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June 03, 2020

Do not flinch in the face of adversity

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement that phase three of the reopening of the T&T…
June 03, 2020

An open letter to sport #BlackLivesMatter

Citizens across the world have mobilised to stand up for equal rights, for freedom, fairness,…
June 02, 2020

Rolf Bartolo - A man of integrity

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May 31, 2020

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THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (IOC) ANNOUNCED TODAY THE COMPOSITION OF ITS COMMISSIONS FOR 2020. THE…
May 28, 2020

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May 26, 2020

OpEd: The IOC Stands in Solidarity With All Athletes and All Sports

Much has been written lately about the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s finances. Some of these…

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Louise Martin's election here as the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) capped a productive couple of weeks for British sport administrators, following, as it did, Sebastian Coe beating Sergey Bubka to become head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in Beijing last month.

In fact, British officials have not held this many positions of influence for probably more than 50 years. Besides Martin and Coe, Sir Craig Reedie is President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as being vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, and Sir Philip Craven heads the International Paralympic Committee.

Brian Cookson and Kate Caithness, meanwhile, are Presidents of the International Cycling Union and World Curling Federation respectively, meaning Britons head three International Federations on the Olympic programme.

Britain's reputation for producing able sports administrators has been largely restored by the success of the last two major events staged in the country. In fact, both Coe and Martin each used their close involvement in the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as the launchpads for their respective campaigns, although neither admitted they were planning to stand at the time, of course.

The extensive travelling to meet and greet foreign officials during the build-up to each Games proved pivotal in their eventual success. Martin, the vice-chair of Glasgow 2014, visited 64 Commonwealth countries and territories as the Queen's Baton Relay toured the globe last year, often spending less than 24 hours in each country, although she apparently never missed the opportunity to teach her international friends the dashing white sergeant. Coe, meanwhile, undertook another world tour in the build-up to the final IAAF vote, estimating he travelled 700,000 kilometres.

Of the two elections, Martin's victory was arguably the more unexpected. It is notoriously difficult to unseat a sitting President of an organisation, especially when you are a woman in a man's world.

Prince Imran's fate was probably sealed, we have now come to realise, when at the CGF General Assembly in Glasgow in 2013 he backed a plan to relocate the organisation's headquarters from London to Kuala Lumpur in his home country Malaysia. The crassness of how it was handled shocked the CGF members, who were appalled to hear on the morning of the Assembly that redundancy notices had already been issued to the staff members working in London before they had even had the opportunity to discuss and vote on the proposal.

The plan was defeated as opposition, led by African and Caribbean countries, rallied strongly against the idea. The Commonwealth Games may be dismissed by its critics as a sporting event that celebrates British imperialism but those countries who are part of the CGF are proud of being part of a Movement that has its roots in London and its links with the British monarchy. They did not want those links cut. It was a terrible error of judgement by Prince Imran.

Prince Imran pointed out during his presentation here that the idea to move the headquarters from London was not his alone and had been taken by the CGF Executive Board - of which Martin was a member as the honorary secretary - following a study carried out in 2012 by professional services firm KPMG. They had identified Kuala Lumpur as the ideal place to relocate too after considering a number of factors, including tax efficiency and the costs of overheads. But his refusal to acknowledge that, as President, he should take ultimate responsibility for what happened continued to anger delegates here.

This, coupled with the refusal by Prince Imran,  the second son of the late Tuanku Jaafar, the former monarch of Negeri Sembilan, one of the 13 states of Malaysia, to lobby during the campaign reinforced the belief among many of the Commonwealth Games Associations (CGA) that he was aloof and out of touch with their needs.

It was certainly an eye-opener, having come here from the IAAF election where Member Federations - ranging from the smallest, such as Nauru, to the biggest, like Russia - were lobbied hard and relentlessly right up to the last minute by teams representing Coe and Bubka. In every election, those with a vote like to be made to feel like they are valued, something Prince Imran failed to do spectacularly here. Starting your presentation by apologising for not having shaken everyone's hand is not going to make anyone feel special.

Prince Imran's dislike of "politicking", as he called it, left an open field for Martin, a former swimmer who reached the finals of both the 100 and 200 metres backstroke at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. to exploit. Her manifesto, "Unlocking Our Potential", was produced with the help of Vero Communications, the strategic communications agency set-up by former London 2012 head of communications Mike Lee, who had worked so hard on the successful campaigns of Coe and Cookson. She also received assistance from Government agency UK Sport, who are committed to helping Britons get elected into positions of power.

Martin's familiarity with the CGA members and the ease and warmth with which she moved among them, having been secretary of the CGF since 1999, enabled the Scotswoman to hoover up votes like a human Dyson. Even up to a few minutes before the delegates came to cast their votes, it was claimed the election was too close to call. In the end, though, Martin won so easily that one CGA was told the CGF would not be publishing how many votes each candidate received for fear of "humiliating" Prince Imran.

Prince Imran is a good man and was incredibly gracious in his defeat afterwards. It  was painful to watch him, though, having to continue to chair the rest of the Assembly with Martin sat to his left. In the end, he really appeared to have little to offer the CGF apart from a half-hearted plea to be allowed to continue so he could oversee the implementation of "Transformation 2022", the Commonwealth Games' version of Agenda 2020, the roadmap adopted by the International Olympic Committee.

Just like Coe did during the IAAF election, Martin is promising to help provide financial support for the voters who backed her and increase revenues, including recruiting blue-chip companies to sponsor the CGF. It is easy to make these promises but now both must deliver. Martin's task will surely be the harder. At least Coe has a product everyone understands - even if it is one slightly tarnished at the moment.

Martin, however, is trying to sell something few people outside the club understand, even if the statistics are staggering. The Commonwealth covers more than 11,566,870 square miles, almost a quarter of the world land area, spans all the continents and has an estimated population of 2.328 billion, nearly a third of the world population.

On the face of it, you would have thought companies would be queuing up to be associated with an event that reaches so much of the world. The truth is, to most people, the Commonwealth Games' association with colonialism makes it seem an outdated idea. Martin's target will be to make it appear relevant in a changing world, including appealing to cities to host the event so the CGF does not end up with anther situation like it did here when Durban was the only bidder for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

If she can get sponsors and cities dancing to her tune with as much enthusiasm as she got potential voters when she taught them the dashing white sergeant, then she will go down in the history books for being more than the first female President of the CGF.

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