guys (the 11-12-year-olds). This was a singularly unappetizing thought, but the coach was the coach and I began to think about preparing for the ordeal. I asked him what was the BC record for boys 11-12 in the 50-yard freestyle event — we already knew a bit about goals. He said he had no idea. “But Coach,” I said, “you’re a swimming coach. How come you don’t know the record for boys 1112 in the 50-yard freestyle event?” He looked at me and said that he knew the world record, and that he might know the Commonwealth record, but that “in Ocean Falls, we don’t care about provincial age-group records. That is not what we are all about.”
Even then, we knew that our club was special. It did not matter that we were from a small town, 36 hours by boat from Vancouver, that we had only a 60foot pool and that no one may have heard of us. It was what we brought to the party that mattered. When I was 10, later in the same year of my “discussion” about provincial records, I remember standing in the rain with hundreds of the community, waiting for the boat to arrive from Vancouver so we could cheer the Ocean Falls swimmers returning from something called the Olympic Games in a country called Finland (which, inexplicably, on the postage stamps I collected, insisted on referring to itself as Suomi). They were gods to us, having their own lanes for practice in the pool, moving apparently effortlessly at speeds we could not then imagine. But they were part of the extraordinary record established by the town: on every Canadian Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan American team from 1948 until 1976, there was at least one swimmer from among the 400 Ocean Falls children with whom I grew up. The crucible in which this happened was the relationship between coach and athlete and the wholehearted support of the entire Ocean Falls community. Expectation is a wonderful enabler: the town expected us to do well, the coach expected us to do well and we expected to do well. And we did.
Our family returned to eastern Canada in 1956, first to Trois-Rivières for a year and then to Montreal. The only swimming I did during that year was in the St-Maurice River, where we dodged the logs floating down to the three paper mills in the city and worked at swimming against the current. The next year we moved to Montreal and I joined the legendary Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA), which, coincidentally, also had a 60-foot swimming pool. I met the swimming coach and asked if I could join the team. He was dubious. He asked me to change into my swimsuit and show him what I looked like in the pool. I did. He was more dubious. He said that my style was quite different from the way everyone swam in Montreal. I agreed, but said that I had done reasonably well in BC age-group swimming before moving east. Frankly, I thought my style was better than what I saw in Montreal, but this was perhaps not the best occasion on which to make that observation. In any event, I was the fastest junior in the club, so we got past the style hurdle.
I remember standing in the rain with hundreds of the community, waiting for the boat to arrive from Vancouver so we could cheer the Ocean Falls swimmers returning from something called the Olympic Games in a country called Finland (which, inexplicably, on the postage stamps I collected, insisted on referring to itself as Suomi).
By 1958 I had won the junior Canadian championship in the 110-yard freestyle and made the senior final. The following year I came third in the senior 100-metres freestyle and made the 1959 Pan American Games team competing in Chicago, where I swam with a remarkable lack of both distinction and success. In 1960, however, things were somewhat better. I won the Olympic trials at 100 metres and was selected to go to Rome for the Olympic Games, where I finished sixth in the 100 metres and our 4×100 medley relay team came fourth. It turned out that I was the only Canadian to participate in two Olympic finals, a fact noted at the time by only one newspaper, La Nouvelliste, in Trois-Rivières, which may have been aware that a former trifleuvien was involved. Nineteen sixty-one was an off year internationally, but I won several events at the Canadian championships. In 1962, I won the British Empire & Commonwealth trials at 110 yards and, after some political bargaining among the team selection committee, was added to the team for Perth, Australia. There I won the event and shared in three other relay medals. I did not go to the Pan American Games the following year, since I was trying to balance the demands of an arts degree at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and the first of two years of night classes as part of the requirements of the chartered accountancy program, in which I was enrolled after my McGill commerce degree. As soon as I finished the CA program in 1964, I entered law school at McGill. The Olympics in 1964 were in the late fall in Tokyo, and I decided that the time had come to focus on my studies and not lose a year by going to the Games, so that brought an effective end to my international swimming life. It had been great fun. I had got better each time and was going out with a win, so I had no regrets and no difficulty giving it up.
I did recognize, however, that I had not enjoyed what success came my way solely as a result of my own efforts. Many people, most of whom were volunteers, had played important roles in support of young athletes, of which I was one. Having drunk from the well, it seemed to me that I had an obligation to put back into it at least as much as I had drawn. So I started coaching, officiating and being part of the Quebec swimming community. I coached at Collège de St-Laurent and had the huge satisfaction of having one of my swimmers break a meet record I had set a few years previously. I had been a sprinter, so I understood how to be a good starter and became an official starter at provincial and national competitions. And, by now, I was a CA, so I became the treasurer of the Quebec section of what was then the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association.
The paradigm shift that got me started into the international scene came about at the MAAA one lunch hour in late 1967. It was the place where the group that controlled the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) met regularly. I ate most of my lunches there while I was a student at McGill. One of the men (there were only men then) came over and said, “Young Pound.” I said, “Yes, sir.” (That was how one responded.)” “You are a chartered accountant. “Yes, sir.” “And you will become a lawyer next year?” “Yes, sir, assuming I pass my bar exams.” Some unseen signal must have passed between him and the group, as he then said, “How would you like to become secretary of the COA?” I said something brilliant like, “Gee, that would be swell. What do I have to do?” “Oh,” he said dismissively, “you just leave all that to us.” In April 1968, at the age of 26, I became secretary of the COA.
