"I am convinced that when I leave PASO will elect an able leader " - Mario Vázquez Raña
Around The Rings presents this previously unpublished interview with the legendary Mexican sports leader, Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the Pan American Sports Organization from 1975 until his sudden death February 8, 2015.
Months before, Cuban journalist Miguel Hernández, one of the most experienced Spanish journalists in the world covering the Olympics, conducted what would be one of the last interviews with Vazquez Raña. Hernandez is a member of the Around the Rings editorial team.
Click here to read this story in Spanish.
"I met Don Mario on my first trip abroad after completing the career in journalism at the University of Havana," says Hernandez.
"It was in March 1975 in Mexico City when he was president of the Mexican Olympic Committee. I was there for the Aquatics Sports Central American and Caribbean Championships.
"Since then I followed his extraordinary career in the Olympic world with special attention. Occasionally I had the privilege of talking to him, as when arrived in Havana in 1982 for the Central American Games.
"But the greatest opportunities came when the continental leader traveled more than 30 times to Cuba on the occasion of the 1991 Pan American Games. These games took place in the midst of the economic crisis stoked by the extinction of aid to Cuba from the former Soviet Union, the time Cuba preferred to call the "special period".
"Despite the hardships and blackouts, the Cuban people fully enjoyed the games, enthusiasm that was felt by the Mexican leader. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch came to Cuba as the guest of Vazquez Rana. It led to my greater professional bonding with the two men like never before. I was following the activities of the global and Pan American Olympism in the pages of the main Cuban media and there were many invitations to important meetings of the IOC, ANOC and PASO.
"One autumn morning in 2014 he received me in his office from where he ran more than eighty companies of the Mexican Editorial Organization, employing more than 5,000 and oversaw programs of the Pan American Sports Organization and the progress of the organization of the Pan American Games, this time from Toronto in 2015 and Lima in 2019.
"At his back was a wall with the portraits of his parents and his spouse and awards that have been given to him by heads of government and global institutions. In an adjoining room, more awards and hundreds of photographs showed him with personalities from politics, culture, religion, science and sport, many who have starred in the pages of the monumental volumes of interviews Mario Vazquez Rana held with personalities around the world."
"Over the years I visited more than 185 countries", he said while we walked through this photo gallery, a significant number of them next to President Juan Antonio Samaranch. One photograph shows him in a game of dominoes with Samaranch, 40,000 in the air aboard the private plane of Vazquez Rana.
"I used my plane and all expenses from my own accounts. I feel a great satisfaction of giving back to sport a small part of all it has given me," he told me.
"The norm throughout my life, from any position, is to support youth through sport and I feel that I've met that goal."
The interview was the first step I would take preparing a memoir of Vazquez Rana. Who would imagine that his heart would stop beating just months later?
Miguel Hernandez: What considerations are behind your assertion that sports should not be mixed with politics or politics with sport?
Mario Vazquez Rana: Politics should not be mixed with sports, but politicians do manage to get involved. Politicians are those who run the policy of governments and as a result, the financial resources. I agree that sport should not be used to make political choices and that it should not intervene in the sport. However, the politicians can help to make the sport better every day and to have access to a greater number of people.
Miguel Hernandez: What is your opinion about the former Presidents of the IOC whom you also knew, Avery Brundage and Lord Killanin?
Mario Vazquez Rana: Avery Brundage, I met him when I was athlete, two or three times I talked to him. I had a good and long relationship with Lord Killanin. He came often to Mexico. In 1975 as President of the IOC, he attended the Pan American Games, when I was President of the National Olympic Committee, Chairman of the Organizing Committee and President of PASO because I was elected just before the start of the games.
I didn't have the experience that I have today, so many people helped me so I could move forward. My relationship with Lord Killanin was very good, we traveled together, even in my plane. He was a great man. The problem of Lord Killanin was the lack of money, boycotts and other problems affecting the Olympic Movement. I also had a great friendship with IOC Director General Madame Berlioux.
Miguel Hernandez: What is your opinion of the presidency of Jacques Rogge?
Mario Vazquez Rana: I think that the first eight years of mandate of President Rogge were excellent. It gave continuity and preserved the great legacy of President Samaranch. I had the feeling that he would conclude his mandate successfully.
I think that his leadership was weakened in his last four years. The true reformer of the Olympic movement, who made it big, who turned it into a universal phenomenon, who took him to the point where we are today, was President Juan Antonio Samaranch. I leave the rest to time and to the historians.
Miguel Hernandez: What about the circumstances that led to your resignation as president of the Association of National Olympic Committees ahead of the 2012 General Assembly in Moscow?
Mario Vazquez Rana: For me it is clear that before my resignation, according to the Constitution of ANOC, had to choose a new president and that's what happened. In the assembly, there was recognition towards my person and the work of more than thirty years at the forefront of ANOC. I know well the chairmen of the NOCs. I value loyalty and commitment. Many of them are still my friends today.
An example of such conduct serious and responsible was the work assembly of PASO, carried out before the assembly of ANOC in Moscow, the Olympic committees of America expressing, with clarity and firmness, the candidate for President of ANOC concerns and doubts about what was happening and the future of the organization. In no way I felt betrayed.
Miguel Hernandez: Do you think the Olympics can become unaffordable?
Mario Vazquez Rana: I don't think so. Perhaps continental or regional games, yes. If in PASO we looked for Pan American Games that were expensive surely we would run that risk. But if directed, an organization responsible for carrying out the games can set priority to a good organization, basic conditions for the development of competences and minimum expenses, it would never come to that end.
