As a youth, François Carrard used to practice breast stroke, but he did not become a swimmer. Instead, he followed in the family tradition and became a lawyer in 1967.
He is currently a senior partner with Carrard & Associés, which specialises in commercial and corporate law as well as the legal aspects of sports and media. One day, in 1979, a new client appeared on his doorstep, as it were: the International Olympic Committee, the IOC…
Lord Kilanin was still chairman of the IOC at the time, and the People’s Republic of China was seeking admission to the Olympic Games, in the face of the opposition of the so-called Republic of China, the name used by Taiwan,” recalls Carrard.
The court that was to hear the case was in Lausanne, and Carrard had been designated as an outside counsel. “That was my first encounter with the IOC,” he says. “Eventually we were able to conclude an agreement allowing both countries to be recognised by the IOC, with Taiwan sitting on the IOC as Chinese Taipei.”
In 1980, Juan Antonio Samaranch, later marquis Samaranch and Grande de España, was elected chairman of the IOC. A former member of the Cortes, the Spanish parliament under Franco, Samaranch was Zeus on the Olympus, king of gods and men alike, brooking no opposition, no other power than his own, striking his then Director General, Monique Berlioux with his lightning bolts, forcing her resignation, much as Zeus had vanquished the Titans. “Ça m’arrange” wrote the French press. And, what was the name of the man who negotiated the terms of the termination agreement between the IOC and Berlioux? François Carrard. Samaranch would be the man who would introduce two radical novelties to the IOC. First of all, in 1984, he opened the door, wide open many say, to eleven corporate sponsors, called TOP, The Olympic Partners, who would come to contribute up to 30 percent of the IOC’s revenues; second he secured utter control over the television rights to the games. Money, a lot of money, would flow, and the games would never again be the same. In 1989, Samaranch appointed Carrard as Director General, a position he held until 2003, or rather as part time Director General as Carrard was allowed to remain a partner in his law firm. Samaranch did need a Director General to do the job but there can only be one Zeus on Mount Olympus. After all, Greek mythology had its demigods, so part-time it would be. Let the opening ceremony unfold.
1989, the year of Carrard’s appointment, is when the Wall fell. The scene is Moscow, where Samaranch had been Spanish ambassador from 1977 to 1980 and had retained many connections, and the time is mid-October 1989, the grey autumn air filled with the stink of two stroke engines puffing yellow smoke through the dangling exhaust pipes. Carrard was attending a dinner at which the Chinese, the Soviet and the East German sports ministers were all present, wearing polyester shirts and ill cut suits. “What is wrong with your country, what is it with so many East Germans leaving via Czechoslovakia and Hungary?” Carrard asked the East German minister. “Oh, nothing serious,” came the answer, “it is just that our youth is bored, you see, we, in East Germany, do not provide them with many opportunities to express their creativity”. Three weeks later, the Wall had fallen; they had not seen it coming, but nor had the western media.
By 1991, even ahead of the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States were asserting their rights to their pre-war seats. “Where is the letter formally notifying my country of its expulsion from the IOC?” thundered one Baltic minister. The three Baltic republics were eventually restored, as opposed to admitted, to the IOC in September 1991; Latvia, for instance, had taken part in three Olympiads between the wars winning three medals at the 1932 Los Angeles and 1936 Berlin games. That still left the other Soviet republics, notably the Central Asian stans, for which new national Olympic committees had to be created from scratch. Carrard was often in Moscow in 1990 and 1991 to assist in the process at a time of fast and fluid political developments, which culminated in the eventual formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26th 1991.
When the winter games opened in Albertville on February 8th 1992, barely six weeks later, the fourteen republics, other than Russia, were light years away from being ready to participate as individual nations. On behalf of the IOC, Carrard developed the concept of the Unified Team, a joint team consisting of six of the fifteen former Soviet republics: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia. The Unified Team paraded under the Olympic flag and competed under the IOC country code EUN, which stood for Equipe Unifiée in French; it would appear on only one other occasion, at the Barcelona Olympics, later that year. At the Albertville games, the Unified Team won a total of 23 medals, second only to Germany, with the medals won in individual events being awarded to its constituent states.
As the year progressed, the IOC found itself confronted to a far thornier problem, begat by the civil war in Yugoslavia. Early in 1992, Slovenia and Croatia, soon followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, had gained recognition as independent states, having left the former socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Montenegro. In the spring of 1992, for the first time ever, the United Nations adopted political sanctions against sport, forbidding its member states to accept any team from Yugoslavia, a position clearly unacceptable to Samaranch and the IOC. Carrard flew to New York where he met the Brazilian ambassador, then chairing the UN Security Council. The ambassador expressed his understanding for the IOC’s view, which was that the sanctions were penalising the athletes, not the states. And so it came to be that, after the invention of the Unified Team concept, along came the notion of “independent athletes,” which allowed athletes from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and from the Republic of Macedonia to compete individually as Independent Olympic Participants, again under the Olympic flag and under the country code IOP. The sanctions led to comical situations: for instance Spain was barred from granting access to the games to the Yugoslav sports minister while on the other hand the Spanish government was arguing that it had no right to refuse him access as he was a member of a government that Spain still recognised at the time. To solve this dilemma, the minister was allowed to fly into Spain, though not as a member of the Yugoslav delegation at the Games, and was issued with a succession of daily passes to the games.
The end of the East Bloc and the disintegration of Yugoslavia were not the only big events that marked the early nineties. South Africa had begun the dismantling of apartheid, a process culminating in the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994. Upon the occasion of a visit by Mandela to the IOC in Lausanne, Carrard suggested taking him on a visit to the Château de Chillon on Lake Geneva, home, as it were, to Byron’s famous Prisoner of Chillon. “Oh yes, I am an expert on the subject,” Carrard recalls Mandela saying. “He was an extraordinary man, humble and yet strong, determined and yet forgiving,” Carrard says. Even ahead of the full dismantlement of apartheid and the 1994 election, Carrard coordinated a delegation to South Africa, of which he, on the sensible insistence of Samaranch, was one of the only two white members.