That fall, the COA Board of Directors met to approve the candidate cities we would be putting forward for the 1976 Games, summer and winter. The summer candidates were Hamilton, Montreal and Toronto, while archrivals Calgary and Vancouver were duking it out for the winter nomination. While Vancouver beat Calgary, by far the most interesting contest was for the summer Games. Most directors were barely aware that two years previously, Montreal had bid for the 1972 Games, finishing quite well, but behind Munich. Hamilton, led by the energetic mayor, Vic Copps, went first. It was a rah-rah presentation, with no hope of eventual success. Toronto went next, with a highly organized and professional performance, flip charts, graphs and the mellifluous diction of Royce Frith. The Montreal group was a disparate collection, but was led by the extraordinary Mayor Jean Drapeau, who did the talking. He started off by saying, “Gentlemen [there were still no female directors of the COA], you have two questions you have to ask yourselves here today. The first is whether you want the Games to come to Canada in 1976. If you do not care, then it does not matter for whom you vote. But, if your first decision is that you want the Games in Canada in 1976, then the second question is, Who can get them? The answer to that is that I can get them.” He went on to describe how he had invited the IOC members as his guests during Expo ‘67 and that a significant number had accepted the invitation and were very impressed by Montreal. It was a particularly impressive performance and I am sure it changed the minds of several directors who had been pressured by the federal government not to allow an additional “plum” to come Montreal’s way after all the federal support for Expo ‘67. In the first round the votes were: Hamilton — 2; Montreal — 17; Toronto — 17. If the adage that all politics is local is true, the next round may be used as a classic example: Montreal — 19; Toronto — 17. For the Hamilton supporters, the view was clearly Anywhere But Toronto.
Drapeau then staged a brilliant international campaign, managing to beat out superstars Moscow and Los Angeles. Montreal’s progress toward organization of the Games was considerably less brilliant, especially since there were no financing plans in place, there was a Quebec-based Liberal minority government that was understandably nervous about showing undue consideration to Montreal, there were no agreements with the notoriously aggressive Quebec unions, the War Measures Act was invoked in 1970, the stadium design was ruinously expensive and the city of Montreal resolutely refused to separate the Olympic operating budget from the infrastructure budget, with the result that everyone still — and mistakenly — believes that the Olympics had a billion-dollar deficit. The Munich tragedy called for significantly increased security measures, not anticipated when the Games were awarded in 1970. The Quebec government was finally forced to intervene and take charge of finishing the installations. At the operational level, however, the Games were superbly organized, and I still receive compliments about them decades afterwards, as having been the best-organized Games in history.
The Montreal Games were affected by additional political crises, the first a refusal to permit the team from Taiwan to enter Canada under its officially-recognized Olympic designation, the Republic of China. This arose as a result of the Trudeau government’s 1972 recognition of the People’s Republic of China, which came with the essentially non-negotiable condition that diplomatic ties with the nationalist government in Taipei be severed. Even though the recognition of China came after the Canadian government’s undertaking to accept Olympic rules and after the Games had been awarded, the Canadian government nevertheless refused to honour the previous commitment. For reasons that I still do not understand, the IOC president, Lord Killanin, summoned me to his suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, wanting to know what I intended to do about the situation. I told Killanin that the Canadian government did not think the IOC had the resolve to do anything serious, and would, accordingly, not change its position. My advice to Killanin was that he should call Trudeau’s office to advise him that, as a matter of courtesy, he wanted Trudeau to know that there would be a press conference that evening at Mirabel Airport prior to Killanin’s flight back to Europe, coupled with a statement that, whatever events might occur in Montreal, they would not be the Olympic Games. I said that would certainly change the government’s position, but that he must do it at once, before the main body of athletes arrived in Montreal, or he would lose his leverage. Killanin could not bring himself to act and the government’s perception of the IOC’s lack of resolve proved all too accurate. The athletes from Taiwan did not participate in the Games.
The other crisis was the threat of an African boycott if New Zealand were allowed to participate. This was the third stage of political action by the Africans, beginning with the expulsion of South Africa, due to its system of apartheid; then adding exclusion of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) because it had a system like apartheid; and finally expanding to exclude any countries that allowed sporting ties, of any sort, with South Africa. New Zealand rugby teams were not prohibited by their government from competing in South Africa. Many other and larger countries had similar sporting ties (including the United States), but the Africans thought they could pressure the IOC into getting rid of a small country like New Zealand as the price of avoiding an African Olympic boycott. It was a huge miscalculation, compounded by incompetent inaction by the IOC. Had Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Spaniard destined to follow Killanin as IOC president in 1980, then been president, there would never have been a boycott. Everyone knew that rugby was not an Olympic sport and that the New Zealand national Olympic committee had no jurisdiction over either rugby or the New Zealand government. Samaranch would have organized meetings to agree on the terms of a statement by the New Zealand delegation to the effect that it supported discrimination-free sport and that it urged the New Zealand government to reconsider its policy regarding South Africa. Face would have been saved and the crisis would have dissipated. Once again, Killanin delayed resolving the problem until it was too late and the African leaders ordered their teams to return home on the eve of the Games.
