“I’m regarded by the IOC’s inner circle as a dangerous nuisance and by the silent majority as a person prepared to push the executive board when necessary,” says the International Olympic Committee’s longest-serving member – its ‘doyen’, as he is now called.

Elected in 1978 at the age of just 36, Canada’s Dick Pound has never been afraid to speak his mind, a trait that probably cost him the presidency of the organisation, when he was beaten to the top job in 2001 by Belgium’s Jacques Rogge, regarded in hindsight (and perhaps even then) as a continuity or stability candidate after the barnstorming, sometimes controversial, reign of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Pound is famously seen, at least by journalists, as the
journalist’s friend because of his tendency always to tell it like it is,
regardless of the consequences. Does this mean he’s viewed as a traitor by his
peers, I ask? “Not a traitor,” he says carefully. “There’s some culture in North
America [of giving a straight answer to a straight question] and they’re not
used to this in other societies, and you’d [journalists] get nothing out of it.”

Then expanding on why he never shirks a difficult question,
Pound (who was twice an IOC executive board member and twice a vice-president,
but is currently neither), says: “The executive board has got to the point
where everything is unanimous. Nothing makes me more nervous than a stream of unanimous
decisions. Samaranch used to encourage discussion, which he saw as wide-ranging,
fulsome, healthy. He would say we’re not in a hurry. The only time the IOC tends
to make mistakes is when it acts too quickly.”

Is this a criticism of the incumbent president Thomas Bach?
It certainly sounds like it.

So would Pound describe himself as the conscience of the
IOC, I ask? “That would be presumptuous,” he replies. “I would like it to work
because its potential is so enormous and it makes me wonder how other people
don’t see it.”

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We’re speaking ahead of this week’s extraordinary session of the IOC in Lausanne, at which the IOC decides to proceed with the radical course set by the executive board of awarding both the 2024 and 2028 Olympics simultaneously to Paris and Los Angeles, though not necessarily in that order, at the (scheduled) session in Lima in September.

IOC president Thomas Bach with French president Emmanuel Macron ahead of the IOC Session

Pound has strong opinions on the plan (he has strong opinions on most things). “It can be
a good idea, if we get it right,” he says. “If candidates can agree on the
order, that’s perfect. Next best is if each declares itself neutral: if they
don’t win one [edition], they’ll be happy to take the other. If not, if it’s
‘arranged’ in some sort of way, the risk is that someone says they’re only in
it for 2024 and will think about 2028, but not commit – that’s a disaster of
our own creation.”

Publicly, both LA and Paris have stuck to the line that
their bids are for 2024 and that that edition is the only one they’re
considering. So how can the issue be resolved if a deadlock emerges over which
city hosts which games? “I don’t know the answer to that,” Pound says. “I would
have thought the LA bid is more robust in the sense that it can be held
together for four years. I’m not sure that is the case with Paris.”

As everyone knows, the IOC is facing a crisis of confidence
among potential host cities over the costs versus the benefits of hosting the
Olympics. This is not helped by the much-reported figure of $51 billion that is
alleged to have been spent on hosting the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, and by
the economic crisis in Brazil that overtook Rio de Janeiro’s hosting of last
year’s games, leaving behind damaging images of empty and already-decaying

“I think we’ve got to put Sochi and Rio in the rear-view mirror,”
Pound says. “Each was special for different reasons. With Sochi, the price tag was
a long-term play that the Russian government made to create a winter sports
centre in the Sochi area. That’s the way it was presented to us [at the IOC
Session at which Sochi was selected to host the games] in Guatemala in 2007.
Putin himself came and said, ‘We’re an important winter sports country but we
have no facilities. We have to start from scratch. I’m prepared to do that but I
need the excuse of having the games’.

“But we didn’t get the story out. It was the typical IOC
thing of only reacting [not acting] – then the thing went viral. With Brazil,
when we pulled the trigger, it was on a huge economic upward curve, with all the
experts predicting it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world by 2016.
Then oil prices went down and it got into a chronic cycle.”

