Full disclosure: I am a Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and my term of office is due to expire at the end of 2017. I was the President of Saint Lucia Olympic Committee Inc. (SLOC) from 1992 to 2012, and I am still on the Executive Committee of SLOC as Immediate Past President, and IOC Member resident in Saint Lucia. The views expressed in this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IOC or SLOC.
From the Office of the Obvious: Levern Spencer came within two successful jumps of winning an Olympic Gold medal for herself and Saint Lucia at the Olympic Games in Rio. Jeannelle Scheper came within two successful jumps of joining Levern in the Women’s High Finals. Other Saint Lucia athletes Stephanie Lovell, Jahvid Best and Jordan Augier all made valiant efforts to advance or medal in their events. Levern’s achievement was historic as it marked the first time that a Saint Lucian athlete advanced to the finals, or finished within the top 10 of the athletes in their discipline. No small achievement given the level of the competition.
From the Ministry of the Miserable: Misery loves company. Compare Saint Lucia’s results with those of Barbados, who had 11 qualified athletes in Rio. The NOC of Barbados, which is much better funded than SLOC due to annual proceeds from a dedicated Lottery, did not win any medals, and their best result was the 20th place finish of Heptathlete Akita Jones. Not bad anyway.
From the Department of the Disappointed: The optics of Levern’s attempts at clearing 1.97m in the finals, a height she has achieved only once in her career, in 2010, were excruciating to the long-suffering fans and followers in Saint Lucia, but those that understand the sport know why high jumpers do this from time to time. Think of how Levern must have felt. She came so close to a medal, she could taste it, and she has since proven her pedigree in the IAAF Diamond League, by coming second overall to Ruth Beitia, who won the Gold in Rio. Again, epic.
From the Cabinet of the Critics: Every four years, after the Summer Olympics are done and dusted, the cynics and armchair critics publicly pronounce why their Country’s athletes did not do as well as hoped, and blame it on the IOC, the NOC, the Country and anyone else they can find to criticize. One of the perennial comments is that none of these entities provide sufficient support to their athletes while spending millions on themselves. There is some truth in this.
One such critic was Nick Filmore an award-winning investigative reporter and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Writing in his blog on Huff Post on August 19th he declared that “Athletes Pay the Price For Rampant Olympic Committee Spending” and “both the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) and the IOC are guilty of greedily spending millions of dollars on themselves while struggling athletes scrambled for a few bucks to get to Rio”. Perennial parables that perpetuate urban legends that are not entirely factual. Nick’s allegation about the COC wasteful spending in 2015 is factual, as the then COC President, Marcel Aubut, was trying to impress stakeholders as part of a future bid for the Olympic Winter Games in Quebec City. He has since been replaced as President by Tricia Smith, an Olympian with a much greater focus on the welfare of athletes. Canada’s results in Rio were an improvement on prior Olympics.
There are numerous other critics, many of whom are current or former athletes. Google Daley Thompson and Deidra Dionne, both of whom wrote open letters to Thomas Bach, President of the IOC. A common theme is insufficient support for athletes and lavish spending by the IOC. There must be some degree of accuracy in what they say, but there are also misconceptions and overstatements, which no-one from the IOC seems to have pointed out. Permit me to address some of these.
And the main reason that I do so, is that some of my Facebook friends, who are involved in Sports in Saint Lucia have shared the article by Nick Filmore without any comment. This suggests that they are in full agreement. In addition, one of the faceless men (or women) of Bravos has referred to the same article in an unsigned post on St. Lucia Sports Online on September 2. This post, titled “Follow the Money: The truth behind Levern’s Performance” suggests that both the IOC and SLOC waste money on themselves while not supporting our athletes. This is why she did not medal.
The post claims that “we are yet to see any transparent information of how much money is spent annually on payments to St. Lucia Olympic Committee members who travel around the world yearly, in comparison to the amount that is spent on local athletes with the talent to perform on an international level” and echoes Nick Fillmore’s rant about the salary of the IOC President, and the per diems paid to IOC Members attending the Olympic Games. Others have since shared this post, and many of the comments on FB are blithely supportive. There seem to be some political innuendo aimed at the President of SLOC, Fortuna Cathelina Belrose, but I won’t go there. She’s a big girl and can respond to these comments if she feels fit.
To my Friends on Facebook: Let’s follow the money trail and fact check some of these allegations. Before even dealing with the money, it would really help if the writer got his facts right. He claims that “Despite the constant request to have Levern’s coach be present at her event, her coach Wayne Norton, had to pay his own way to get to Rio. The St. Lucia Olympic Committee did not spend money on what should be considered a basic request. In addition to this, not even coach Norton’s accreditation was provided by the St. Lucia Olympic” False.
Levern’s personal coach is in fact Petros Kyprianou, the University of Georgia’s head coach of track and field, and he was very much in Rio. SLOC accredited the personal coaches of all of our athletes (except perhaps Jordan, who had Jamie), and Levern was given the first choice for her coach to be at the Games with her. Turns out that Petros had already been accredited by another NOC, but Levern had access to him throughout the Games. I sat in the seats behind where she and Jeannelle were jumping, and watched as they both chatted with their personal coaches between jumps. Kenson, get your contributors to check their facts before you print their articles.