The year after the Montreal Games, I was elected president of the COA, and in 1978, was co-opted as the second member of the International Olympic Committee in Canada. There was an IOC tradition that a country that had hosted the Games became entitled to a second IOC member. As a former Olympic athlete, current COA president and resident in the Olympic city, I seemed, despite my relative youth (in IOC terms), acceptable enough to pass through the eye of the exclusive membership needle. Two years later, the IOC presidency passed from Lord Killanin to Juan Antonio Samaranch, and a whole new era opened for the Olympic movement. The disastrous 1980 Moscow boycott had just occurred and Samaranch was determined to make whatever adjustments were necessary to prevent this from happening again.
Canada had also been caught up in the Moscow boycott, a response by many Western countries to the intervention by the Soviet Union to prop up the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. US President Jimmy Carter had announced a boycott of the Games unless they were moved or cancelled (or the USSR got out of Afghanistan in 30 days — a logistical impossibility) and enlisted support from political leaders around the world. This included Joe Clark, Canadian prime minister at the time. Even though Clark was defeated in February 1980, the Liberal government took up the same position and exerted pressure on the COA members not to participate in Moscow as part of demonstrating Canada’s “outrage” at the Soviet adventure in Afghanistan. The COA ultimately capitulated. The impressive demonstration of Canada’s “outrage” consisted of the Olympic boycott, reducing Aeroflot’s flights between Canada and the USSR from four to three per week and cancelling a ballet troupe tour. We sold more wheat to the USSR in 1980 than at any time in our history.
Samaranch correctly concluded that unless the IOC had financial autonomy, it would be difficult to resist government pressures, so he set about creating the means to achieve financial independence. The IOC’s economic model of the day would make anyone’s hair stand on end. Ninety-five percent of our meagre revenues came from a single source — television — and of that 95 percent, 95 percent in turn came from a single country — the United States — which had just done its best to destroy the Olympic movement with its boycott. We had to do two things with television: increase the total revenue and diversify the sources from which it came. We also had to develop other kinds of revenue. Over the next two decades, these objectives would occupy most of my activities with the IOC, as Samaranch assigned the responsibility for both portfolios to me.
The Quebec government was finally forced to intervene and take charge of finishing the installations. At the operational level, however, the Games were superbly organized, and I still receive compliments about them, decades afterwards, as having been the best-organized Games in history
I knew absolutely nothing about television rights and tried to tell Samaranch that. He said he did not either, but that it was such an important issue for the IOC that we had to change how we approached the whole question. The IOC had inherited the old Avery Brundage approach, that the Olympics had got along without television for 60 years and could perfectly well do so for the next 60. Given its general disdain for television, the IOC had allowed the local organizers to sell the television rights to each edition of the Games and was satisfied to take a small portion of what was received. The organizers of each Games cared only about their own Games and getting as much money for as little cooperation with the broadcasters as could be managed. They were reluctantly prevailed upon to provide basic host broadcast facilities and a broadcast centre, along with a media centre for the written press. The organizers had not the slightest ongoing interest in the Olympic franchise or brand. It was clear, however, at least to some in the IOC, that the medium of television was changing very rapidly and that it was important for the future that the IOC get control of the negotiations. This was easier said than done, since the organizing committees, having been left with the responsibility to negotiate the rights, regarded the television revenues as “theirs” and the IOC portion as an unwelcome form of tax on those revenues. They bitterly resented both having to pay any portion of the television proceeds and any involvement by the IOC in the negotiations.
My baptism of fire in that regard came in 1983, with the first negotiations in which I was involved, for the 1988 Games. The organizing committees of Calgary and Seoul were furious, but we had taken the incremental step in our host city contracts of providing that the television negotiations would be conducted “jointly” by the IOC and organizing committees. This had the practical effect of producing possible paralysis, since both parties had to agree at every step of the process, and we came close to a stand-off with Calgary. The background was interesting. ABC, which had the US rights, had been the Olympic broadcaster for many years and was, probably correctly, perceived as having an inside track with the IOC officials, since they always seemed to know just how much to bid in order to win. When I became involved, I wanted all the networks to know that, so long as I was in place, the playing field would be entirely level and that there would be no side deals of any sort. As a tangible demonstration of the new policy, we sent out a draft contract for the winter rights, requesting comments from all the networks, and after full consultations, we then prepared a final contract, with only the final amount of the rights fee left blank. The contract had to be signed in advance by each network and accompanied by a letter to me, authorizing me to fill in the final amount in the contract signed by the winning network. Both documents had to be delivered to me in order to get into the room in which the negotiations were to take place. This was fine with Calgary.