If this works it gives us an eight-year period during which we can fix, improve or evolve the process of awarding the games  

So even if agreement is reached with LA and Paris over which city hosts which games, how will this solve the IOC’s long-term problem of attracting bidders for future games, I ask? “If this works it gives us an eight-year period during which we can fix, improve or evolve the process of awarding the games,” Pound replies. “The tendency has been to wait to see what bids come in, not go out and recruit. To encourage a bid, we need to do a bespoke approach to it. Eight years? I hope it wouldn’t take that long. We would have a winter bid coming up [for the 2026 games] as it is.”

To attract more bidders in future, Pound says, “we have to
make sure it’s understood that the Olympics is not an event designed in Lausanne
– that that is the only model that can be considered, and so you end up with all
kind of demands and requirements that are probably way beyond the pale and probably
unnecessary, and in most cases almost certainly unenforceable.

“Samaranch used to say there’s a ‘yes, yes, yes’ period until the games are awarded, then all the yeses turned to nos. The IOC is not very good about explaining the host city contract, which is a pretty daunting brick. It’s not good at saying why it is that this or that provision’s in there.”

Nevertheless, Pound isn’t asking for a really radical
solution to hosting the games, such as the IOC taking full control of them and
staging them in a location of its own choosing, perhaps one that that it
actually owns itself. “I would not favour that,” he says. “The phenomenon of
the Olympic Games in an inchoate world is that everybody wants to be part of it
and countries like to aspire to hosting it. It’s not bad, going to [relatively
small economies like] Greece and Australia, and it can also be done for the
winter games, which is a smaller operation. I like the idea of moving around;
how to select and cull candidacies is something we have to get better at doing.”

Bach with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti

I’m curious as to how Pound, whom probably even his enemies
would describe as a man of principle, regards the present slump in the
reputation of the IOC and the games. There are plenty of people who think that
all IOC members are over-entitled and complacent, if not actually corrupt,
while (at least in the many parts of the world where soccer is king), the games
are often seen as at best irrelevant. What can the IOC do to reverse this

“It’s a good question,” says Pound. “I think there’s
certainly a sense that the IOC’s reputation has slipped. The shit surrounding
Fifa spreads and people think all sports organisations are poorly governed. We
came very close to the brink in 1999 [with the Salt Lake City bribery scandal].
It’s only because we responded quickly that we emerged from that. If you asked
most knowledgeable observers about IOC governance, they would say it’s

Yes, but why do there always seem to be IOC members involved
in some kind of corruption scandal, such as, at present, Frankie Fredericks
(linked to allegations of vote-buying in relation to Rio’s bid to host the
games) and Pat Hickey (involved in an alleged ticketing conspiracy at the same

“It’s embarrassing when colleagues are in situations like
that,” Pound admits. “I appreciate justice has to play itself out, but in the meantime
mud sticks and it affects the organisation as a whole. Every time this happens
it affects all of sport. It’s discouraging.” Yet we should not fall into the
trap of assuming that all IOC members are “like that,” he insists, adding:
“That’s a very easy syndrome. It’s much easier to be negative than positive.”

I can see why football fans would not be turned on by the Olympics because they’re not getting the best athletes  

As for soccer fans, Pound says it’s no wonder they regard
the Olympics as irrelevant given the quality of the Olympic soccer competition on
offer (essentially an under-23s, not an elite, tournament): “I can see why
football fans would not be turned on by the Olympics because they’re not
getting the best athletes,” he says. “If I’d ever become king of the mountain
I’d have had a conversation with Fifa to say: ‘Either let the best athletes compete
or explain to football fans why it’s in the Olympics’.”

