Brian Lewis, Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committee (CANOC) president, is advocating for recently re-elected Panam Sports (PS) president Nevin Ilic to address gender and racial equity issues and policies in his upcoming term.
Lewis, also the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president, supported Ilic’s presidential bid in which the Chilean was elected unopposed on December 16 at the PS General Assembly (GA) held by digital video conferencing.
Lewis said it was a reflection of Ilic’s stewardship that two years after winning over a CANOC candidate by one single vote, the Chilean gained an overwhelming majority of support this time around, including from CANOC members, to stand unopposed.
Lewis described Ilic as genuine and earnest in his desire to represent the best interests of the region.
To that end, the local Olympic movement boss said he would be lobbying for Ilic and PS to address a number of crucial issues including racism; gender equity; the IOC’s rule 50 (a legacy of former IOC member Avery Brundage who was considered racist and anti-Semetic) and making a statement on the IOC’s 1972 life ban imposed on black American athletes Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett.
Lewis also hoped that Ilic and PS would consider the historic racists tweets of the Argentine rugby captain Pablo Matera; the perception of a growing divide between Spanish and English-speaking members of the PS; the associate membership of some Canoc members still colonies of European countries and possible reforms to the PS’s governance and constitutional structure.
Lewis also requested Ilic’s support in progressing the initiative started by CANOC in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2018 concerning the official collaboration of leaders from PS, ODESUR, Centro Caribe Sports (formerly CASCO) and CANOC.
Lewis said he was willing to assist Ilic and PS in whatever capacity Ilic deemed necessary to advance those crucial outstanding issues.
“It is important that meeting not be diminished or marginalised because it offers an opportunity for the heads of the various sub groups under Panam Sports to have open conversation about issues that could impact the Olympic movement sport in the America’s, including the athletes,” said Lewis.
Still work to be done
“As much progress as we have made under Ilic’s leadership already, we still have a long way to go and therefore it is important not to be complacent,” Lewis explained.
On the race front, Lewis believed it crucial for PS to pronounce clearly on the rule 50, life ban against Collett and Matthews and the more recent exposed tweets by Matera.
Lewis said although he was encouraged by the response of Susan Lyons, US Olympic Committee chairperson at the PS GA, he lamented the PS’s silence given the composition of the organisation’s membership.
“It is not that I am saying that we need to be heavy-handed about people who have made errors because we are all human,” Lewis explained. “But I think that to actually remain silent on the issue would have shown a certain lack of empathy to those NOCs (national Olympic committees), societies and countries that would have been emotionally, mentally and otherwise impacted by such expressed and overt racism.“
On the issue of the perception of a growing divide between Spanish and English-speaking members of the PS, Lewis said he respected Venezuela’s right to switch from the mainly English-speaking countries PS Group two- to PS Group three containing a majority of the South American countries, a decision that was ratified at the General Assembly.
But Lewis said T&T, currently in Group three, refused a request to move to Group two on the principle that they didn’t want to contribute to the perception of separation of members by language and geographic considerations.
He added even though the odds have favoured the Latin American countries—countries who have hosted a prior edition of the Pan American Games are entitled to an extra vote at the General Assembly—Lewis said the TTOC’s position is: “If sports is a universal language that helps break down barriers then we should not be taking steps to contribute to that divide. We highlighted that.”
Lewis suggested that under Ilic’s more inclusive leadership that the elected Panam Sports officials could make some progress on these issues.
“I think, in that head space, there is a real opportunity going forward,” Lewis reasoned. ”The reality is coming out of Covid-19, a lot has changed and for there to be an engagement that is progressive, there needs to be a conscious effort. We want to encourage that inclusion and diversity.“