The problem occurred when Calgary said its advisers had counselled waiting as long as possible before the negotiations, because the rights became more valuable as the Games got closer. The IOC was completely opposed to this. We had been following the ABC selling strategy for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, which was based on a repeat of the “Miracle on Ice” of 1980 in Lake Placid. This time, the American hockey team was going to be hopelessly outclassed and the US was going to have a very poor Olympics. We wanted to have the negotiations prior to Sarajevo. Calgary was insistent that we wait. To break the logjam, we finally asked the Calgary organizers what the consultants had advised that the rights would be worth. They said that the amount would be at least $200 million. Fine, we said, you guarantee us our share of $200 million and you can have the negotiations whenever you want. They could not live with that risk, they said. We said they could not have it both ways: either they had confidence that their consultants knew more about what was going to happen in Sarajevo than we did, or they had to follow our advice. With a great deal of grumbling, they finally agreed to do what we suggested. We held the negotiations in Lausanne about three weeks before the Sarajevo Games and got $309 million. Calgary cheered up considerably. The Sarajevo Games were a disaster for the US, just as we had predicted. Calgary cheered up even more. The extra $109 million made all the difference between good Games and wildly successful Games. Had we followed the advice Calgary had received, I expect we would have had $150 million less.
The negotiations for Seoul were even worse. None of the networks, having seen what happened regarding Calgary, wanted the same process. They were satisfied that I would play no favourites, but no one had broadcast summer Games in Asia since Tokyo in 1964 and the industry was much different now. We would have pure one-onone negotiations to reach a business deal and follow these by developing a formal contract to reflect what had been negotiated. I had no objection to that. Our problems began in earnest when Seoul’s consultants (the same consultants as Calgary’s) were asked by their Seoul client what they might expect from the negotiations. The consultants said they could not be sure what the amount might be in the circumstances affecting Seoul and Korea, but that normally the summer rights could be two and a half times the winter rights, which was, more or less, historically correct. The Koreans heard this and mentally wrote down the figure of $750 million. That number found its way into reports and worked its way up to the top, by which time it was as if it had been engraved in stone; what had been an historical extrapolation was now perceived as all but guaranteed. When the networks heard this, they were horrified and tried to indicate that the number was wildly unrealistic and that the final number would not even be close to what the Koreans were seeking.
When we had the negotiations, the highest bid was $325 million. The Koreans at the table were stunned and thought they were being insulted. We assured them that this was not an insult, but reflected the market value of the rights in a difficult market for Games in Asia, especially with the many uncertainties affecting Korea. The Koreans were unable to make a decision. At first I thought it was because they still did not believe that the market value was so low, but I gradually realized that they had no authority to agree to a number below a certain amount and that they had to wait for enough time to pass that it would be morning in Seoul and they could get new instructions. No one present was prepared to risk disgrace or worse by agreeing to $325 million, even though that was a 50 percent increase over the Los Angeles rights for Games in America. Nor was any of the Koreans present, including the Minister of Sport, willing to wake up anyone in Seoul who was high enough in the power structure to decide. By the time Samaranch and I were able to assure the Korean leaders in Seoul that, disappointing as it might be to them, this was the value of the rights, the network that had offered the $325 million had got fed up with waiting for a reply and withdrawn its offer. We then had to scramble to get the networks to agree to a further round of negotiations a couple of weeks later, this time in New York, and during those negotiations, the bids were even lower. We had to settle for $300 million and a cosmetic potential share of any revenues above a certain amount, which had no possible chance of being reached. It is the first and only time that the winter rights exceeded the summer rights.
The creeping IOC control over the negotiations continued, and by the time the Barcelona rights were to be awarded, the arrangement was that the IOC would negotiate the rights “in consultation with” the organizing committee. This left the ultimate power of decision with the IOC, but with a strong obligation to work as cooperatively as possible with the organizing committee. Good relationships with the organizers who deliver our Games are extremely important. Accordingly, it is far better to proceed by agreement than to stand on contractual rights, so the Barcelona and Atlanta negotiations remained almost as complicated as the previous ones, except that we could move things forward by making it clear that if we could not agree, then we would exercise our rights. The deals we were able to make showed that we had learned a great deal and that we could probably negotiate better than the organizing committees, especially since, following each Games, they disappeared from the scene and the networks did not have to care about them, whereas, no matter who won the rights for a particular Games, they would still have to deal with us the next time around.
By the time of Sydney, the IOC was negotiating on its own and was in a position to advise the organizing committees what the rights were and how much they would receive. It got even better when we did longer-term deals relating to Games that had not even been awarded, as happened in the case of 2004, 2006 and 2008. For each of those Games, the bidding cities knew in advance of their bids exactly how much they would get from television, which removed a huge uncertainty from their financial planning.
The decision to negotiate “packages” for more than one Games at a time first arose in the course of negotiating the rights for the Sydney Games. NBC came to us with a novel proposition to make a joint bid for the Sydney and Salt Lake City Games. NBC had figured that the network would lose money on Sydney (due to increased costs and the timing of the Games), but that with a package deal for the two Games, it could likely generate an overall financial success. The total amount NBC was willing to put on the table exceeded the combined optimistic expectations of both organizing committees, and we were confident that NBC had the commitment to the Games that would justify our confidence in them. Samaranch had known about the offer a day or so before I met with NBC in Montreal, but said NBC would have to talk with me, so when I called him after the meeting, he asked what I thought. I said I thought we should take it. He agreed and I went up to my office to get my laptop. Installed in our smoking boardroom (we could still smoke cigars), I typed out the general terms of the agreement and we signed it then and there. Formal announcement of the $1.25-billion deal was made in New York a couple of days later, to the astonishment of the television world.
