USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal sat at the front of the room at the FIVB World Congress last month in Anaheim listening to the votes read aloud one by one.
“One vote for Graça…. One vote for Beal … One vote for Graça … One vote for Schact … ”
The process was painstaking and seemed to take forever. Over 200 member nations cast a vote in what was the FIVB’s first democratic election for president of the organization. The favorite, Ary Graça of Brazil, was expecting to receive about 170 votes and to win in a landslide. But Beal and his backers had a feeling it would be much closer than that.
Beal was right. In the end, Graça did win, but only pulled 103 votes to Beal’s 86. Chris Schact of Australia, the third candidate in the race, won just 15 votes.
But according to Beal, the election was actually closer than that 17-vote win margin reflected. Beal said that in order to win the presidency, Graça needed 50% of the votes cast plus one vote. If he did not receive just over half of the votes, there would have been a second round of voting between just the top two candidates instead of all three.
“We always thought that my best chance to win was to somehow stop Ary from winning in the first round,” Beal said. “The second round would have dropped out Chris, who was the lowest vote getter. It was very likely that most, if not all, of his votes would have come to me. So we came one vote short of that.”
Beal didn’t sound terribly disappointed at the result. In fact, he sounded a little relieved. He announced his candidacy back in February and for the ensuing seven months he was campaigning in earnest, traveling to Africa, Europe and all over the world attending meetings and talking to folks about his vision for the FIVB’s future. He was also on the phone constantly.
“I probably spoke to over 150 federations, mostly the smaller ones who don't have an opportunity most of the time at least to interact with the FIVB in any meaningful way,” Beal said. “So you know essentially I was kind of trying to do two jobs. It was very time consuming and sometimes quite difficult and I am sure I didn't do justice to either one of them.”
But the reality of running an international organization was a daunting one for Beal, who would have had to move to the organization headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. With a daughter in high school, that wouldn’t have been ideal. Still, the prospect of finally making some change at the FIVB, which has up to this point been run more as a dictatorship than a democracy, was a goal worth pursuing.
But you don’t go from a dictatorship to democracy without hitting a few snags. Both Beal and Schact voiced serious concerns about the way Graça ran his campaign and the way the FIVB handled the issues that came up.
The biggest complaint, shared by both Beal and Schact, was a “secret letter” that Graça apparently had the heads of each confederations sign that promised them paid positions at the FIVB in return for their support of Graça’s candidacy.
“If he won the election, these people were going to be in various positions. And he's done that, he's put them in those positions,” Beal said. “They all signed an agreement that they'll support Ary in return for a position X, Y or Z. I saw the documents. If you talked to them they would say that this is more nothing more than a side agreement that would happen in politics. I'm not sure they’re wrong, but in my view that's not the way we want to operate the FIVB currently or going forward. If you’ve got a group of people responsible for oversight of the election and they have publicly come out and endorsed one of the candidates, that is about as obvious a conflict of interest as you could possibly have.”
The questionable conduct didn’t end there. The FIVB appointed an Election Committee to provide oversight for the election, up to and including the counting of the votes. All of the members appointed to the Election Committee had publicly announced their support for Graça.
“The problem to me was the message they were sending, which could easily have influenced any number of potential voters,” said Beal. “Here are these five confederation presidents, one of whom is running. They make up the election oversight committee. They have control over the process. I mean, you could draw a fairly easy conclusion that this is a done deal. Do I think they did anything underhanded? Nothing I can point to. But do I think it was ridiculous and stupid and foolish of the FIVB? Yes. And it could have easily been changed.”
Faced with the complaints, the FIVB decided not to investigate, stating that they saw no evidence of conflict of interest.
So with all of this in mind – the vote-buying, the Graça-biased committees and the FIVB looking the other way – one might conclude that Graça avoiding a second round of voting by just a single vote becomes even more suspicious.
Did anyone think of requesting a recount?
“I certainly thought about it,” said Beal. “I thought about the contentiousness of it and the hard feelings that would have probably surfaced. It just didn't seem to me to be worth it when the FIVB is having their first democratic election and we've made this significant change -- at least in the minds of most of the FIVB world -- to request a recount.”
So that was that. The first democratic election, warts and all, was in the books. Ary Graça is the new president, and has already made good on the jobs he promised to the confederation heads. Beal will go back to his day job and his family and the life he has built with no hard feelings.
“It’s good for USA Volleyball if Ary does a great job, if he makes changes that are positive for the sport,” Beal said. “I wrote him a note yesterday saying that if he wants me to do something, I’m happy to do it. If he doesn’t I am happy for that. He’s the president. I just want him to know that I am going to be as supportive as I can possibly be.”