Too quiet on the Olympic front

From Ed Hula, Editor, Around the Rings
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear the crash, is there any noise? It’s getting to be like that for the IOC.

Last week ended with a news blackout over the meeting of the IOC Evaluation Commission in Lausanne, the group reviewing the bid books of the 2016 candidate cities. While we were hardly expecting juicy details about the discussions to be revealed, the group came and went from Lausanne completely under the radar of the IOC media department, without even an innocuous statement about the importance of the meeting.

The selection of a host city for the Olympics may be the only decision of the IOC that regularly sparks broad interest from the media and the public. Yet it’s treated like some big secret.

And another tree in the IOC forest fell without a sound, this one on Friday in Marrakech. The occasion was the fourth edition of the biennial Athletes’ Forum organised by the IOC Athletes Commission. But the forum ends without a single word so far from the IOC on what might have been said by the athletes.

In fact, the only reference on the IOC website to the forum is a May 20 news release that fails to mention the dates or place for the event.

Athletes are the main protagonists of the Olympics; without them the Games cannot exist. It’s one thing to treat the media as unimportant followers of the Olympic movement. But trouble would seem to be on the horizon when the thoughts of athletes are relegated to the “when we get around to it” file.

If the IOC doesn’t care enough to tell the world about what it’s doing why should the world care? And with sagging interest and fading relevance to modern times, can the IOC afford to keep hiding its light under a bushel?

The observations come as the IOC prepares to welcome a new director of communications to headquarters in Lausanne. Mark Adams will assume his duties June 2. He is the first person with significant real-world experience as a journalist to hold the job. Before his current posting at the World Economic Forum, Adams spent years in TV news in London and Europe.

We can only hope that his experience will make him attuned to the needs of the working press who cover the IOC. Whether it’s starting press conferences on time or ensuring suitable working conditions for the media, Adams can make an early mark on his tenure by attention to little details like those.

But the IOC faces larger communications issues than media arrangements. Adams’ work with WEF would seem to be a good background for helping the IOC overcome its Information Deficit Disorder. While Adams has led the media arm of the WEF, its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, has become a media event each January, drawing some of the world’s top business and government leaders.

He led a staff in Geneva that’s bigger than what he’ll have in Lausanne. The size of the IOC media staff – just a handful – would seem to be one of the institutional barriers Adams will have to confront. Despite the IOC’s role as custodian and promoter one of the most recognised brands in the world, the size of the media team in Lausanne is puny compared to the attention owners of similarly known brands pay to their media operations.

And in the end, it’s all about transparency: letting the world have a clear picture of what’s taking place at the IOC. The British think tank One World Trust gives the IOC a score of 32 out of 100 in its 2008 Global Accountability Report. That’s near the bottom of the 30 NGOs surveyed.

While a department head for media can help the IOC put on its best face, he can only go as far as the leadership will allow. Let’s hope his bosses see the chance for the IOC to go far – and not let trees fall without notice. is a subscription website, operating out of Atlanta, that has been covering the inner workings of the Olympic movement over the past two decades. For details of how to subscribe, click here.

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