More challenging was the negotiation of contracts for Games that had not even been awarded. This idea emerged in Lausanne later the same year, when the formal legal contract for Sydney and Salt Lake City was signed and we had a dinner with NBC to celebrate. Samaranch suggested that perhaps we should consider another package deal for a further two Games. I said that was fine, but that it should be for three Games, since we needed to track our marketing agreements, all of which were based on the four-year cycle ending in the year of the summer Games. Samaranch agreed and said I should start negotiating with NBC, but that the negotiations were to be secret, did I understand? Secret. I understood. There was a lot of spadework to be done on a project like this. We had no idea where the three Games would be held. We could not predict how the television industry might change over the period. I proposed to NBC that we should begin not by negotiating a deal, but by identifying what issues any eventual deal should address, so that we would know where we were going if, as and when we began to negotiate. I sent them a memo saying we should approach the matter as if it were a college term paper and then compare our lists of issues. I sent my list shortly thereafter, but NBC never produced its own version, so we worked off mine. Nevertheless, we got to the point that we were ready to try to put numbers to a possible deal. I wanted to make sure that there could be no suggestion that the television networks (especially the US networks) had any influence on the IOC’s choice of host cities, so I said that NBC should make its bid on the basis that none of the three Games would be held in the US or, for that matter, in North America. Should it happen that one or more Games were allocated to North America, we would come back to them and discuss how much more should be paid over and above the amount allocated in the agreement. As things turned out, the Games involved went to Athens, Torino and Beijing. The minimum amount was in excess of $2.3 billion.
Many have wondered why we were willing to do such packages with NBC, effectively closing out the other networks. ABC had recently been bought by the Disney organization, which was far more interested in its own brand than ours, and I had no appetite for the Disney Olympics. CBS was undergoing a management change and was interested just in the winter Games, and we were not sure of the long-term nature of that interest. Fox was still new and I had not let it bid prior to the Sydney negotiations, when did more or less an end run, speaking with the Sydney organizers before speaking with us. When the Fox executives finally approached me, it was to say that they would guarantee us a lot of money (their practice was to buy their way into television properties by paying more than the rights were probably worth) even without seeing a contract. I said that was not fair to them nor acceptable to us, since I did not want to be faced with reinventing a contractual wheel with an organization that had never seen an Olympic broadcast contract, and that I would send them a draft contract before I would even consider any offer. It was during this stage that the first NBC joint proposal came forward. A bird in the hand was worth more than two in the bush. For NBC, on the other hand, the Olympics were central to its whole sports programming and NBC Sports was led by Dick Ebersol, the extraordinary Olympic “champion” within the organization who was (and is) deeply committed to Olympic broadcasting. Considering the enormity of the decision for us, it was a relatively easy call and one that I have never regretted.
The bellweather television negotiations are always with the US networks, which effectively set the levels in other countries as well, not so much in absolute amounts as in the percentage increase over the previous Games. The interesting aspects of international negotiations are derived essentially from the organizational and cultural differences. In Japan, it is considered unseemly to compete with other broadcasters, so negotiations are generally with a consortium of broadcasters who join together in what they call Japan Pool. Until recently, Europe was able to hold a consortium together, the European Broadcast Union (EBU), which held the prices down by design, stating that most of the broadcasters were state-owned and therefore impecunious and that if they paid what the Olympic rights were worth, they would be unable to afford sports coverage during the years between the Games. This approach had the international sports federations weeping on the IOC’s doorstep, and Samaranch responded by not allowing us to try to break the EBU stranglehold. Every year the EBU would solemnly present him with a large and gaudy trophy in recognition of his principled support of sports broadcasting. It was a great investment for the EBU, which regularly paid more for re-runs of Dallas than for live coverage of the world’s greatest sporting event. With Samaranch now out of the picture, the situation has changed and what we intuitively knew when I was involved, namely that the sum of the parts was much greater than the whole, has been conclusively established.
The next mountain to climb was marketing. Again, I told Samaranch that I knew nothing about marketing, with the predictable outcome that I still got stuck with it. The most interesting focus of Olympic marketing is the Games themselves. They generate the awareness and excitement that can produce returns on marketing investments. Apart from never having had to do any work for its money (living as it had off the outcomes of television negotiations conducted by the organizers of the Games), the IOC had no idea of a branding strategy for the world’s most recognized brand, the five-ring Olympic symbol. It had no idea what the brand attributes were, how they could be made attractive to sponsors and how to go about improving the market value of the brand. Major marketing action was also hampered by the organizational limitations of the Olympic movement.
The most difficult challenge for me within the IOC was to make sure that everyone understood that the large sums of money we were receiving were not just manna from heaven but imposed responsibilities on us with respect to our marketing and television partners.
Each edition of the Games had its own organizing committee, which created its own emblems, usually the five rings along with an element identifying the particular Games. This emblem could be made available to sponsors. The problems began thereafter, since the Olympic movement is organized along national lines: each country has its own national Olympic committee (NOC), and each NOC has its own emblem. In order for an Olympic organizing committee to use its emblem in any country, it had to get the permission of the local NOC. This was a costly and time-consuming business, with the result that Olympic sponsorships were usually confined to a few major markets. The value of whatever rights were sold could be diminished by competitors of the sponsor making deals with neighbouring countries, especially in Europe, where the overlap led to confusion as to which company was the real Olympic sponsor, thus reducing the impact of the official sponsors who had paid large sums of money for their sponsorships. As one executive said to me in the lead-up to the Los Angeles Games, “It is too expensive to do business with the Olympic movement.”
