October 27, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) The ultimate Olympic powerbroker has come to the ultimate home of power politics.

Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah is in his element in Washington this week, presiding over a meeting of the world's Olympic leaders in the nation's capital.

Sheikh Ahmad, who wields enormous influence across the international sport world, is chairing the annual general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees. More than 1,200 delegates from 206 countries are expected to attend ANOC's first congress in the U.S. since 1994.

Make no mistake, the meeting is being held here on Sheikh Ahmad's wishes. Ever since taking over as ANOC president in 2012 - replacing long-time leader Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico - the sheikh has pushed the U.S. to become more involved in the international Olympic world after years of isolation.

''This is a good opportunity to come back to a main stakeholder of the sports movement,'' Sheikh Ahmad said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press after arriving in Washington. ''Maybe this will give (the U.S.) the confidence and the trust again because in the last decades, there was mistrust by all those nations with the United States sports movement.''

''Now it's a good opportunity to come back and to give a chance to both sides,'' he said. ''It's a win-win situation.''

The timing is propitious: The meeting comes as the U.S. Olympic Committee seeks to bring the Summer Games back to the U.S. for the first time since Atlanta hosted the 1996 Games. New York and Chicago failed badly in bids for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, respectively.

Now, Los Angeles is the U.S. contender for the 2024 Games, competing against Paris, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest. The IOC will select the host city in 2017.

As the years have dragged on since Atlanta, the U.S. has been losing out on some of the logistical experience needed to host the games, the sheikh said.

''When was the last multi-sport event or big sports gathering in the States?'' he said. ''Transportation, volunteers, accommodations, security. I think they are missing this experience.''

The Washington meetings will allow Sheikh Ahmad to finalize plans for one of his pet projects: The World Beach Games. The Olympic-style event will feature more than 20 sports, including beach versions of volleyball and soccer as well as events such as surfing, flag football and kite boarding.

Organizers are expected to announce the inaugural event will be held in San Diego in 2017. In order not to cause any conflict with the Los Angeles Olympic bid, the Beach Games will take place after the IOC vote on the 2024 Games in September 2017 in Lima, Peru.

The sheikh, who has been an IOC member since 1992, has a reputation as a puppet master in the Olympic movement. Among other things, he played a key role in consolidating supporting for Thomas Bach in his campaign for IOC president and securing backing for Tokyo's winning bid for the 2020 Games.

Now the sheikh is at the heart of FIFA politics, too. Elected to the executive committee earlier this year, he has been working furiously behind the scenes with candidates to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of soccer's scandal-tarnished governing body.

So what does the sheikh think about being called a ''kingmaker?''

''I don't believe there is a kingmaker,'' he said with a laugh. ''Any king, he can make himself.''

At the same time, the sheikh cites his 23 years of service as an IOC member, his 30 years of involvement in soccer and his roles with ANOC.

''I am active,'' he said. ''I don't like to be a number. Maybe those things give people this kind of impression of me. I love communication and I love coordination. Always you can play a role, in any case, on any subject.''

The sheikh himself had been considered a possible candidate for FIFA president. He said he was pushed by many colleagues to run, but has too much on his plate already.

''To be honest I prefer to be in my own environment,'' he said. ''I am ANOC president. I am IOC. I am FIFA. I don't have the time now to spend in Zurich as a FIFA president.''

The sheikh is known for his long curly hair tied back in a ponytail, and his penchant for wearing jeans.

''My character is my character,'' he said. ''What shall I do with my character? I don't have anything to hide.''

Then, looking at the TV camera and lights in the room, the sheikh smiled and reveled in his role as a media personality.

''I love the camera,'' he said. ''I love those lights.''

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