David Owen

And so, as revealed in a noteworthy exclusive by my insidethegames colleague Liam Morgan, the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) may be set for the scrapheap.

I somehow doubt there will be too many tears shed inside the swish new International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne.

Indeed, as I write, we are nearing the 40th anniversary of a gathering which played a key role in an early IOC plan to undermine the then 14-year-old umbrella body which was known at the time (even more catchily) as the General Association of International Sports Federations.

Some context: international sport was just starting to emerge at the dawn of the 1980s as a valuable commercial property.

One of the first sports leaders to surmise the full political significance of this was a quiet-spoken Spaniard who, to be surprise of some, had been elected to the IOC Presidency in 1980.

After a contemplative first year, Juan Antonio Samaranch had used the Olympic Congress held in the leafy West German spa town of Baden-Baden in 1981 to stamp his authority over the Movement which he nominally led.

Having secured for himself some political capital at this high-profile and still landmark event, Samaranch at once set about establishing the firm grip over the international sports world he was not to relinquish for twenty years.

One challenger to his authority was GAISF President Thomas Keller, who had wielded a huge amount of power under Samaranch’s predecessor, Lord Killanin.

Just as the Olympic Games were becoming more valuable, so the proliferating number of single-sport world championships would potentially pump more wealth into the hands of the International Sports Federations (IFs) and their Swiss helmsman.

If, in addition to this, GAISF had at its disposal the IFs' share of the revenues generated by the Olympic Games, Keller’s influence could have scaled new heights, posing a potent challenge to Samaranch’s newly-minted authority, and even the IOC.

The AIOWF came into existence in Sarajevo, at a meeting where the 1984 Winter Olympics dominated the agenda ©Getty Images
The AIOWF came into existence in Sarajevo, at a meeting where the 1984 Winter Olympics dominated the agenda ©Getty Images

But, as the Spaniard realised, GAISF’s members were already a disparate bunch likely to adopt a range of stances on many of the various issues confronting them.

The situation ought, in other words, to lend itself to adoption of the ancient strategy of "divide and rule". This is exactly how he decided to act.

Recognising the importance, at least for his own ends, of putting the escalating wads of Olympic Games cash outside the reach of Keller’s GAISF, Samaranch had the idea of establishing a separate Assembly of International Winter Sports Federations.

This new body, not GAISF, would be the conduit for the IFs' share of the revenue produced by the Winter Olympic Games.

It was at a meeting in Sarajevo in Yugoslavia, as it was then, between 2 and 4 December 1981 that this new assembly - which would eventually become the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF) - was brought into being.

The gathering, in the city earmarked to host the 1984 Winter Games, coincided with a snowstorm.

As described with commendable colour in Olympic Review, "Outside the hotel, set against a white background of light snowfall, trees were blanketed with a fresh white coating and local men and women were bundled up for the cold."

More significantly, "these conditions greatly affected the arrival of most of the IOC Executive Board, the International Federations and the international journalists who travelled long distances to be present for the meetings".

This resulted, unsurprisingly, in transport taking a prominent place in the first day’s deliberations, with Samaranch stressing that "alternative routing by air and train must be explored and the answers to this problem must be found and put into action before the winter of 1984".

Much of day two was spent on venue visits that seem desperately poignant in light of subsequent events in the city.

Juan Antonio Samaranch moved to limit GAISF's power and consolidate the IOC's authority ©Getty Images
Juan Antonio Samaranch moved to limit GAISF's power and consolidate the IOC's authority ©Getty Images

According to Olympic Review, the tour of the facilities began at Kosevo Stadium - site of the Opening Ceremony - "which is practically finished…

"Nearby is Zetra which is still under construction and consists of the sports centre where the artistic skating events will be held and the outdoor speed skating oval."

The group then went on to see the TV centre and the Olympic Village, where two of three buildings were said to be "completed and ready for habitation".

Then came Skenderija "where the ice hockey games will be played" and Trebević "site of the bobsled and luge events".

The account of the restructuring that was to prove such a key event in the modern history of the IOC and the Movement was confined to a single paragraph in the middle of the three-page piece.

"It was decided an Assembly of International Winter Sports Federations would be considered by the Executive Board," Olympic Review wrote.

"If the new Assembly is accepted, Mr Marc Hodler, IOC member for Switzerland, will head this organisation."

It concluded: "This was approved the following day."

Samaranch, of course, knew exactly what he was doing.

As he told his biographer, David Miller, a few years later: "Without the television money, the proportion for the Olympic federations coming from the Games, GAISF was finished."

There have turned out to be four decades' worth of twists and turns since then, involving plenty of strong personalities, but Samaranch's gambit took the wind emphatically and lastingly out of GAISF's sails.

And while the umbrella body ultimately outlived its nemesis, even threatening to wrest back substantial power from time to time, it seems that four decades on the end may finally - definitively - be nigh.