Our response to this perfectly fair observation was to think outside the box. What if we could package the marketing rights, on a full quadrennial basis, of the organizing committees for the winter and summer Games, of every single NOC in the world, and add to this the IOC’s five-ring symbol, and offer the combined rights to sponsors in a one-stop-shopping format? The sponsors leapt at this possibility. We then went a step further and said, What if, in addition, we were to provide exclusivity within your product or service category, so that none of your competitors would be able to use any Olympic connections during that fouryear period? This was, indeed, the promised land, and thus the marketing program known as TOP (The Olympic Program) was born. It is now in its seventh edition, largely as designed from the beginning, and is recognized as perhaps the most successful international marketing program in the world.
The most difficult challenge for me within the IOC was to make sure that everyone understood that the large sums of money we were receiving were not just manna from heaven but imposed responsibilities on us with respect to our marketing and television partners. We had to make sure that, if we received value, we had to give value in return. I always preferred to leave a few dollars on the table and not to extract the full value of what we provided — I thought it was good business for our partners to appreciate that they were getting a particularly good deal, one that they would not wish to give up on the next round of negotiations. We also had to be ready to protect our sponsors and broadcasters, since we were trading almost entirely on our rights to the five rings and the word “Olympic.” The marketing world is filled with people and organizations many of whom are quite willing to use elements like this without permission, or to use them for their own purposes to ambush the organizations that have paid millions to be permitted to do so legally. Our responsibility was to make sure that the value of what they purchased was not diluted by unauthorized use of our symbol and Olympic identification. This meant that the IOC had to be both vigilant and militant, not descriptions that most observers would have identified as characteristic of the IOC.
One example may help illustrate the kind of challenge we faced. When TOP was first conceived, one of the categories we thought might lend itself to a worldwide sponsorship was the credit card category. The natural potential sponsor was American Express, so we approached it first and were rejected out of hand. I expect that its executives thought we would have no success anywhere else and that we would have to come crawling back and accept a lower price. It was important for us that this sort of action should not be reinforced in the market, so we began to consider alternatives, despite the complications. We then approached Visa, an organization of thousands of banks, which was immensely complex but had a few executives who immediately grasped the potential and worked with us to drive the concept through the organization. When we announced the Visa sponsorship, it was a bombshell, one that rocked American Express to the core. Within three years, no one involved in the decision to reject the TOP sponsorship was still employed at American Express.
The company, however, could not stand having been left out in the cold and embarked on a series of ambush marketing initiatives, including coin programs supposedly sponsored by something called the Olympics International Committee, somewhere on a Pacific atoll. Close to every Olympic Games it had an
Olympic or sport-themed promotion. Some of the activities required legal action to bring to an end. We were worried about Atlanta in 1996 and could get no clear commitment from American Express that it would not attempt similar conduct. I had a meeting with the president of the company and said that the first time we saw anything that smacked of ambush marketing, I was going to call a press conference in Atlanta. I would have the US women’s gymnastics team (which can produce tears on command) there to say that American Express was not helping them with their Olympic preparations and that its conduct was hurting Visa, which was helping, and that they did not understand how American Express could act that way. I would then describe the whole relationship, from the initial rejection of Olympic sponsorship, to the repeated ambushing, to the discussion we had had and then (having primed the media) I was going to pull out my American Express card from my wallet (I told him it had expired, but the media would neither know nor care), cut it in half with a large pair of scissors and say that I did not want to do business of any sort with a company that demonstrated such a lack of business ethics. After a pause, the president said we would not have to worry any more. American Express has since been as good as its word. But the point for the IOC was that we had to be prepared to go to the wall for our sponsors. The sponsors’ confidence that we will do this greatly enhances the value of the rights we grant.
We are wrestling with the digital revolution and its impact on how the Games are delivered to audiences. Television broadcasters have been the bread and butter for us in their delivery of audiences in the billions and revenues to match. Conventional broadcasting is being forced to deal with different demands from viewing audiences and there is no doubt that television audiences are likely to shrink in future as interactive communication expands and improves so dramatically. Reaching the younger generation is increasingly problematic and, without becoming slaves to it, if we do not have some Olympic “connection” with this generation, there will be a significant medium-to-longterm impact. In television, the delivery and revenue or business models are well established, whereas with interactive media, the delivery models are far more robust than the business models.
Without significant private sector revenues, the willingness of the public sector to assume greater shares of the total costs will be under increasing pressure. The demands on government funds in the face of many priorities arguably more important than organized sport are such that there can be little doubt that sport will slide down the list, even despite the known societal problems and costs resulting from a sedentary population, morbid obesity and a virtual pandemic of diabetes. This poses a genuine problem for organized sport and will require a shift from the public to the private sector for both direction and funding.
