21 October 2005

Is he really that clueless?

For those of you who follow international cycling, the name Hein Verbruggen is pretty familiar -- for years, he ruled the UCI, cycling's governing body, with an iron fist and a pigheaded attitude. While not all of his reforms have been bad, his imposing style and sheer lack of caring for constituents has left an indelible scar on cycling forever.

Verbruggen has moved on to a position in the IOC: He is currently the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission. As such, he has a unique perspective on the ins and outs of the decision to remove the kilo and the 500m time trials from the Beijing games.

Ostensibly to make way for BMX events, the removal of the kilo and its sister event has created a major outcry in the international community. The kilo has been part of the modern Olympics since the first staging in 1896, and consistently provides some of the most explosive, exciting racing seen at the velodrome. In fact, the Beijing authorities themselves are not happy that the events have been removed -- they have been working for years to build their track program, and may have legitimate medal contenders, especially on the women's side.

So what does Mr. Verbruggen say to them, in an attempt to placate their disapproval? Speaking at the 10th Chinese Games -- in China, no less -- he says this:

"That was a good decision, even for China. How many Olympic gold medals has China won in the women's 500 meters and the men's one-kilometre time trial? None.

"Actually it is in some way a good decision for China. You have now BMX developing very rapidly, and the world championship will be held in Taiwan next year, and I see the level of BMX here at the National Games is really high, you got beautiful facilities and you still get other chances too."

Those who follow the sport have known for a long time just how confrontational Verbruggen can be. But now everyone is starting to get a clue, thanks to comments like this: he commits two extreme mistakes, by first questioning Chinese athletics, and then invoking an event in Taiwan as a reason that China should be happy.

Is he really that pigheaded? It's a wonder the Chinese authorities didn't ride him out on a rail! This is the guy "coordinating" their Olympics? What was he thinking? It's one thing to question Lance Armstrong in an insulting way, but to speak in such a brazen and offending manner to the host of the next Games, not to mention a country that in many ways holds the keys to the future of the planet, is just ludicrous.

I understand what he was trying to say, but there are definitely better ways to say it. Sure, he speaks the truth, but to a country -- and a society -- that puts a huge value on presentation, Verbruggen's inability to shape his message to his audience must have ruffled more than a few feathers. We hold our sporting heroes to a high standard -- shouldn't the administrators face the same scruitiny?

1 comment:

David Johnsen said...

Yeah, it's like, "Aw heck, you guys weren't going to win anyway!" Tact was never Verbruggen's strong suit. And to think, this is coming from a guy whose goal at the UCI for years was "mondialization"--developing the sport around the world (in that regard, I think the ProTour was a Great Leap Backward (sorry, I couldn't resist the China reference)). As for Taiwan, perhaps Verbruggen could use a brief lesson in Asian politics. Sheesh, was he wearing a Chiang Kai-shek T-shirt, too?