Marcel Aubut Promising Brave New Olympic World
Quick question: Who’s been president of the Canadian Olympic Committee since 2001?
|THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO|
|Marcel Aubut is the first French-Canadian to run the COC.|
It’s unlikely that anyone but the most devoted Olympic junkie would know the answer to that one – Michael Chambers.
One imagines that’s going to change under the reign of former Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut, who was elected as president on the weekend in Vancouver. Aubut’s not shy about saying he expects it to change.
“It will,” said Aubut in a telephone interview after winning the post on Saturday. “I am different person. I have the advantage to be already well known in the country as far as the other activities I did.”
Indeed, it’s that profile that may well prove to be Aubut’s greatest asset. It’s going to be a very tough road after the 2010 Winter Olympics, which is when he officially takes over the reins, in April to be exact.
And the changeover won’t happen sooner, says Aubut, despite speculation to that effect in this very same newspaper. Aubut insists he won’t be undercutting Chambers or current ceo Chris Rudge.
“Michael Chambers is there for the next year,” Aubut said. “Before I got elected, we talked and I said if I am elected, how are we going to operate? We agreed in five minutes how we will do it and there will be no problem there. We are good friends. We have 100 per cent of trust. It’s going to be a slow transition.”
Aubut also dismisses any suggestion he’s being driven by ego, declaring that it’s a lifelong passion for amateur sport – something he demonstrated during and after he had the Nordiques – that is his motivation. He said he’s been to the last 10 Olympics on his own dime.
“I am not doing it for power,” he said, before the first question was even asked, referring to speculation in this blog. “I had that all my life. I don’t want it anymore.”
Aubut has his backers. A couple of valued colleagues in the Quebec media believe that Aubut is going to be really good for the COC and amateur sport, that he’s the right guy at the right time and will bring a business-like approach long needed by a group that could be run a lot leaner.
Paul Henderson, former Olympic sailor who headed Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics, has never been one to hold back his criticism – though there are times when even his friends wished he would. Henderson, who’s always battled for the athletes, is another Aubut supporter.
“Yes he is driven outspoken and ambitious,” wrote Henderson in an email. “Most good athletes have the same personality. The COC and Sport in Canada needs an enema led by a strong willed advocate who is politically connected. ‘The meek will not inherit the earth!’”
Aubut is the first French-Canadian to hold the post. It makes perfect sense that the balance of power in Canadian Olympic circles should shift to Quebec, which really is a shining example in so many ways in its support of athletes, from the financial side to the media coverage.
“One of my projects is to try to convince all the premiers to follow that example,” said Aubut.
What Aubut says makes a lot of sense. Let’s hope he’s able to follow through on his ambitious plans. He knows there’s a good chance sponsorship will dry up after 2010, which is why he will be working before and during the Games to get new deals signed while excitement is still high. He said he believes only two sponsors out of about 30 were re-signed after the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
“How come we were so excited for the chance to finish first in Vancouver because it’s home? What about the chance to finish first in Russia in four years? You believe in it or you don’t believe in it,” said Aubut, hitting the nail on the head.
“The problem with Canada is we just give a big shot and then we stop. We have to really show that we believe in sport as the means for the government to get the best return on the investment and make sure that the sport is the answer to a lot of things.
“We have to find a way to make a new agreement or a new deal with the government comparable to the other G8 countries. We are behind. There’s no reason that Canada should be behind. That’s going to be one of my jobs, to make sure we keep our high performance programs in place, summer and winter.
“Second, I want also to also help the team sports and the Pan Am sports to survive, because they don’t get any money right now. Under my leadership, I don’t want to see sport disappear. I want to see sport having good opportunities when the job is done. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Aubut, who likes to remind people he staged the highly successful Rendezvous ’87 hockey series between the NHL all-stars and the Soviet national team in Quebec City during the NHL all-star break, believes the key is to consistently bring major international events to Canada.
“The problem in Canada is the focus of sport is only when we have major events. That has to stop. The way to stop that is to have a lot of major events. If you have lots of major events, you have some kind of permanency of the focus on sport. That’s why I really want the COC to being behind to fish for many international events. Many of them.”
It should be an interesting ride.