So, given that the best athletes don’t compete, should it be
dropped from the games? “Yes, the question certainly bears asking,” Pound
replies. “And if you’re trying to limit the numbers [the IOC is embroiled in a
long-term effort to halt the Olympics’ tendency towards gigantism], it’s an
obvious source of extra beds. But my preferred outcome is that it would be

This is the first of several ‘If I ruled the world’-type
remarks that suggest that Pound thinks he could have done a better job than
some of the IOC presidents whose reigns he has observed (he was appointed by
Lord Killanin and served under Samaranch – the most successful president ever,
he says –  plus Rogge and now Bach.

How would the IOC have been different had he, not Rogge, been
elected in 2001, I ask? “I would have involved more people in decisions, that
was really strong under Samaranch,” he says. “Jacques said, ‘I’ll work with
anyone you elect’, as opposed to Samaranch who said, ‘there are some people I
have to have on the executive board’.

So does he still regret not having been elected? “Yes and no,”
he says. “It would have ruined my career [he’s a partner in a Montreal law
firm] and probably my family life and it would have taken me out of a lot of
things I like to do: a happy marriage, McGill University [where he was
chancellor for 1999 to 2009].”

Besides, he says, “I would be a hard person to elect. There
are too many parts of too many anatomies I’m not prepared to kiss. I didn’t
schmooze with the members.”

The late Juan Antonio Samaranch with Jacques Rogge, who beat Pound to the IOC presidency

But we’re not here to talk about the past. I want to get his
take on the present and future of the IOC and the Olympics. The games, he says,
need “more promotion of the [Olympic] values. The Olympic Channel concept is
good in that sense, if properly executed. Part of the problem is not seeing Olympic
athletes, day after day, week after week. You’ve got to make that special,
aspirational, to make people think: ‘One of the things I would really like to
do is represent my country at the Olympic Games’. There’s nothing like it.

“There are evolving tastes in sport, but you have to be
careful about not overreacting. Today’s little dears have the attention span of
a fruit fly. You don’t want the Olympic Games to turn out to be like a circus.
We’ve probably gone as far as we should [on the road towards introducing new
sports to the programme]. What is the matter with running fast or swimming
fast, if you can generate the interest? The problem is there’s no one out there
doing the work. It’s like Steve Jobs said: ‘What do I care what the public
thinks? We haven’t yet told them what they want’.”

Pound, who was responsible for negotiating some of the IOC’s
biggest TV deals in the past, is now on the board of the Olympic Channel,
launched by the IOC after the Rio Olympics last year. The problem with the
channel is that, so far, it’s all costs and it’s unclear where the revenues
will come from, I suggest. “Yes, we’ve got the cost model pretty well figured,”
Pound says with a laugh. “The advantage is that it keeps our presence out there
in two-minute soundbites or whatever it is these folks absorb. That’s the
upside. It seems to resonate with the sponsors as well. Monetising all of these
things is something everyone’s trying to figure out.”

One nightmare scenario that some doomsayers envisage is that
the value of the IOC’s TV rights, by far its biggest source of income, goes
into a steep decline as the ‘little dears’ referred to by Pound find other,
more instant and often free, ways of consuming sport. Pound says: “We’re going
to have to go up to 10,000 metres to take a look. What is this ball of Jell-O
we’re trying to hold together? It’s certainly a possibility, to which we should
be attuned. It hasn’t happened so far.”

Pound believes that there are lessons to be learned from the
early blockbuster TV deals negotiated by him and others with broadcasters such
as NBC in USA. “One is that you’re not dealing with a commodity; you’re dealing
with partners and people,” he says. “The reasons we were so successful in that
period when the IOC was taking over the negotiations [from the local organising
committees] was the relationships. They had confidence we would perform in good
faith. With the first multi-games deal with NBC in the mid-90s, we said to NBC,
‘We don’t know what the TV world will be in 2008; we have to do a contract that
recognises there might be cataclysmic change in the industry, but you’re our
partner and we’ll work in good faith to adjust it’. That change was the

“[At the IOC] they liked the idea of the money and they thought
all you had to do was shake a tree and it would fall. But if you’re going to
get real value, and get it off a charitable basis, you have to show a return on
investment. They [broadcasters] have to understand what it is. It also took a
long time for sponsors to articulate the value package when linked to Olympics.
Why is this good for Coke, for Visa? It took a lot of education, but once we got
them we’ve had an astonishing record of keeping them.”

