POSTED: February 22nd 2018

JOHN GOODBODY: The loss of Adam Pengilly is a blow to the Olympics

British skeleton athlete Adam Pengilly (right) and USA ice hockey champion Angela Ruggiero were elected to the Athletes' Commission at Vancouver 2010 © Getty Images
British skeleton athlete Adam Pengilly (right) and USA ice hockey champion Angela Ruggiero were elected to the Athletes' Commission at Vancouver 2010 © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Exactly what happened in PyeongChang when Adam Pengilly, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), got into an altercation with a Korean official may never be known. The IOC does not want the CCTV footage released and regards the matter as closed.

Having covered international sports events for more than 55 years, I know how often one can become frustrated, especially when one is under pressure, at being told at venues and hotels that one cannot go somewhere, when it is obviously practical so to do.

In a letter to IOC members, Pengilly, a former British Winter Games competitor, is said to have "exhibited highly inappropriate  behaviour" and "admitted to refusing to follow the security process, having physical contact with the security guard and having sworn at him, which constitutes breaches of the POCOG" (PyeongChang organising committee) Security Regulations."

Following a series of interviews and apologies, Pengilly has been sent back to Britain. In fact, his eight-year stint as one of the Athletes' Representative on the IOC, having been elected by his fellow Olympians in 2010, would have ended this week-end in any case. His departure is a loss.

I have never met Pengilly but over the last few years, I have recognised and, indeed, applauded his independent spirit, saying things that should be said publicly --and said loudly.

In 2013, at the Session in Buenos Aires, he asked some difficult questions of two of the candidate cities for the 2020 Olympics, Madrid and Istanbul, whereas the protocol on these occasions, too often observed, is to raise some mundane points, which can easily be answered.

Then in 2015, at the Session in Kuala Lumpur, he raised the reports of the suppression of positive dope tests by the International Association of Athletic Federations, whose President Lamine Diack was at that time also an IOC member. This was regarded as not the right approach towards a fellow IOC member, especially one who was the head of the sport, which remains the centrepiece of the Summer Olympic programme.

Yet, later that year, Diack was arrested by the French authorities for allegations that he received payments for deferring doping allegations. Diack subsequently resigned his IOC membership and early in 2016, a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency stated:"Lamine Diack was responsible for organising and enabling the conspiracy and corruption that took place." So Pengilly simply aired at the meeting opinions that later were found to have some substance.

And most noticeably of all, it was Pengilly, who at the 2016 Session in Rio de Janeiro, was the one IOC member speaking out against the IOC allowing Russia to compete at the Summer Games, preferring that the individual sports federations should take the decision. This was despite the fact that Dr. Thomas Bach, the IOC President, himself had said that what occurred in Sochi at the 2014 Games showed "a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and the Olympic Games ".

Only athletics and weightlifting had the ethical fibre to bar Russia from taking part in Rio, except in athletics' case, when competitors had been subjected to verifiable drug-testing.

When the IOC convenes on Sunday to decide whether Russian athletes will be allowed to take part in the Closing Ceremony under their own rather than the Olympic flag later that day in PyeongChang, the absence of Pengilly will be felt. His independent voice will be sorely needed and it may be left to Dick Pound, an IOC member in Canada, to voice opposition.

One hopes that there will be others. But one wonders. In recent years, IOC Sessions have come to represent the congresses of totalitarian states, where a policy is agreed beforehand and then everyone simply falls into line.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

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