One of the darker periods for the IOC was the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, which broke in late 1998 and continued until the end of 1999. Clear proof emerged from Salt Lake City that some IOC members had accepted, and had occasionally requested, inappropriate benefits from the bidding committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which Salt Lake City had easily won. There had been previous rumours of such conduct by IOC members, but, despite our constant requests of bidding committees, never any proof. Now there was proof and there was a resulting crisis that almost threatened the existence of the IOC at the head of the Olympic movement. We had to act quickly before matters got even further out of hand. A special investigative commission was established by Samaranch, and he designated me to chair it. It was a death blow to any realistic aspiration I might have had to become IOC president upon Samaranch’s retirement in 2001 (people like the idea of a clean organization, but do not like the cleaners), but it was far more important to the IOC itself that we deal with our own mess than for me to hope to avoid the responsibility. Within three months, we had acted to expel or compel the resignation of 10 IOC members and had publicly rebuked several more for conduct that reflected poorly on the IOC. We then adopted several reform measures to bring our governance standards up to best international practices, including adoption of a code of ethics and creation of an independent ethics commission, a majority of whose members were from outside the IOC. It was a hard, but important, lesson as to the importance of good governance. It is not possible for the IOC to demand higher standards of conduct from athletes and sports officials than it demonstrates through its own behaviour.
In the middle of the Salt Lake City crisis, another unfolded. During the 1998 Tour de France, the Festina team had been found with industrial quantities of doping substances, and members of it had been arrested by the French police. Doping was known to be endemic in cycling. The matter was compounded by Samaranch stating on the record to a journalist that he thought that what had occurred was not doping, that the IOC list of prohibited substances was too long and that only if it could be proven that a substance was dangerous to health should it be prohibited. This may have been fine as a personal opinion, but it countered everything the IOC and Samaranch had advocated for years. The outcome was that no one trusted individual sports to deal effectively with doping, no one trusted particular countries to deal with their own citizens and no one believed the anti-doping position of the IOC. At an emergency meeting of the IOC Executive Board, we agreed (adopting a suggestion I had made) to propose the creation of an independent international anti-doping agency that would not be controlled by the IOC, or by any other stakeholder, including international federations, NOCs, athletes or governments. We would call for a World Conference on Doping in Sport the following February to see if such an idea would be approved. Sadly, the conference occurred in the middle of the Salt Lake City scandal, which exposed the IOC to further attacks from virtually every participant, but we managed to emerge with consensus to establish the international agency and to have it ready to begin acting at the beginning of 2000.
Having the machinery in place to combat doping, as we now have, does not mean that the problem is solved; it shows only that the means of solving it now exist. The challenge for WADA, now that the exhilaration of creating something out of nothing has dissipated, is to maintain the enthusiasm for getting drugs out of sport.
My next surprise came in the fall of 1999, when Samaranch told me that he wanted me to run the agency, by then called the World AntiDoping Agency (WADA). I said I did not know anything about doping, that I was still doing the television and marketing portfolios, that I had just finished the Salt Lake City investigation and was involved in our new-media considerations. He said that he could not chair WADA (he was still under constant attack as having been responsible for the Salt Lake City debacle and for his earlier statements on doping), that the chairman of the IOC Medical Commission (Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium) was seen as too close to the IOC position to do so and that the vice-chairman of the medical commission was another Belgian (Jacques Rogge, the current IOC president) and that if he appointed Rogge, there would be a “civil war” in Belgium, so I would just have to do it. This was hardly a ringing endorsement, but I reluctantly agreed that I would act as the initial chairman, for two years, until WADA was up and running. The two years turned into eight.
WADA proved to be a real eyeopener for me, since, apart from trying to be sure Ben Johnson got a fair hearing during the Seoul Games in 1988, I had had little exposure to the dark side of doping in sport. I certainly knew that it existed and that it was by no means confined to the Eastern Europeans. I had thought, however, that everyone took the problem seriously and that the measures in place to catch athletes who used drugs were effective and evenly applied. Looking back, it is hard to believe that I was so far off base. The fact of the matter was that the IOC had effectively forced most international sports federations to have in-competition testing, but only at their world championships and a few other major events, along the lines of what the IOC did during the Olympics. The IOC had no right to test athletes except during the Olympics, which meant that for three years, eleven months and two weeks out of every four years, the athletes were under the jurisdiction of their international federations, all of which declared themselves to be in the vanguard of the fight against doping. As anyone who has thought about the problem for more than a second will know, in-competition testing will catch a few race-day drugs, but it will not catch those who use drugs (such as steroids, human growth hormone and EPO) during their training periods and who allow enough time prior to competition for the drugs to clear their systems, but still retain the benefits of the drugs in the competitions. When WADA began to conduct tests in early 2000, in the lead-up to the Sydney Games, I was flabbergasted to learn that most of the international federations did not even have rules that permitted them to test athletes out-of-competition. It cast a whole new light on their publicly stated commitment to doping-free sport.
