Thursday, November 24, 2005

Catalan President speech to the FIRS assembly



Rome, 24 November 2005

President, members of the central committee, presidents of FIRS member federations, delegates and friends,

Together with my 18 companions on the board, I am honoured to preside over a federation with 75 years of history, older than the Spanish federation itself, which was founded 24 years later. It is a federation with 20,000 sports licences in the 4 different roller sports. We hold our own competitions in each and every sport and category, the winners of which are the champions of Catalonia. We also take part in Spanish competitions, in the same way as we would like to take part in the international competitions organised by the various FIRS committees. It is our desire to find the highest levels of competition for Catalan sportsmen and women and to take part in the best international competitions, which are none other than those organised by the FIRS. Our aim is a sporting one and, in all sincerity, we believe we have enough sporting potential to contribute positively to the FIRS and its member federations. We want to compete internationally because we are sure that we are good enough and because we believe that direct participation by Catalan skaters will help improve the standard of the competitions organised by the various international committees. Throughout the history of the FIRS, there have been Catalan champions in the three different categories and most of them would have preferred to compete internationally for the Catalan federation. We believe you are all well aware of the standard of our sportsmen and women, of the quality of the Catalan board and the service it has provided to both world and Spanish skating.

Our federation meets all the requirements established in the FIRS statutes, as was understood by the Central Committee on 24 March 2004 in Miami, when it voted unanimously on the provisional admission of the Catalan federation. But above all, it was the TAS itself which stated that, according to the statutes, the Catalan federation could be admitted. All it depends on now is your vote in favour. Therefore, I ask for your support, so that my federation may actively participate in the FIRS. Some delegations still hold that the statutes do not permit the admission of my federation. But do you really think the TAS would have demanded a second ballot if admission was not permitted under the statutes? Would the highest court in sport make us vote on an illegal decision, contrary to our statutes? Since Fresno, a process has been started with the aim of modifying the statutes and thus preventing our federation from being admitted. But the TAS has already decided that the Catalan federation’s admission should be discussed and voted on in accordance with the regulations in force at Fresno. If the statutes are eventually modified, this will not prevent my federation joining the FIRS, following approval by the Congress.

If our federation has the sporting potential which alone makes it worthy of joining the other sports federations, if the admission of the Catalan federations does not contravene FIRS statutes and the Catalan federation is not the first member federation that does not represent a sovereign state, what reasons are there not to admit our federation?

Some of those who are involved in political manoeuvres against the admission of the Catalan federation accuse us of playing politics. Again, I allow you to draw your own conclusions!

Believe me, at all times our actions have been based on sporting criteria. We do not want politics to hold sway over sport. We want to discuss sport, we want to promote skating through cooperation with all member federations. Why should we prevent sportsmen and women from competing internationally, representing their federation? Is that playing politics? We want to strengthen the bonds of cooperation between federations, especially those that are less well off. Is that playing politics?

It is a fact that our federation has signed a protocol for cooperation with the FIRS. We have signed it and done so openly. Is that playing politics? Is cooperating with the FIRS federations playing politics? We support the FIRS. It should be public knowledge and you as delegates should know that our federation, the Catalan federation, has this year subsidised the FIRS. Have we asked for anything in return? All we have done is fulfil our commitments.

Some of those who oppose our admission suggest, as if it were a threat, that if our federation enters the FIRS, it will then be open to other federations that do not represent sovereign states. But which federations do they mean? Are there so many federations that have both sporting potential and represent a nationality, as is the case of the Catalan federation? These are just speculations, ghosts that bear no resemblance to reality. I am here to say, without fear of contradiction, that our federation is a unique case and that there is no other federation in the same situation as the Catalan federation. Therefore, we ask that your vote be carefully considered, free and, above all, that it takes into account the specific, unique circumstances of Catalan skating.

