ROAD TOWN, Tortola, January 24, 2016 – Longstanding sport administrator Reynold ‘Rey’ O’Neal was honoured at a tribute evening here on Saturday.
The tribute evening was organised by the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee (BVIOC) to celebrate O’Neal’s lifelong work for the advancement of sports in the Virgin Islands and in the region.
He was presented with the IOC Trophy named in honour of Pierre de Coubertin – “150 Years, Pierre de Coubertin, Sport as a School of Life” in recognition of his outstanding efforts in promoting and encouraging the practice of sports in the the Caribbean, and for being an inspiration to all involved in sports.
O’Neal served as the first President of the BVIOC since its recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1982.
The tribute was attended by IOC member Austin Sealy, NACAC president and IAAF Council Member Victor Lopez, PASO and ANOC Council Member Keith Joseph and former NACAC president and IAAF vice president Amadeo Francis.
Address by Amadeo I. D. Francis at BVIOC Testimonial Dinner for Reynold S. O’Neal
Road Town, Tortola, B.V.I., January 23, 2016
I am indeed honored to have been invited to give the principal address at this fully merited tribute to the leadership of Rey O’Neal, a man who has contributed so much to the development and growth of sports in the British Virgin Islands (and indeed throughout the Caribbean). As a long-time friend and collaborator in at least one of the works that I have authored, namely the History of the Pan-American Junior Athletics Championships, I have also been indebted to him for his contributions in selecting the teams that represented the Americas at the IAAF World Cup in Athletics while I presided the Pan-American Athletics Commission.
And I could go on, including noting the number of statistical compilations on the top athletes in the Eastern Caribbean, identifying the most successful athletes of the OECS Diaspora, heralding the role of the Central American and Caribbean region in relay contests held over the years, and his invaluable contributions to the annual publication of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians of which he was a long-time distinguished collaborator, thus assuring that the performances of the athletes of his homeland, of the Eastern Caribbean and indeed of the entire Caribbean were duly recorded and recognized…long before the days of such super-stars as Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser, et al.
But tonight I wish to direct our attention to what has been happening in two major sports that are dominant in our area and which have brought to the surface illnesses that bedevil the management of sport in general; and draw some specific considerations to the attention of those who have inherited the leadership mantel of the man we celebrate tonight.
As my colleague Austin Sealy notes in his program remarks “these are troubling days for sport”.
Indeed, 2015 has been a horrible year for sport in general. For too long we have been bedeviled by accusations of corruption in cycling, baseball, swimming, etc., but the past year attention was focused on the scandals in two major sports, football (or soccer) and athletics (or track and field, as it is more commonly known in our area).
Let me synthesize what might otherwise possibly be a too detailed discussion for most of those present here tonight.
The sporting world, indeed the entire world was confronted in early October with graphic videos of key members of the governing body of world soccer (football) being arrested by the Swiss police in response to charges of corruption filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. This would involve leaders from throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean and occurred on the eve of the readily anticipated coronation of FIFA’s long standing president to an unprecedented fifth mandate. Shortly thereafter Sepp Blatter would recognize the realities facing him and would resign and step down.
Months after having presided over the election of his successor and an epic world championships in Beijing, where he had ben lionized for his 16 years of leadership at the helm of the governing body of Athletics, Lamine Diack would find himself in a Parisian prison facing charges of corruption relating to a one million–plus dollar payment from the Russian athletics federation for allegedly covering up charges against athletes that were guilty of violating the federation’s doping rules.
Two of the sporting world’s most prominent leaders — who had come to power in the closing years of the 20th century — would be departing the scene in disgrace, bringing shame and distrust to their sport.
In both instances, it became evident that the structures of governance within their federations had been distorted and had failed to assure the proper conduct of their sport. They would simultaneously bring down many of their collaborators and, in the case of athletics, raise questions as to how responsibly the elected representatives of the 214 member federations had fulfilled their mandate.
Today their successors are struggling to implement management reforms that would guarantee accountability, transparency and other critical elements of good governance.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound recently observed that “What we are going through now is like a tectonic shift…Sports organizations are coming to realize – voluntarily or involuntarily – that they can no longer operate outside of the larger social and legal orders”.
In the old days, sport was well outside of anything that governments focused on…they were all private organizations and they were kind of run informally much like clubs. Unfortunately many have tried to pretend that they can do so even in 2015—and they cannot, said Pound.
In short, 2015 was a year that left a sour taste for sports fans around the world, including right here in the Caribbean — but also offered some hope of a brighter future.
In a manner, what has been happening around us reminds me of the rude awakening that the IAAF and the IOC experienced in 1984 during the Olympic Games in Seoul when the Ben Johnson reality highlighted a problem that had for too long been ignored by both governing bodies and led to the Dubin enquiry, which chronicled the pervasiveness of doping in Canadian athletics with coach Charlie Francis proclaiming that doping was indeed widespread in our sport and was followed by a slew of activities aimed at containing the use of all kinds of stimulants to boost athletic performances.
It also reminded me of the situation the International Olympic Committee faced just decades later when the scandalous sale of votes of IOC members in the selection of venues for the Olympic Games was brought to a head at Salt Lake City and the IOC moved dramatically to introduce measures that would constrain its members and its leaders.
The probes by the World Anti-Doping Agency gravely undermined not only the federation but trust in the entire sport it oversees.
The schemes exposed by the US Department of Justice did not affect the outcome of football matches, but rather only the allocation of venues and the award of lucrative distribution and transmission contracts for the financial benefit of greedy elected officials.
On the other hand, the alleged wrongdoings of the IAAF raised the possibility that on-track results were corrupted by off-track criminality and that dopers may have robbed competitors of medals by paying the sports guardians to look the other way.
