Argentina Eyes Growing Olympic Role
The team from Argentina in Beijing.(Getty)
(ATR) With the IOC Session for 2013, bids for the Youth Olympics and the Pan American Games and new efforts to build sport, Argentina aims to energize its international profile in the Olympic Movement.
Argentine Olympic Committee president Gerardo Werthein tells ATR the 2013 IOC Session to be hosted in Buenos Aires – and the bid for the 2018 YOG -- mark the “starting point” for another Olympic bid.
“Argentina bid several times for the Olympic Games,” Werthein says of Buenos Aires, which bid for Summer Games in 1936, 1956, 1968 and 2004. “But we thought this was the best start because the youngsters are our driver. YOG was exactly fitting for the process that is going on in Argentina.”
Werthein says Buenos Aires “has it all,” although some venues, including River Plate Stadium, would need to be updated.
“We are not planning to do an outrageous investment,” Werthein said on the sidelines of SportAccord in Quebec City last month.
“We are going to be cautious, we are going to be prudent and we are going to be very focused.”
He added that Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city that was built primarily by immigrants from Europe and has culture and an educated populace.
“Everybody loved to hold something for the kids,” he said of the widespread support. “Maybe in 12 or 16 years we will be mature enough, we will have the resources and the project to bid again for Summer Olympic Games.”
Pan Am, YOG Candidacies
On June 11 the AOC will decide which city to back for the 2019 Pan American Games: San Luis or Rosario. The vote will be by secret ballot. Salta and La Plata were already eliminated.
“This shows how strong is the spirit of sports in our country,” Werthein said of Argentina, which hosted the Pan Ams in 1951 and 1995.
Opening ceremony for the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. (ATR)
Other bids for the PanAms could come from Chile, Peru and Colombia.
“It’s not going to be an easy race, but for me to be in the race is already a success.”
A decision on the 2019 Pan Ams is expected next year, but after the the IOC vote on the host for the 2018 YOG.
Werthein is promising that if Buenos Aires wins the right to host the YOG, the Games will be ones of innovation with high social media participation,
“We’re not only thinking what the Games can do for Argentina, but also what Argentina and Buenos Aires can do for the Games,” Werthein said.
The YOG would follow the concept of the Olympic corridor that Argentina had in its last Olympic bid, tying together the Olympic Village and venues.
Other YOG contenders include Glasgow, Scotland; Guadalajara, Mexico; Poznań, Poland; Medellín, Colombia and Rotterdam, Netherlands.
“We know that this a strong competition and we love to compete and we love to show to the world that we can make the most efficient, the most suitable and the most enjoyable experience,” Werthein said. “We will work very hard, we are very committed. Myself, at this stage of my life I am committed to this.”
Taking the Reins
NOC President Gerardo Werthein.(ATR)
Werthein, entrepreneur and former equestrian, comes from one of the most prominent families in Argentina. His Olympic experience includes posts as chef d’equipe in 2000 and 2004 and chef de mission in 2008. He became NOC president in 2009 and an IOC member in 2011.
While Werthein is quick to point out that an Argentine, Jose Benjamin Zubiaur, was one of the founding 13 members of the IOC, the country had been without an IOC member since Col. Antonio Rodriguez served from 1990-2006.
Werthein said the Argentine sports programs were going downhill when he took over the NOC.
“When I arrived there, what we had was a lot of spirit, but very little cash,” he said.
Spirit was important, but cash would be the game-changer.
Werthein, with the help of athletes, got a law passed in which 1 percent of revenue from cellular phone bills was directed to the Argentine Olympic Committee.
The NOC revenue went from $300,000 a year in 2009 (funded by Olympic Solidarity) to around $40 million, which also brought a measure of independence. The AOC now also has sponsors in Standard Bank, YPF, Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, Turicentro and Signia.
Nowhere to Go But Up
For the first time in his life, Werthein started a project from scratch. He hired a professional staff to run the NOC and began implementing a long-term view. “We really had to invest in sports, not only to develop good and high-performing athletes, but as way to build a better society,” he said.
Mani Ginobili in Beijing.(Getty)
The fortunes of the Argentine team had been declining in the previous four Pan American Games. But after only about 18 months under the new administration, Argentina tripled the number of medals it won in Guadalajara, placing seventh in the medal count with 75, including 21 gold.
“I was not looking for results in the short term, because our project is targeting Rio 2016,” Werthein said. “We cannot change the trend of the sport in two or three years. We thought we needed six or seven years.”
To help achieve its mission of becoming a South American power, Werthein said 11,000 to 12,000 athletes and trainers have been traveling all over the world in the past 16 months to get international experience.
The NOC also started giving scholarships to children, the youngest an 8-year-old gymnast. After an Argentine javelin thrower won the gold medal at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, Werthein recalled going to a park on a cold, windy day and seeing about 50 children throwing the javelin.
“I thought, ‘Why are they doing this?’” he said. “Because they have the example of this kid who won the gold medal and they want to be like him. This is a beautiful example.
“Everybody’s getting enthusiastic; it’s all over the country. So now we only need the time, we need the plans and we need good management. Because you can be amateur in sport, but you have to be professional in management.”
In addition to sports, Werthein is emphasizing education and values, with the study of Olympism incorporated into some school curriculums. “At the NOC, we started a project and we started teaching all the teachers about Olympism,” he said. “And altogether we think we make a big change in the society.”
According to the Italian Olympic Committee list charting World Championship and World Cup finishes, Argentina is projected to win only one medal, a gold. That ranks the country No. 43 on the medals list, tied with Botswana, Chile and Grenada.
The Argentine women’s field hockey team, dubbed The Lionesses (Las Leonas), is the reigning World Cup champion and holds the top spot in the FIH World Ranking.
The men’s basketball team, which shocked the world – particularly the United States – eight years ago to win the gold medal in Athens, has its core returning. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni , nicknamed the “Golden Generation,” have set their sights on bronze, with the U.S. and Spain still the favorites.
In a surprise, the men’s soccer team led by superstar Lionel Messi, which won the gold in Beijing, failed to qualify for the London tournament.
Argentina won a total of six medals in Beijing: golds in cycling and soccer and bronzes in basketball, hockey, judo and sailing.
Argentina celebrate a hockey win at the Beijing Olympics.(Getty)
“For me, the beauty of London for Argentina is that we were able to qualify a number of young kids who are going to be an Olympian for the first time,” said Werthein, whose son Gregorio has competed in Olympic equestrian events. “We’ll have a delegation of around 140 athletes in London.”
Werthein says when he met with the athletes, he told them to get experience.
“I said, ‘I am proud of you because your goal was to make it. If you’re 18 or 19, you’re not even mature enough to make the effort to get a medal, so look at this as a bridge for Rio 2016.
“We are not going to ask you for a result (in London); we are going to ask you to get ready.’”
Written by Karen Rosen.
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