9:46 PM EDT, September 6, 2013
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- In the lobby of the Hilton hotel, the Crown Prince of Spain politely answered questions from two U.S. journalists but finished by saying you couldn’t quote him because he wasn’t doing interviews with the Spanish media, and it wouldn’t be fair to them.
Prince Felipe’s position was understandable if a bit confusing, given that he made an eloquent speech on behalf of Madrid’s 2020 Summer Games bid to the International Olympic Committee two months ago and will be doing so again before Saturday’s IOC vote on the host city.
A few hours later, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, whose stringy hair curling to the collar of his western suit makes him look more roguish than royal, all but ran across the lobby when asked for a comment about his purported status as a kingmaker and his support for Germany’s Thomas Bach, the favorite to replace Jacques Rogge as IOC president.
In between, there was a swirl of heads as an imperial highness, Crown Princess Takamado of Japan, entered the lobby, having arrived to support the Tokyo 2020 bid.
Such interactions have been commonplace this week as the Hilton lobby, a huge atrium turned into a mosh pit of paid lobbyists, royalty and IOC members mingling, hugging, handshaking, hand-wringing, cheek kissing, rumor-mongering and maybe back-stabbing.
It was a theatrical scene that would seem surreal anywhere but the Olympic world on the days before major IOC decisions like those that will be made the next few days.
Saturday, the IOC will choose among Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul as 2020 host. Sunday, it will be whether wrestling, squash or baseball/softball gets the one available sports spot on the Olympic program for 2020 and 2024. Tuesday, it will be which of the six candidates gets the eight-year term as IOC president (with a possible four-year renewal).
“I have absolutely no fear for my back,” IOC member Rene Fasel of Switzerland said.
Fasel likened the atmosphere to a grand bazaar. Then he looked at the seven floors of glass-bordered balconies and agreed with a suggestion there was a sense of being playthings in the Roman Coliseum.
“There are no lions here,” Fasel said.”Or some may think they are lions, but they have not so good teeth. And I am a dentist.”
A nest of vipers, maybe?
“I’m not going to call them vipers. They’re all too well-dressed,” IOC member Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles said, smiling broadly.
So how was it someone leaked information Thursday about wrestling having committed a violation of rules governing its Olympic program candidacy, an infraction so minor the IOC dismissed the matter a day after international wrestling federation president Nenad Lalovic self-reported it? Was that done to hurt wrestling’s chances?
“Everything is possible,” Lalovic said.
And what about the allegations, made in a German TV documentary, that Sheikh Ahmad is effectively influence-peddling on Bach’s behalf? After all, the sheikh is president of the Asian Olympic committees and the Association of National Olympic Committees and head of the Olympic Solidarity Commission.
The last position puts the sheikh in charge a fund to help sports in developing countries that will disperse $438 million (probably pocket change for him) between 2013 and 2016. The German documentary quoted Kenyan Olympic Committee chairman Kip Keino as saying, “Thomas needs a lot of support,” and an unnamed African IOC member as saying all 12 African voters would pick Bach.
“It is accurate,” Keino said Friday of African support for Bach.
The sheikh, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, said publicly he was backing Bach, only to skim back after being told such public expressions of support violated IOC ethics rules — a restriction that seems silly.
“It is clear the people (Sheikh Ahmad) has supported on different occasions in recent months have won elections, so he seems to have good influence on the outcome of some issues or elections,’’ said Denis Oswald from Switzerland.
Bach dismissed the idea of Sheikh Ahmad pulling strings.
“There is no kingmaker,” Bach said. “It is not working as it used to many years ago where you had a group of opinion leaders.”
All IOC votes are by secret ballot, allegedly to protect IOC members from being pressured by outside forces (like wealthy sheikhs?) That means members can promise a vote to several parties and never be called to account.
That is how Chicago consultants figured the city’s 2016 Olympic would get between 23 and 33 votes in the first round of a four-city race. It got 18 and was eliminated immediately as the three others had between 23 and 28 opening-round votes.
IOC member Alex Gilady of Israel stood near the front door of the Hilton and assessed the maelstrom of schmoozers and arm twisters behind him.
“There are those who guess, those who hope and those who think they know,” Gilady said, “but no one person here knows the result.”
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