As hundreds of members of the sports industry elite gather this week in Buenos Aires, one member of the International Olympic Committee is likely to play a major role in all the big decisions, from which city will host the 2020 Games to which sport will be added to the roster.
He is Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, a jet-setting member of the Kuwaiti royal family who has quietly become one of the most powerful and controversial people in global sports while remaining largely overlooked by many outside the tightly knit Olympic political circles.
Al-Sabah is the new head of the Association of National Olympic Committees, a consortium of 205 national Olympic committees spanning five continents. The job comes with considerable influence in the Olympic world, along with a fund to disperse to needy athletes and impoverished countries. The fund, Olympic Solidarity, will give away $438 million in the 2013-16 cycle, an increase of about 40 percent from the $311 million budget from 2009 to 2012.
Since becoming an I.O.C. member in 1992, al-Sabah, 50, has built a coalition that can sway votes and appoint executives, according to interviews with more than a dozen I.O.C. members, officials and consultants. He played a key role in a recent vote to award the 2018 Youth Olympic Games to Buenos Aires; at least one consultant involved created a spreadsheet tallying which members were thought to be in al-Sabah’s voting bloc, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.
Representatives for al-Sabah did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
He has skirted around the edges of I.O.C. rules recently. He was quoted in the German press regarding Thomas Bach, a candidate for the I.O.C. presidency, prompting Olympic officials to write a letter to al-Sabah reminding him of the rules prohibiting endorsements.
The al-Sabah family has extensive interests in the oil industry, and his relatives hold prominent positions in the government and the military. His father, Fahad al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, was deeply involved in a number of international sports organizations, including the I.O.C., until he was killed defending the palace when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. At 29, al-Sabah joined the I.O.C. after his father’s death and was among its youngest members ever. Beyond his involvement in sports, al-Sabah has served as head of Kuwait’s national security commission and as OPEC chairman. He attended Kuwait’s military academy.