A line of sleek limousines waiting at the curb, armed police patrolling the sidewalk, a block of $2,000-a-night rooms reserved at an exclusive hotel, cocktails with the Queen and a reserved lane on the jammed London highways. Life as a member of the International Olympic Committee has its rewards.
While the host city of the Summer Games was still struggling with pre-opening glitches and jitters – and the G8 economies edgy with debt and uncertainty – the 105 members of the IOC gathered for their 124th annual meeting in the elegant calm at the five-star Grosvenor House Hotel, a bit smug over their full coffers and special privileges.
The committee doesn’t meet very often but when it does, no expense is spared and no ceremony overlooked.
The entire city seems to be at the IOC’s beck and call. The three-day event kicked off Monday evening with a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen and a performance at the Royal Opera House. And starting Wednesday morning, IOC members and other Olympic officials will be able to zip around London in specially designated traffic lanes, thus bypassing the many traffic jams those very lanes will be causing.
That perk is so controversial that Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered his cabinet to steer clear of the special lanes, even though the IOC has invited the government to join in the exclusivity.
To drive home the government’s point that ordinary folk might find the zip-lanes irritating or elitist, Transportation Secretary Justine Greening spent several minutes Tuesday explaining to reporters the route she took to get to the Olympic Park – using only public transit.
The IOC’s reaction? “I have a lot of sympathy,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said this week. “But for two weeks, I think that people will adapt to that and they will realize that by adapting to that they will help also the reputation of this great event.”
The fine trappings are befitting an organization long criticized for being corrupt, secretive and the epitome of an old boys’ network. One look at the IOC membership and it’s easy to see why this group expects the best.
There are more than a dozen royals, including Princess Anne; an assortment of sheikhs; and more than a few controversial characters such as Sepp Blatter, the embattled head of FIFA, the governing body for international soccer. But there are also star athletes such as NHL forward Saku Koivu, skiing great Jean-Claude Killy, and multiple track world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj. Canada has two IOC members: former anti-doping agency chief and ex-Olympian Richard Pound and former cross country skier Rebecca Scott.
The IOC can afford to be smug and a little pompous. While much of the world is buckling under economic recession, the IOC is thriving.
Mr. Rogge told the gathering Tuesday that the IOC’s finances have never been better. “We are not suffering from a drop in TV revenues predicted by many,” Mr. Rogge said. “Our financial situation is strong and safe.”
The figures back him up. Broadcast revenues have nearly doubled in the last decade and they are on track to reach a record $4-billion for the next two Olympics – the 2014 Games in Sochi and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The IOC pulled in $3.9-billion from TV deals for the Vancouver Games in 2010 and the London Olympics.
Sponsorship revenue has nearly doubled in the last decade, and will hit a record $1-billion for the next two Games. And the IOC’s reserve fund currently stands at $558-million, up from $105-million in 2001.
So there were few quibbles or complaints to disturb the tranquillity of the IOC annual meeting.
Mr. Pound did raise concerns about the duration of the opening ceremony, which takes place Friday. He asked London organizing chairman Sebastian Coe about potential delays in the ceremonies because of athletes holding up the march by taking pictures and tweeting. IOC Games Executive Director Gilbert Felli said later that there is a plan to speed up the march so that “those who play the game and march are not penalized for those who are taking pictures.” He added: “We have a secret device. You will see. It is secret and I can’t tell you now.”
Anita DeFrantz, an IOC member from the United States, also lamented the lack of women in the organization. In a presentation Tuesday, she noted that just 3 per cent of national Olympic organizations have a female president and only 20 per cent of IOC members are women. She urged all organizations to do more.
But the overall tone of the meeting Tuesday was of control and order. Mr. Rogge directed the proceedings, introducing a series of presentations by various officials and selecting questions from members.
Some of the questions were pointed, such as queries about which sports should be added to the Games (there is a limit of 28 and the London Games have 26). That sparked a minor debate about rugby and golf, which have been added for future Olympics. But that was rare and most most reports were presented without any discussion.
As he left during a break, Mr. Pound of Canada was asked how the meeting was going. “Boring,” he said, and hurried away.