Not being elected IOC president meant that Pound could
accept the job of becoming the first chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency
between 1999 and 2007, which, he claims, has made “a huge amount of progress”
in the fight against doping.

Yet, the worldwide anti-doping movement is in crisis, many
observers would say. “The system we’ve put together is actually pretty good,”
Pound, who remains the IOC representative on WADA’s foundation board, counters.
“The problem is the people. People don’t want that system to work, so they
won’t buy into it. It’s not helped by the Russian investigations [over the last
couple of years into an alleged massive, state-supported doping conspiracy
there]. There’s no doubt whatsoever about what we found, but there’s a
surprising reluctance on the part of the IOC to respond. Here we are perilously
close to PyeongChang [the winter Olympics in February next year] and we haven’t
even got Sochi sorted out.”

You can’t cure an alcoholic unless the alcoholic acknowledges the problem, and they [the Russian authorities] have not done that  

Pound has been outspoken in his criticism of the pace of
reform of the Russian anti-doping system, following the scandal. So should the
IOC ban the Russian team in its entirety from competing in PyeongChang? His
answer is unequivocal. “You can’t cure an alcoholic unless the alcoholic
acknowledges the problem, and they [the Russian authorities] have not done that.
I think they’re a long way from getting reaccredited, and I don’t know what the
IOC thinks it will learn in Lima [when a decision is expected to be taken].”

The IOC controversially handed over the decision on which Russian athletes were eligible to compete at Rio 2016 to the international federations concerned, in defiance of a WADA recommendation that the entire Russian team should be banned, and Pound adds: “That’s the recommendation that WADA made for Rio and I don’t think there’s been enough change. What brings about change in conduct is consequences, and there have been no consequences for Russia so far. If we start losing the confidence of athletes in the willingness of WADA to stand up for their rights, it’s a serious blow.”

The doping scandal has created friction between the IOC and
WADA, with each criticising the other’s response to the issues it has raised. WADA
has come under fire over alleged conflicts of interest, given that its board
members represent a variety of sporting or geographical interests. “The IOC
launched attacks on WADA, but it’s not a governance or conflict of interest
issue at all,” Pound argues. “The way it’s marketed as a conflict of interest
is that the people promoting sport can’t be the same as the people enforcing
the rules. I never understood that. If you’re selling honest, clean sport, it’s
up to you to deliver what you’ve promised. To allow that to get bifurcated so that
promoters have no responsibility for what they’re selling is insane.”

Some of WADA’s bitterest critics come from the ranks of the
international federations, which are at the sharp end of testing (and paying
for testing) athletes, but Pound gives them short shrift, saying: “It’s because
WADA is after them to fix their problems, and they don’t want to do that. If
you want to find out where the problems are, see who’s attacking WADA.”

Bach has proposed setting up a global independent doping
testing authority, but Pound says, “That’s silly. You’re getting further and
further away from sport taking responsibility for anti-doping. Why the IOC
doesn’t want to declare anyone guilty of doping but to push it off to CAS [the
Court of Arbitration for Sport]… Why do we not want to take our
responsibilities seriously?”

Following in the footsteps of Craig Reedie, the incumbent
WADA chair, Nicole Sapstead, the chief of UK Anti-Doping, this week called for
Olympic sponsors and broadcasters to contribute to the costs of anti-doping.
But in another of those, ‘If I ruled the world’ statements, Pound goes much further,
saying: “What I would have done ages ago is get all the broadcasters and sponsors
and people of that ilk together and said: ‘We’re concerned that you might not
think we’re delivering what we’re supposed to. How much of your rights fee do
you believe is required to ensure doping-free and corruption-free sport?’

