David Owen ©ITG

December 31 will bring a seismic moment for the International Olympic Committee (IOC): after 44 years, Richard William Duncan Pound will cease to be a full IOC member, having passed the applicable age-limit of 80.

For those of us who spend our lives monitoring this strange organisation, his departure (albeit presumably "upstairs" to the ranks of honorary members) will be like Jack Welch leaving General Electric, or Lord Reith departing the British Broadcasting Corporation, or Pierre Trudeau stepping down as Prime Minister of Pound's native Canada.

It will be like these noted exits except for one thing - Pound has never been the IOC's top dog. 

He will instead have to content himself with an Olympic epitaph as the most important member in the 128-year history of sport’s most exclusive club not to have been installed as President.

Since being inducted into the IOC, appropriately enough in Athens in 1978, Pound's influence has been felt everywhere, from transforming the body’s financial fortunes, to weeding out corruption to spearheading the fight against doping.

He has been a frequent and valued interlocutor during my over 20 years of covering the Movement, often over a glass, be it at Lausanne's swanky Palace Hotel or the Bricklayer's Arms pub in London.

Ironically, the first time our paths crossed was during what I imagine was his lowest week as an IOC member, at the 2001 IOC Session in Moscow, where he tried for the Presidency, but lost out to the polished Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge.

Richard William Duncan Pound was inducted into the IOC in Athens in 1978 ©Getty Images
Richard William Duncan Pound was inducted into the IOC in Athens in 1978 ©Getty Images

The outspokenness which appealed to the likes of me is probably one of the reasons he lost this election, as was his willingness to undertake the tough jobs with which the wily Juan Antonio Samaranch often entrusted him during his 20 years as IOC President.

Sir Craig Reedie, who would go on to follow one of the trails blazed by Pound as President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, was also in Moscow and remembers that the Canadian was "crestfallen".

Writing in Delivering London’s Olympic Dream, his excellent new memoir, Reedie opines, "There was little doubt that his track record as chair of several high-profile ad hoc committees, in which he had done much of Samaranch’s 'dirty work', had counted against him".

It was my original intention to mark the end of Pound’s time as a full IOC member by writing a profile, and I approached him with this aim in mind.

Typically, however, his responses to my many questions were so direct and so thought-provoking that it seems preferable to reproduce them verbatim.

What follows is the first half of a question-and-answer-style interview, which was conducted via email. 

1. 44 years: if you had the chance, would you do it again?

Yes, for certain. All of the underlying values and reasons for my earlier work and subsequent joining of the IOC still exist.

There were initially two main reasons for becoming involved: the first was that if you drink from a well created by others (the volunteers who supported sport and athletes), after finishing competition, you have a moral obligation to put back in at least as much as you drew from the well and the second was to help make it possible for other athletes to have as much fun as I had during my competitive years.

The more I did, the more I enjoyed it and I think I was reasonably successful, although not without occasional bumps in the road. But, in the process, we developed several major initiatives and programs that have produced some interesting outcomes, both organisational and economic, for the Olympic Movement.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, left, often entrusted Richard Pound with difficult jobs during his 20 years as IOC President ©Getty Images
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, left, often entrusted Richard Pound with difficult jobs during his 20 years as IOC President ©Getty Images

2. Is there one big decision in all that time you regret, or would have done differently?

Probably several… 

One in particular was, against my better judgment, accepting the "assurances" of Kéba MBaye that Jean-Claude Ganga was a leopard who had changed his spots, with the result that I did not continue to object to his becoming a member of the IOC.  MBaye was wrong and I was wrong. Ganga was one of the IOC members very much at the centre of, inter alia, the Salt Lake City scandal. He was expelled, for good reasons, in 1999.

I was disappointed to have been ineffective in persuading the Canadian Government not to boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and, in my dual role as then President of the COC, in not being able to persuade the COC members themselves to resist the call for a boycott. 

The latter aspect was particularly annoying because all the winter federations (who had had their Lake Placid Games) voted against Moscow participation and, when I was in Moscow for the IOC Session, several of the summer sports officials who had voted against participation were present with a holier-than-thou attitude that they had a responsibility to their IFs. 

I left Moscow after the IOC Session, but before the Games started, since I did not think it proper, in my second capacity as President of the NOC, to be there if our athletes were not permitted to participate.

We took far too long to bring the USOC to heel in respect of television negotiations and sponsorships because Samaranch did not like confrontation. This carried over into the Rogge Presidency and in 2009, European IOC members, mainly with IF connections, maneuvered to ensure that Chicago (arguably the best 2016 candidate) was eliminated in the first round of voting and we ended up with the disastrous choice of Rio de Janeiro.