On a shelf behind Carrard stood his collection of West African statuettes from the 1920s and 1930s, grotesque figures called colons, some donned with pith helmets, meant to symbolise opposition to colonialism; guardian deities of African culture, it seemed they had been waiting all along for Mandela’s visit and the return of the Republic of South Africa to the fold of the IOC.
By the time the 2002 winter games had been awarded to Salt Lake City in 1996, the value of the television rights had soared to some 900 million dollars, up from a puny 100 million in 1980. Where there is money, there is temptation. In November 1998, the Olympic torch set fire to the house of Samaranch when an American TV channel published a letter revealing that favours had been bestowed on IOC members or on their own relatives, plane tickets, a weekend for two in a luxury hotel, even college fees and other hospitality services, best left to the reader’s imagination. It quickly became clear that the Salt Lake City organising committee had tried to buy the votes of some IOC members in order to secure the games. Quod vult perdere Jupiter dementat: following an investigation, ten IOC members, out of a total of 112, were suspended, investigated or tendered their resignation.
Never far from the Director General, Carrard the lawyer observes: “Actually, to sell one’s vote was not an offence in the criminal sense of the word,” though he does concede that it raises some ethical issues. Was Samaranch – and perhaps Carrard as well – negligent? Did he turn a blind eye, pretending not to see, Cyclopes instead of Zeus? Carrard thinks that the vote buying arose from the combination of the sudden inflow of hundreds of millions of dollars, while the IOC was run like a 19th century St. James’s club, where gentlemen ensconced in leather arm chairs chat over a gin and tonic. In the wake of the Salt Lake City scandal, an ethics committee was set up. Its task was to draft a Code of Ethics containing a specific section dedicated to the rules to be observed by cities wishing to organise the Olympic Games.
Nowadays, not only is sport supported by a legal framework but it is often marked by litigation and the need for arbitration. The Taiwan vs. IOC dispute had been heard before a civil judge who, of course, was not a specialist in sports matters. Carrard, then still acting as counsel to the IOC, suggested to Samaranch the creation of a sports arbitration court that would hear and rule on cases, much as the International Chamber of Commerce operates a court of arbitration to settle disputes in the field of commerce. Today the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), which came into force in 2004, sits in Lausanne and hears about four to five hundred cases a year; it typically rules either over disputes relating to the execution of contracts or over disciplinary cases, of which a large number are relating to doping, the scourge of sports in the modern age. Themis had entered the stadium.
One trend of concern to both the IOC and the CAS, is the rapid development of litigation, itself part of an even bigger trend, the professionalisation of sports and its emergence as a multi-billion-dollar business. In one famous case, going back to 1999, two EU swimmers were charged with doping and sentenced to a four-year suspension by FINA, the swimming federation. They appealed to the CAS and, on appeal, their sentence was reduced to two years. Still not satisfied, the two swimmers appealed yet again, this time to the EU Commission, arguing that since they were professional swimmers, that sentence effectively prevented them from earning a living, to which the EU sensibly answered that it was not competent to rule on doping matters. The two swimmers now turned their case to the EU Court of Justice, which ruled that the Commission had a duty to pass a judgement not on whether two years or four years was the appropriate sentence for doping but on whether that sentence infringed upon the swimmers’ labour rights and their free access to work. In this instance the EU took the view that the two-year suspension was a fair sentence but a new precedent had been set: intervention by the EU in sports disputes.
Carrard left the IOC in 2003, after Jacques Rogge had succeeded Samaranch in 2001. His memories are still intense. Carrard presided over and witnessed rather remarkable times, an era of enormous political and social upheaval. “What struck me at the IOC is the way in which sport, with its many networks, can overcome political and social difficulties, between the two Chinas, between the two Koreas, for example,” he remembers. “Even politicians could not solve them,” he adds pensively.
Today, Carrard is back with his law firm and acts as a director on a number of boards. Over thirty years after having facilitated the admission of the People’s Republic to the IOC, he sits on the board of Bank of China (Suisse), which opened a subsidiary in Geneva in 1998. A renown gourmet, he is also chairman of the board of the Beau Rivage in Lausanne, the Belle-Epoque Palace, with its commanding view over the French Alps across the lake. Finally, there is the jazz piano player, the man he perhaps would have liked to be, to indulge the skill he acquired and perfected during a school year in South California when he was just 17 in 1955. Still as chairman of the Montreux Jazz Festival Foundation, every year he drives through the golden terraced vineyards of Lavaux to listen to jazz music and, on occasion, play the piano in Montreux, the place where the world comes to Switzerland.
François Carrard was born in 1938 into a family of lawyers to Jean, a lawyer and Erika, a consumer rights activist. He graduated with a PhD in Law from the University of Lausanne and was admitted to the bar. In the early 1960s he began his career as an attorney in law firms in Stockholm and Lausanne. Since 1967, he has been a partner at the law firm now named Carrard & Associés, specialising in sports and media law as well as in international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution. From 1979 onwards Carrard undertook various missions and counsel assignments on behalf of the International Olympic Committee until he became its Director General, a position he held from 1989 to 2003 while retaining the partnership in his law firm. He currently serves on the board of a number of corporations and institutions including Bank of China (Suisse), Beau-Rivage Palace, Brugg group, an industrial holding company, Fondation du Montreux Jazz Festival, IOC Television and Marketing Services, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and PCL group, which operates in the printing and publishing industry. Carrard is married with two daughters and lives near Lausanne.
Article by Dominique de la Barre