As far as support is concerned, all of SLOC’s athletes were fully supported, and benefitted from Olympic Solidarity scholarships. Most of the expenses for their preparation, and all of the expenses for their travel and accommodation in Rio were paid for by SLOC, using IOC funds. SLOC is a transparent organization, and prepares annual audited financial statements which are shared with the National Federations that make up the membership of SLOC, and with Government. The 2015 financial statements, which are about to be released, will show that SLOC accessed $1.7 million from the IOC and the Pan American Games Organization (PASO), and spent 86% of this on Programs and Activities, Games Expenditure and Sports Development. 7% or $122,000 was spent on administration, and the remaining 7% represented the surplus for the year.
The only salaried persons on SLOC are the Administrative Secretary (Greta), and a cleaner. All of the elected members of the Executive Committee are volunteers, and get no stipend for their services. 100% of the money for their travel and accommodation during the Games, or to other meetings and events during the year, is paid by the IOC or PASO. The funding for their travel is a reimbursement. If they do not travel, no money is paid to SLOC.
As far as support for the athletes, for every 1 athlete that qualifies for the Olympic Games, there are probably 20 that were unable to qualify. SLOC provides program support to the NFs for the preparation of all of these athletes. We could not simply give 100% to the athletes that actually qualify. The elite athletes get support from the Government of Saint Lucia, and the better known athletes like Levern and Jeannelle get some sponsorship from Flow, Digicel and other private sector companies. Is it enough? Of course not. They have personal and sports related expenses that requires support from their families and friends, but this no different to the 95% of the athletes of the world. Very few are as fortunate as Usain Bolt.
It is also important to understand that since we first attended the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, the total amount of funds received from the Saint Lucian taxpayer for assistance to athletes, including the preparation and attendance at Olympic Games is $0.00 – nada, zilch, zero. 100% comes from the IOC and PASO, without whose support we would not even have the elite athletes that we do. Give some credit to the volunteers at the SLOC that access the funds and organize the programs for our sportsmen and women, and spare a thought for the thousands of Saint Lucian athletes over the years that were not able to get scholarships to Universities in the USA, were not able to qualify for the Olympic Games, cannot get sponsorships and endorsements and will not be able to turn professional.
As far as the IOC is concerned, see the IOC Factsheet dated July 2014 on this post below that graphically shows IOC Revenues and Revenue Distribution on an annual basis. The IOC distributes 90% of its revenue to organizations throughout the Olympic Movement in order to support the staging of the Olympic Games and to promote the worldwide development of sport. $735 million was provided by Olympic Solidarity since 2013 for NOCs like SLOC. The IOC retains 10% of Olympic revenue for the operational and administrative costs of governing the Olympic Movement including the funding of the Olympic Foundation. This would include the allowance of US$251,000 to President Bach, and the per diems paid to IOC Members during the Games.
Mr. Bach spends 95% of his time running the IOC, a multi-million-dollar organization, and his allowance or salary pales in comparison with the Euro 1.5 million that the President of FIFA gets annually. The IOC produces financial and other information to the public that makes it the most transparent of all international sporting organizations, and yet people still call them crooked? Sure, they had their scandals back in the late 1990’s over the Salt Lake Winter Games, but since then, reforms and governance policies adopted, especially the Agenda 2020 recommendations adopted in 2014, ensure that they have avoided the recent scandals that have almost destroyed FIFA and the IAAF over the last year.
Interestingly, if you included the total allowance and perks given to the President, as well as the per diems paid to Members in Rio, on an annual basis this would be less than US$2 million. If 100% of that expenditure was instead shared with the 205 NOCs, on an annual basis, it would give them an extra US$10,000 per year for support programs. If that was given directly to the 11,203 athletes that participated in the Games in Rio, each would get $179 bucks a year. Would that have bought us a medal?
Don’t get me wrong, neither the IOC or SLOC are perfect, As Alan Abrahamson, the award-winning sportswriter of 3 Wire Sports writes – “The Olympic movement is itself full of imperfections. This is natural. We are all human, and we are flawed. All the more so the International Olympic Committee. Yet a Games produces a moment — 17 days, really — when athletes from all over the world, young people in the main, gather and don’t kill each other. This is not meant to be glib. The timeline of human history is replete with conflict over connection. The Olympics provide a way and a means for all of us to explore the things we have in common rather than exploiting our differences”.
From the Heart of the Hopeful: Our athletes need more support. The IOC has to do more for the clean athletes, and ensure that cheats do not deprive them of a chance for glory. Maybe the IOC can look at providing all athletes at the Games with a per diem, but it would not be cheap. If all the 11,203 athletes at the Games in Rio given a US$500 per diem for the 17 days of competition, the total cost would be approximately US$80 million. Probably well worth it given the total cost of the Games, and the fact that, as in Rio, it is the athletes that make the Games what they are.
The NOCs of the Caribbean set up a company called Caribbean Broadcasting Inc (CBI). in 2012 and purchased the broadcasting rights for the Games in Rio for US$2.5 million. CBI then worked with ESPN to produce the feed, and through sponsorships with FLOW and others, provided a broadcast of the Games like never before. Sportsmax upped the ante and outbid CBI for the 2018 Winter Games and the 2020 Summer Games. CBI lost out, but hopefully Sportsmax will provide a package as we did this year. The NOCs will probably lose their investment in CBI, but it was worth it.
And to the sportswriters and concerned citizens in Saint Lucia – join a club, volunteer your time to assist the athletes and the administration of the National Federations. Get yourselves elected to the Executive Committee of the NF, and then run for a position on the Executive Committee of SLOC, maybe even that of President. Spend time assisting the NOC, the country and the region, and try to get elected to PASO, the CGF or the IOC. Believe me, it’s worth it, and I’m not just talking about the per diems.