I thought we were generally too weak in dealing with governance matters of IFs in the Olympic context, including poor or corrupt judging.  The public ended up thinking the Olympics were crooked and did not understand that the IFs are responsible for the organisation of each sport at the Games, not the IOC itself.  Early disciplinary proceedings, even if only with a couple of IFs, would have sent a message that would be understood by all IFs. We seem to have drunk the KoolAid of IF "autonomy", which needs to be earned and not assumed as a divine right.

Perhaps the one time when I was at serious odds with the IOC's position was in relation to the divulgations of Russian doping programs and their implementation. There was a golden opportunity for the IOC to send a message to the entire world, sporting and otherwise, that no country, no matter how important, is entitled to flaunt the rules.  

The IOC ignored the McLaren Report, complained that it came too close to the Rio de Janeiro Games, and essentially dismissed it as a collection of mere allegations, before appointing its own commissions, only one of which (the disciplinary one) was capable of dealing that portion of the subject matter. I paid the price for publicly expressed opposition to the IOC's decisions, through my removal as chairman of OBS, as director of OCS and from the Legal Affairs Commission.

There were a few other disappointments, but one has to choose in which ditches one is prepared to die.

The IOC ignoring the McLaren Report on Russian doping for Rio 2016 was something Richard Pound would have done differently ©Getty Images
The IOC ignoring the McLaren Report on Russian doping for Rio 2016 was something Richard Pound would have done differently ©Getty Images

3. The IOC/Movement has lived fairly handsomely from broadcast/sponsorship revenues for the bulk of that time - thanks in large part to deals you worked on. Do you think this business model still has legs? If broadcast rights do run out of steam - and I suppose much depends on the post-2032 US deal - what would you advise colleagues to do? Do you regard any potential 'new revenue sources' as especially promising?

I think it does. Both the broadcast rights and sponsorship support mechanisms still work well. 

For broadcasting there is no current alternative to real-time mass distribution of the Games signal. Interactive media is essentially a matter of either ancillary programming (which is why we initially awarded such rights to the television rights-holders in each territory), or individual "production" that lacks both the quality of OBS-OCS-type professionalism and the "reach" provided by the broadcasters. 

Sponsors continue to look for value-added co-branding opportunities, with ethical and social impact. I do not see significant diminution in that, so long as our own ethical values remain intact. 

That said, technology will continue to develop and we will need to be able to adapt to take advantage of new developments and, where possible to monetise them.

4. You once wrote that your top three IOC Presidents would be Coubertin, Samaranch and Brundage. Does that remain your opinion? If so, where have Rogge and Bach fallen short? If not, what qualities have led you to add Rogge and or Bach to this podium? 

Well, time marches on and I think that Bach is certainly trending toward inclusion and if one were to "modernise" the list a bit, my inclination would be to recognise de Coubertin as the de facto founding President and probably to add Bach to the "medal" category. He has wrestled with some pretty tough issues during his Presidency so far.

With respect to Rogge, you can see an IOC tendency to "rest" between dominant (especially long-serving) Presidents: Killanin followed Brundage, leaving a far superior de Beaumont to the side and Rogge followed Samaranch, who had dramatically increased the level and quality of the IOC’s international role and influence within and outside the Olympic Movement generally. The same scenario may well be repeated when Bach’s Presidency finishes. One post-Bach challenge will be whether the IOC will break its history of choosing as Presidents only white males, all but one from Europe.

The IOC has never had a female President ©Getty Images
The IOC has never had a female President ©Getty Images

5. What have you aimed to do in your latest role as doyen? Do you feel you have achieved this objective?

I have tried to be supportive of generally good efforts to advance the IOC's agenda and continue to express what we are doing in terms that the public can understand and in language that does not simply parrot the official "line".

In my closing remarks at IOC Sessions, I try to identify some of the things of which we can be proud, some of the things we need to think about for the future, and the changing nature of the IOC members' role in the face of an increasingly able and active administration. 

The IOC members as such no longer implement policy (as I did, for example in television and sponsorship activities). They are more removed from implementation and are more like directors overseeing the work of the Executive Board - without, however, access to all the background information and strategic considerations, nor meaningful involvement in the formation or assessment of policy.

6. President Bach has centralised power over the past nine years. Was this inevitable, as the world moves ever faster? Are there pitfalls he needs to be aware of and avoid falling into?

The kitchen table management days for the IOC have come and gone. The complexity of the issues to be managed requires a really professional series of skill sets and an ability on the part of the administration not only to carry out policy but also to formulate and propose it for consideration by the Executive Board. That new organisational style necessarily leads to centralisation of power.