As four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson noted, “the corruption scandal that rocked athletics is worse than that which concerned soccer, as it punished clean athletes, depriving them of medals, prize monies and all the respect and benefits that accrue from being the best in your event.
Over the decades since the Ben Johnson debacle, I played a prominent role in IAAF Congresses pressing for extended or life-time bans for those who would utilize illicit substances to further their athletic ambitions. As a matter of fact, I turned out to be so out-of-pace with the general thrust of the international sports community, including the IOC, that my tenure as a member of the world governing body was abruptly brought to a close by president Lamine Diack, with whom I had served on the IAAF Council since 1976.
By the time I was ousted from the leadership circles of the IAAF, we had evolved from in-competition testing to out-of-competition testing, from urine samples and a world-wide network of accredited anti-doping laboratories, to what would become the profiling of athletes through blood samples that would contribute to the creation of what is known as the Athletes Biological Passport. This latter instrument was deemed a “game changer” in that it would alert the anti-doping entities on the systematic abuse of blood doping or EPO-related products and could reliably be used to identify and prosecute drug cheaters.
Until people at the head of the sample collecting federations chose to violate the trust that was implicit in being a part of the campaign to assure that only “clean” athletes would be allowed to compete in our events!
The investigatory report mandated by the World Anti-doping Agency states categorically that institutional, governance and cultural changes must be enacted by the IAAF to ensure that what happened under the watch of the former president can never happen again.
As it turned out, we were ahead of the game.
With the collaboration of several national federations, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Grenada and the U.S. Virgin Islands (among others), at the IAAF Congress in Beijing in August of last year we had taken the first steps in pursuing several critical changes in the governance structure of the IAAF. These initiatives culminated in the approval by a vast majority of the attendees at the IAAF Congress of amendments which would (1) limit a new president’s tenure to 12 years (three consecutive 4-year terms) and (2) cap the age (at 70) at which members might aspire to serve on the Council. We simultaneously (3) secured a provision that at least one of the four vice presidents would be a woman.
Since Beijing, in order to advance the cause of financial transparency in the operations of the IAAF, we have lobbied to (1) have the Council reveal the nature and amount of all emoluments received by their members, including the President, for their participation on the Council as well as (2) the publishing on the IAAF webpage of the annual financial statements, with all the accompanying notes and exhibits from the auditors.
But there are many more changes that will be necessary, many of which will supposedly be addressed in the proposed new statute that President Coe has promised.
More challenging may be the imperative to change the culture of the IAAF which permitted this behavior to become institutionalized. After almost four decades of absolute rulers (Nebiolo and Diack), it may be too easy for the incumbent to fall into the established routine where all power is centralized in the office of the president and where the relative infrequency of Council meetings and the level of information that is passed on to the members for their deliberation and decision is often so sparsed as to make it difficult for the members to do other than endorse the presentations and conclusions presented for their approval.
As a matter of fact, the first two meetings of the Council thus far were extremely abbreviated and the utilization of conference calls may become an excuse for Council ratification of decisions on which they individually and collectively have had far too little time to adequately evaluate.
What does all of this have to do with the Caribbean or more specifically the Olympic and sports governing bodies of the area?
The mess in CONCACAF is a stark reminder that the Caribbean is not exempt from corrupt individuals who hold senior positions in the sport governing bodies and are willing and anxious to seek personal benefit from that position.
But football (and possibly cricket) is uniquely profitable sporting endeavors in the Caribbean. And therefore may readily attract individuals with divided interests.
But, what about the rest of us?
As Dick Pound, the chairman of the investigatory panel stated, it is time for us all to recognize that we can no longer run our separate sporting bodies as personal fiefs but rather that we have a greater responsibility to the society at large. And they are beginning to ask more and more questions.
Increasingly, competitive sport is becoming more and more dependent on government aid and assistance, not only for the physical facilities where our sport is practiced, but also for grants and other assistance to enable us to stage events in our own territory and to underwrite the training and other expenses of the athletes who represent our countries in the international forums.
National and international governing bodies must, as a result, prepare themselves to be tested and evaluated by the highest standards of good governance, of accountability, of transparency. I am heartened by the initiatives already displayed by the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee and urge his colleagues throughout the Caribbean to follow in his example.
As part of the Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC, under the leadership of Thomas Bach has laid out a series of basic principles of good governance with which all the affiliated governing bodies are being urged to comply.
Mark my words: it will only be a matter of time before these recommendations will become mandates and requisites for the receipt of assistance and perhaps even participation in the Olympic Games.
The world of sport has involved markedly since Rey led the small delegation from the BVI which we welcomed at the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Championships in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1975; or since the group of athletes, coaches and officials, once again under the leadership of Mr. O’Neal, then the newly elected president of the Olympic Committee of the British Virgin Islands made their first initial appearance as an accredited Olympic team at the CAC Games in Havana, Cuba, a year later in the Pan American Games and finally in 1984 proudly marched into the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles.
Kudos to Rey and his colleagues who successfully brought his nation into the International Olympic community.
But times have changed dramatically since those heady days of early recognition and successes.
As Mr. Sealy states in his homage to Rey ONeal, “Everyone must be aware of the present serious challenges confronting the world of Olympic Sport. Persons like Rey are in short supply to provide the sound guidance and good unselfish leadership those sportsmen and sportswomen need to ensure they avoid the serious pitfalls currently attracting such unfavorable world headlines.”
I am sure that the message has been heard by those present at this meeting and that in honor to the founding president of this organization, there shall be a commitment to be ever more transparent, ever more accountable, and ever more responsive to the entities we serve and represent, be they athletes, coaches or the community in general.