WADA itself is an interesting study in hybrid international organizations. Its governance structure is an equal mix of governments on the one hand, and private organizations and individuals on the other. Governments were horrified with the idea that their votes could be offset by the votes of the individual members, and the sport movement members were deeply suspicious of governments, with their well-known tendencies to declaim, but not act. Little by little, however, we established a degree of trust and the outcome has been that most of our decisions in matters of doping policy can be achieved through consensus. It was clear from the outset that the existing anti-doping rules were a complete mishmash and that major efforts had to be made to get everyone onto the same basis. This led to an exhaustive consultation process and negotiations with the objective of establishing a single set of rules applicable to all athletes, all sports and all countries, which took the form of the World Anti-Doping Code. This was a huge breakthrough and all Olympic parties, federations and NOCs, adopted the code prior to the Athens Games in 2004. Governments took a bit longer, but managed to have an international convention under the auspices of UNESCO approved by 191 countries at the end of 2005. This was the fastest adoption of a convention ever by UNESCO, and it has already been ratified by more than 130 counties, comprising more than 90 percent of the world’s population — again another international record. It showed that if the times are right and you are willing to push for progress, the usual timelines can be compressed, and that there are huge gains to be had.
Having the machinery in place to combat doping, as we now have, does not mean that the problem is solved; it shows only that the means of solving it now exist. The challenge for WADA, now that the exhilaration of creating something out of nothing has dissipated, is to maintain the enthusiasm for getting drugs out of sport.
There is a tendency to gradually resist change and to fall back on the old system of talking firmly, saying that there is zero tolerance, but doing little to back up the rhetoric. The gains now will be incremental, but nevertheless important, since the fight is going to be won not during an eight-second sound bite that will resolve all outstanding issues, but by careful and relentless follow-up.
My approach to the whole question was one of confrontation: doping is cheating, and dangerous cheating in many respects. The cheating is not accidental. In most cases, it is highly organized and well funded, having the specific objective of gaining an unfair advantage and in full knowledge of the fact that it is contrary to the rules agreed upon by all participants. In my view, such conduct does not require gentle treatment, but should be exposed for exactly what it is and the people involved (not just the athletes, who are occasionally the least guilty among those involved) taken out of the sport. No one should be forced to become a chemical stockpile in order to be successful in sport, simply because there are sociopaths who resort to drug use to gain their advantage.
This approach, apparently, has caused me to be considered, in some quarters, as “controversial.” In that respect, I am more than happy to be known, in the fight against doping, by the enemies I attract. The athletes, parents, coaches and members of the public who do not want sport to degenerate into a contest between pharmacists are hugely supportive, and hardly a day goes by that I am not approached by people on the street to say how glad they are that someone is finally telling it like it is and doing something about it. The static, on the other hand, is quite revealing. It comes from sports, organizations and athletes who have had their conduct exposed. They do not like this and often take a wellfinanced opposition to that exposure and to me. This simply draws attention to the obvious discrepancy between what they say and what they do. Their credibility has eroded and continues to erode as the exposure continues and their feeble efforts to control the doping in their sports are compared with the elements of a robust anti-doping program. The problem is akin to dealing with an alcoholic: unless and until the alcoholic admits that there is a problem and genuinely wants to deal with it, there is no possibility of a cure. So long as there is institutional denial of the extent of the problem, it will continue to grow. And, unless there is constant pressure, especially with respect to the professional sports, they will keep their heads down and continue to ignore their responsibilities to their athletes, the public and the youth of the country who emulate the conduct of the “stars.”
Canada is about to host its third Olympic Games. Preparations for the Vancouver Games (including the Paralympics) have been well organized. The major construction projects were commenced early and many were necessary for the future of BC, whether or not it was to host Olympic Games. The Montreal experience demonstrated clearly that late construction is expensive construction. Most of the sports facilities for the Vancouver Games have already been available for a season or more of practice for Canadian and other athletes. The Richmond Oval may end up as the centrepiece of the Games and as one of its most visible legacies. Vancouver and BC have learned from Calgary that the Games-related activity can be an economic driver in difficult times and that there are collateral benefits for the entire region, which can build off the worldwide publicity and favourable positioning of BC, through exposure that could never otherwise be achieved. The sense of community pride which can be generated from great Olympics will last for a generation and the connection between BC and the rest of Canada, often a bit tenuous, will be strengthened by the success of the Games. Much of the private sector support of the Games comes from outside of the province, linking the entire country around the showcase event. The Olympic Torch Relay, such a huge element of the Calgary Games, will undoubtedly create a genuine sense of the sharing by the entire country in the Vancouver effort.
Having been involved now in the choice of three successful Canadian candidates to host the Olympic Games (Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver) and in four unsuccessful ones (Vancouver, Toronto, twice, and Quebec), I am particularly proud of Canada’s role in support of the Olympic movement. For a country of our size, we have done more than our share to make certain that the Olympic Games, as a symbol and practical demonstration of peaceful international exchange, continue their important role in an increasingly complex world, underscoring our similarities and minimizing our differences. I am proud to have been an Olympian and of ending up in a position in which I can help make it possible for generations of athletes coming after me to have the same wonderful Olympic experience that I enjoyed. When the Olympics “work,” it is a transformational experience for all participants, whether they return home with medals or not. Simply to have been a part of the Games is something that remains embedded in everyone for the rest of their lives.
There will be a new generation of Olympians in 2010, who will take their place in history, and who will be grateful to Canada for helping to make it possible. For the Canadian Olympians, they will have the additional joy of competing at home, in the company of their fellow Canadians, all of whom will be proud of their performance as Canadians. It doesn’t get any better than that.