If there are pitfalls, most can be avoided (or at least mitigated) by ensuring that there is a sufficient degree of transparency within the organisation and a willingness to encourage genuine input and discussion - not merely obsequious agreement - within the membership, even if there is a degree of push-back with respect to certain elements. (I am reminded of an observation by U.S. General George Patton that "if we are all thinking the same thing, none of us is thinking.") 

Thomas Bach's management approach has been criticised often ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach's management approach has been criticised often ©Getty Images

7. Is the level of illicit drug use in sport declining? How can one tell?

I think that with the possible (perhaps likely) exception of those athletes at the very top of the heap, yes. Being able to get at the entourages is critical here, since many of them depend on the success of the "stars" for their own well-being, a mind-set which may extend to the public authorities, as we have seen with Russia, although such conduct is by no means limited to Russia.

The ability of WADA to investigate and report to a Conduct Review Committee has been a significant driver in the direction of better Code compliance. CAS has been spotty and arbitrators have a tendency to think of themselves as enlightened legislators rather than to apply the Code as adopted by WADA.

Independent sport integrity units have performed some very good work.

8. Given your long experience in the anti-doping field, are there any further reforms you would advocate? (Stiffer penalties, for example; or a shorter list of prohibited substances focusing on the most harmful chemicals?)

I don’t have a personal issue with a longer list. There is pretty careful consideration whenever something is added or removed and the sanctions can be set to deal with the varying degrees of impact. 

Regarding stiffer sanctions, we run up against legislation (especially in Europe) that may deem sanctions to exceed acceptable limitations of a human rights nature.  We only got to the current 4-year ban after we were able to establish that a good steroid programme can last for four or five years. In addition, despite lots of lip service from within the sport authorities, I am far from convinced that there is much enthusiasm for stiffer sanctions - they want the best players on the field of play as often as possible…

An example of a possible useful adjustment: There is a game being played with respect to missed tests. The whereabouts requirement is a necessary element for any robust out-of-competition testing program. When a test is missed, there is currently an elaborate process of notification that takes far too much time. 

Quite often, an athlete may well be where he/she promised to be, but may not wish to be tested (presumably out of concern that a sample provided on that occasion might well be positive) and deliberately does not answer the door. The WADA director general (or some other designated official) should be able to - where such conduct may reasonably be suspected as deliberate (for example the Doping Control Officer may know perfectly well that the athlete is there, but is not responding) - authorise short-circuiting the process.  

If, on Day 1, it is suspected that such conduct is deliberate, the official should be able to obtain permission to test on Day 2 and if that test is missed, to test on Day 3. Three missed tests are deemed to be the equivalent of a positive test. Appeals to CAS are, of course, available.

Richard Pound is far from convinced that there is much enthusiasm for stiffer anti-doping sanctions ©Getty Images
Richard Pound is far from convinced that there is much enthusiasm for stiffer anti-doping sanctions ©Getty Images

9. To what extent is WADA functioning as you envisaged/hoped? Was it the right move to set up the ITA?

In general, regarding WADA, yes, while recognising that we were inventing something entirely new, with no roadmaps and in a less than enthusiastic environment. The collection of fiefdoms among the IFs had major reservations about an independent organisation overseeing matters and conduct relating to doping. To some extent, the same reservations extended to at least some of the public authorities as well - you can imagine some of the countries on such a list.

WADA was permitted to rely on other investigations, but was not granted the authority to conduct its own investigations until 2015, some 16 years after it was created. (The first was the Independent Commission regarding athletics in Russia, which I chaired, which led to suspension of RUSADA, removal of the accreditation of the Moscow laboratory, discharge of the lab director and suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation.)

Nor was WADA able to determine or impose sanctions - it could only report an anti-doping rule violation to the responsible sport or public authority, which might or might not be willing to act. This feature was part of the price of achieving the original consensus. That has finally evolved to the point that WADA can now propose a sanction, which can be accepted or refused. If refused, there is an automatic referral to CAS for final disposition.

The ITA is something of a mixed bag.  Philosophically, it is based on the premise that those responsible for promoting a sport cannot be entrusted with enforcement of the rules governing it. I do not agree with the premise, but so long as the rules are enforced, I suppose there is no harm in delegating that operational (but not ultimate) responsibility to an arm’s-length organisation, provided that it is given the necessary authority, information and resources to be effective. 

When created, the ITA had a somewhat messy beginning, against the background of the IOC's refusal to acknowledge and respond to the 2016 McLaren Report, and was positioned as a response to unspecified governance failures on the part of WADA.

insidethegames will publish the second half of this interview in the same slot next week.