“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.
“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.”
There are a lot of Canadian Olympic insiders worried about the prospect of former Quebec Nordiques owner and CEO Marcel Aubut winning the election as president over Tricia Smith, a four-time Olympic rower who’s been involved with the COC at several levels.
Aubut is more of an outsider and there are concerns he’s doing it more out of personal ambition and a chance to eventually join the blue blazer brigade with the IOC. Those opposing him believe he’s making a lot of promises to organizations to get their votes that he can’t possibly fulfill once he gets in. They fear he’ll be reckless at a time when the COC needs to take a cautious approach, and that Tricia Smith represents stability at a time when it's needed.
Those who are hoping that Aubut succeeds believes he’s the perfect choice because of his business connections at a time when the COC will need to create new revenue streams and he’s a strong leader at a time when leadership is going to be crucial. It’s expected that Aubut would make the COC a more streamlined, business-like operation. Critics think too much money is being wasted with offices in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver.
The unfortunate part is the vote won’t be based on what’s best for Canadian sport, but rather the federations and officials with votes tend to vote on what’s best for them personally. There are all kinds of blocs and cliques – all the team sports have banded together, for example – and they will vote for the leader they feel best serves their objectives. In their view, that leader will also be best for sport but not necessarily so.
Make no mistake about it, there are perilous times ahead. The CBC cuts could be devastating for amateur sport. Think of the Canadian alpine team without its races being televised. Figure skating, swimming and track and field also face a big cut in their coverage. These are the mainstream sports. What about the lesser lights who get little to no coverage as it is?
Don’t expect CTV and TSN to fill the gap. They’re didn’t even aggressively pursue the rights to world championships in the big winter sports -- and they’re broadcasting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
The taps are going to turn off in so many ways after 2010. You can understand why people are scared about the future.
Hard to say if Aubut’s got this one in the bag, but he’s got a lot of support, notably from Olympic heavyweight Dick Pound and from Jean Dupre, boss of Speed Skating Canada and a current member along with Aubut of the COC’s executive board.
Olympic insiders say that if Aubut gets the post, he will try to install Dupre as the new ceo of the COC if Chris Rudge steps down from the post as it’s anticipated after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Michael Chambers will remain as president through the 2010 Games.
Dupre, meanwhile, has some fires on the home front to put out leading to the 2010 Winter Olympics. While the Canadian long track speed skating team is a powerhouse, there is some major dissension in the ranks that threatens to derail a juggernaut team 11 months out frm the Games. Speed Skating Canada is promising action, but there are those who doubt it has the stomach to take the action necessary.
Lobbying and backroom deals will determine the COC elections, as it always does in these situations, as opposed to it being decided by the best choice for the athletes. The most glaring example of that was when Chambers was chosen in 2001 over Doug Hamilton, who’d done an excellent job as an unpaid volunteer in building Canada’s rowing program to prominence and was the clear choice of the athletes as a leader.
Hamilton was a rare breed, someone who cared only about getting the job done right, was effective at doing it, and wanted no personal credit. No wonder he didn’t get elected.
John Furlong, ceo of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, chose to back Chambers at that time and this time is behind Smith, a lawyer who has been involved in the 2010 Games. His toughest adversary in lobbying will be Pound, who himself was opposed to Furlong getting his ceo post.
Should be interesting. Smith is also up for election as vice president if she should fail to get the president’s post. For Aubut, it is all or nothing.
Owl-val Revisted: Photographer Mike Sturk, one of the nicest guys you can meet, has followed up his great pic of the barn owl flying around in the roof of the Richmond Olympic Oval with another of a barn owl in its natural environment, also shot in the same area.
Mike was actually interviewed by the Richmond Review about what it was like to photograph a barn owl in the Oval. He called it “serendipity.” Most photographers can’t even pronounce it, let alone spell it. (A cheap shot, but one my photo buddies have come to expect from me.)
A two-time National Newspaper Award winner, Randy Starkman covered Team Canada at the Olympic Games since 1984 in Sarajevo. His passion for his work comes across on this blog. Randy passed away on April 16th, 2012.
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