“You can’t ‘tax’ commercial sponsors, but they could say, ‘we’re
not satisfied that you’re delivering and we think that 10 per cent should go
into delivering what you promised, and if you don’t do that we’re going to
re-think’. If I were responsible for the IOC I would already have had that
summit. What are we missing here and how do we solve it? If we deliver what we say,
that’s a huge contribution to sport, but if not and we’re turning people off,
that’s a very serious thing and it’s our responsibility to solve it, not to
contract it out.”

There’s a whole bunch of people out there attempting to deliberately cheat and in the process screwing clean athletes. That’s a fight, not a persuasion  

Returning to the concept of the independent testing
authority, Pound is naturally lukewarm, given that he rejects the allegations
of a conflict of interest in the first place, but does concede: “Maybe an
independent testing authority can be made to work, if it’s just a variation of
[WADA’s existing] compliance review committee. I don’t think it’s necessary,
but if that’s going to make people think we’re doing better, let’s try it. I
know this is a fight. It’s not going to go away by everyone going ‘om’ [he
mimics a Buddhist chant]. There’s a whole bunch of people out there attempting to
deliberately cheat and in the process screwing clean athletes. That’s a fight,
not a persuasion.”

The dispute over the future path of the anti-doping movement
over the last year or so has threatened to drive a wedge between WADA and sport
more widely, and Pound argues: “If the sport movement brings down the agency it
created to be independent, that is a massive failure on the part of sport. WADA
is doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s taken a lot of time for WADA
to acquire the necessary powers. Until 2015 it couldn’t even investigate, and
that’s because the stakeholders didn’t want that. I think the threat can be
addressed by backing off and letting WADA do its job, and not trying to run it
out of Lausanne. There’s a group of organisations and people that are
uncomfortable with a vigorous independent organisation.”

Pound meets members of the US press after the IOC decision on the 2024 and 2028 games

So how did Pound get into sport, and why does he care so much? He was born in 1942 in St Catharines, Ontario, but his father’s job as an engineer in a pulp and paper business meant that, at the age of six, the family moved to Ocean Falls, a town in northern British Columbia, that could only be reached by boat. “The mills generated power by building a dam, and at the bottom of that was the ocean,” Pound says. “The town took the view that every kid would fall in sooner or later, so they should learn to swim, and it built a 60-foot swimming pool and hired a coach.

“As a result,” he continues with some pride, “on every Canadian swimming team between 1948 and 1976 there was at least one swimmer from Ocean Falls, a town with only about 400 children.” Pound was one of those swimmers and went on to represent Canada at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago, the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia.

After his swimming career finished, Pound, who in the meantime
had qualified as a chartered accountant, was approached to become secretary of
the Canadian Olympic Committee in 1968 and subsequently became president of the
COC between 1977 and 1982. His appointment as an IOC member in 1978 he
describes colourfully as a Sistine Chapel-like ‘hand of God’ reaching out and
tapping him on the shoulder.

Asked what sport is for, Pound replies with a much-used
quote attributed variously to Mark Twain and (bizarrely) Vidal Sassoon, the
hair stylist: ‘The only place where success comes before work is in the
dictionary’. “Sport is a creative outlet for discipline,” Pound continues. “Those
values are transportable to all aspects of life: having measurable objectives.
As an athlete, you always know whether you put out everything you have. No one
else knows, but that’s hugely valuable. [Athletes are] people who understand
teamwork and planning and that nothing is for free, and that makes for a better
society. If it’s ethically based, that’s better still.”

Pound reaches the IOC members’ age limit in 2022, so will
have to retire then. What does he think future Olympic Games, beyond those of
2024 and 2028, should look like? He answers this one by saying what they should
not look like, which is, he says, “a carnival and something put together in a
studio. Getting all these athletes of all sports together in a single unity of
time and place is a quite remarkable experience and one of the reasons I’ve stayed
in sports administration. Anything I can do to help someone else have as fabulous
experience as I had, I’m willing to work my butt off for.”