Over the last year, the Catalan federation has made various proposals to help strengthen world skating: the organisation of world games, which would bring together the four sports for the first time and thus demonstrate our strength to the International Olympic Committee; the constitution of a world foundation with the aim of raising funds and collaborating with the FIRS in the promotion of our sport and in having speed skating admitted as an Olympic sport. It is possible that these proposals are the most suitable ones. But so far no-one has indicated that they are wrong, let alone why. What we have received from some people is distrust, alleging that now is not the time for such proposals. But the fact remains that immediate action is required before we reach a point when the problems are insurmountable. If these proposals are not suitable, then it is the FIRS, it is you the delegates, who should accept or reject them. Under no circumstances do they deserve to be flatly rejected.

The Central Committee, in Miami, accepted our provisional membership unanimously. Now the Central Committee recommends that you vote in favour of the opposite position, a position that was not adopted unanimously. But among this diversity of opinions in the Central Committee and the Congress, all of which are respectable if held in good faith, pressures have appeared and with them the division of the FIRS.

Yet the fact is that without the FIRS, by bypassing the FIRS or in contravention of the regulations and statutes, skating cannot remain united nor can it be admitted to the Olympic programme. We believe we can actively cooperate with you all, because above all, we play sport and therefore we would, at the very least, like speed skating to become an Olympic sport.

We have tried to find ways of cooperating with the Spanish federation and this must continue, so that, whatever your decision, both Catalan and Spanish skating may continue to progress. The Spanish federation argues that in Spain it is illegal for the Catalan federation to request membership of the FIRS. Yet the Spanish federation does not mention that Catalonia’s own legislation both permits and promotes it. By way of example, it has been 21 months since the Catalan federation was provisionally admitted in Miami. In that time, neither the Spanish government, nor the Spanish sports authorities, nor the Spanish federation itself, and most definitely not the Spanish courts, have sanctioned, warned or issued a verdict or sentence against me as president or my federation. Why not? The only verdict issued during these 21 months was that of the TAS. Again, please draw your own conclusions!

Today, here in Rome, I, in the name of my federation and thousands of Catalan sportsmen and women, ask for your support, for the good of the sport. We want to be a positive element for cooperation and believe we can be. Why should we give that up? Why are we accused of playing politics? We trust your opinion on the matter. It is for you to decide: Why should we waste the opportunity to cooperate with all those federations that are struggling to promote skating, despite the lack of resources? What political reasons can there be that are more important than cooperation between the federations of the FIRS? Is it not true that many federations cannot even afford the trip that allows them to exercise their rights and to speak as members of the FIRS?

We have the support of a people, a nation, Catalonia, with its own culture and language; we have a government whose own parliament democratically chose to approve are sports laws. All of this supports our request to be admitted to the FIRS and to be able to take part in its competitions.

I know some of you are considering voting for the Central Committee’s recommendation and you may vote against admitting our federation. We understand this and respect your decision. But I also ask that, if at any time during my speech you have thought that we are even partly in the right, i.e.:

that Catalonia’s contribution to world skating has been and is an important one;

that the FIRS can strengthen its processes of participation and democracy;

that the FIRS needs to increase its financial resources;

that the FIRS should consider greater cooperation among all its member federations;

that our mission into the FIRS is not illegal. You all know that we are here today because of a resolution from the highest sports Court, the TAS, which is linked to International Olympic Committee (IOC);

that nowadays there exist 47 other sport countries like Catalonia (England, Scotland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Faeroe Islands, etc…) that are not recognised as a state by the United Nations but who are members from different international sports federations;

that all summer and winter Olympic sports federations such as FIFA, FIBA, IAAF, have admitted as full members different stateless sports countries;

that just a month ago the International Korfball Federation recognised by the IOC like our FIRS, accepted the Catalan federation as a full member. Moreover, the president of the International Korfball Federation is the president of the internationally recognised sports federations Association (ARISF);

if you share any of these opinions, now is time to place your confidence in us and not marginalize a sports country such as ours. After the TAS’s verdict, we believe, that the only fair decision is not blocking our admission because of political reasons since we truly love our roller sports.

I am available to answer any questions or doubts raised with the Catalan federation in this congress after my speech. And consequently, I ask you to vote NO to the recommendation of the Central Committee.

Thank you for your attention. Very soon, or even today we shall become full members of this federation.

Ramon Basiana
Federació Catalana de Patinatge


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