I have always defended the austerity and efficiency in the Pan American Games. The fact that games are expensive does not mean that they are better.
Someone who attends a few games will see competing athletesand witness an event of quality, not to see luxury and ostentation. The Olympic Games currently have another dimension. I believe that games it is not fair to charge you the value of all investments which are carried out around the games. Anyway, this is an issue that must be followed very closely.
Miguel Hernandez: How have you and PASO supported Paralympic sport?
Mario Vazquez Rana: We have as a policy that in sports there can be no discrimination of any kind. We work very closely with the Paralympic Committee of America. They have their organization and work very seriously in overcoming the obstacles that prevent sport participation. PASO has made important contributions to that great movement for the Paralympic athlete of America.
PASO is one of the few continental associations has partnered with the Paralympic Committee to host the Para Pan American Games. We support them with organizers committees so that they can carry out their games. It is to admire the effort they make. The public attends the Paralympics with great enthusiasm and with great affection towards the demonstration of effort and delivery. We in America provide all possible support.
Miguel Hernandez: What are your thoughts on how to balance the influence of European votes within the IOC?
Mario Vazquez Rana: One of the principles governing the Olympic movement is the universality and equity. Therefore I see well the disproportionate weight of the vote of Europe in decision-making within the Olympic movement. But it is accepted because those are the rules.
Obviously today in the IOC there is no equity in geographical representation by continents. It is difficult to understand that four European countries have more members in the IOC than all America. It is not to confront one continent against another, but to establish a fair balance.
I know that after the Committee on reforms in 2000, of which I was part, attempts have been made, but in relative terms the situation has comparatively little changed since the time of Coubertin.
I consider that this situation creates contradictions in the democratic principles that applied to the IOC. I don't want to criticize its rules which are the ones that exist but which should be checked. It is not healthy for democracy,nor to the international image and to the credibility of an institution such as the IOC, that the majority of members of a continent can decide who is organizing an Olympic Games and who is the president.
Miguel Hernandez: How about the effort needed to include more women in the Olympic Movement?
Mario Vazquez Rana: The participation of women as an athlete in the Olympic and Pan American Games is guaranteed under equal conditions, almost 50 percent. And when we talk about jobs in sport management, we never got to those levels.
I am convinced that this fight is won with work, training, creating opportunities, providing support and giving confidence. Thus we work. Today we have four women in the PASO Executive Committee, there are several presidents or secretaries generals for NOCs. We incorporated more women to the PASO commissions and work with the prospect that, someday, the Pan American Sports Organization will be the first continental association chaired by a woman. We are confident in the ability, talent and loyalty of the sportswomen.
Miguel Hernandez: What do you expect from the mandate of IOC President Thomas Bach?
Mario Vazquez Rana: I have an excellent opinion on Bach. He is a very capable person, with great experience. He was Olympic champion as an athlete in Montreal, president of the Olympic German Committee, was chairman of the IOC Legal Affairs commission and IOC vice president.
I have known him since I was President of the Mexican Olympic Committee. He visited Mexico on a mission of the IOC and I remember he made a truck delivery for athletes on behalf of the IOC. For years we had a very close relationship, especially within the Executive Committee of the IOC.
I admire him for his simplicity and for his permanent readiness to serve sport and the Olympic movement. Bach has done much to help the Olympic movement.
Sometimes I pointed out some problems and inadequacies in the IOC, and believe that President Thomas Bach is ready to face those challenges. Of the six candidates running for election he was the best, the most prepared. I understand the responsibility of being president of the International Olympic Committee is difficult and complex.
By his character, his principles, his firmness and commitment to the Olympic Movement I always considered him the ideal candidate. He will need to assemble a good team, deal with negative practices and vested interests. He was elected with a very clear majority which means he can count on the support of the members of the IOC. I have no doubt that he will face difficulties. But as large as they may appear, they will be settled later. That is what we expect and want from all who love this great movement.
Miguel Hernandez: After 40 years as president of PASO what dreams have you not turned into reality? Do you believe the Pan American Games must be taken into account as qualifying for the Olympic Games?
Mario Vazquez Rana: They are two questions in one. About unfulfilled dreams, I say that it is very difficult to meet them all because every day I have new dreams and new projects that would like to see become reality. I feel a great satisfaction because the objectives that we have set ourselves always have been achieved. As president of PASO I sleep well amid the constant concern of maintaining it united, strong, economically independent and with a more active and influential role in the heart of the Olympic movement.
With regard to the second question, we will continue working so that the Pan American Games are recognized as the immediate step prior to the Olympics. In each edition of the Pan American Games the number of sports that qualify for the Olympics is growing, other sports provide points for the world ranking. We studied the way our games are a prerequisite to attend the Olympics. We know that the interests of the NOCs, PASO, IOC and international federations must be reconciled and will not rest until this dream becomes a reality.
At my age they begin to shorten the deadlines for decision-making. We are almost a year of the conclusion of the term for which I was elected. The future of PASO concerns me not in the least because we have an organization stronger every day, with economic strength which gives you very confident and very capable leaders.
I am absolutely convinced that when I leave the presidency of the PASO, the members will elect a leader capable of maintaining the achievements and conquer new goals. Those who come behind us surely will be much better.
Written by Miguel Hernandez, translation by Ed Hula.
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