Last FICTS tribute to Alex Gilady, member of the International Olympic Committee

21 Apr 2022

President of the FICTS – Federation Internationale Cinema television Sportifs Prof. Franco Ascani, Member of the Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission of the International Olympic Committee with the Board of Directors and the representatives of the 129 Member Countries, pay a final farewell to Alex Gilady.

He made a remarkable contribution to the Olympic movement as former President of the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee and as a member of the Culture and Olympic Heritage Committee.

The deepest condolences to the family.

Gilady, who was born in Tehran to Polish Jews fleeing World War II, began working in Israeli sports television during the late 1960s. He rose up through the industry over the years and became an NBC Sports executive and eventually president of Keshet Media Group, a primary television transmitter in Israel.

“Keshet Media Group mourns the death of Alex Gilady… a historic broadcast producer, visionary and shaper of Israeli television,” the network said in a statement.

For me, the sadness is particularly personal. 

Outside of North America, it is not unusual within the Olympic scene that I might be the first Jewish person someone will have ever met. That is, if they had not yet met Alex. 

To be sure, there are other Jewish people in the Olympic landscape and, for a variety of reasons, some are more upfront about their Jewishness than others. All good. Alex was not by any means crazy religious. But he was the International Olympic Committee member from Israel. Pretty obvious what he was. He would say to me, you know, you should always carry in your suitcase a kippah, the ceremonial Jewish skullcap. Why? He would shrug. And say, you never know. 

Alex was Israel’s first IOC member. Alex was also a senior NBC executive who, as the network’s longtime sports and Olympics boss Dick Ebersol was given to say, had an unlimited expense account, and surpassed it, often as de facto maestro of the Lausanne Palace hotel bar when the Olympic whirlwind was in town.

Alex managed to be close to, in succession, IOC presidents Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jacques Rogge and Thomas Bach, three very different personalities. It was nonetheless a rare day that Alex did not know what was what. He could be remarkably prescient, too. It was Alex who, in 1996, called Bach to urge him to run for the IOC’s policy-making executive board, as the current president noted in an IOC statement released Thursday, a phone call that ultimately would set Bach on a course for the presidency.

Those who knew Alex well had to laugh appreciatively when, in that same statement, Bach observed of Alex, “We all appreciated his open personality and his frank way of speaking even if we did not always agree, because with Alex we always knew that he was speaking from the heart. He was always a genuine person.”

This was the unvarnished truth. Whether at the Palace bar, or from-the-heart emails, or WhatsApp messages or calls or wherever Alex would find you, he was — let’s say — unreserved. I cannot begin to count the Alan-you-are-wrong missives or stern warnings I received over nearly 25 years. I also cannot begin to count the thank-you’s or notes of appreciation. This was Alex.

In one of my final exchanges, Alex wrote the one thing he had never said before: “Thanks for the sms. Love you.” 

“You too,” I wrote back. “Talk tomorrow.” 

Now there are no more tomorrows. 

Yiannis Exarchos, the head of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said in a Twitter note posted Thursday that Alex was a “giant of a man” and a “great friend.” Many people, not just Yiannis, would say the same of Alex. Obviously in decline at February’s Beijing Games, Alex nonetheless made a huge effort to be present in China to drink in their friendship.

Alex understood diplomacy, finance, television, sport (his depth and breadth was remarkable, though it must be said he had a keen affinity for track and field) and, most of all, people. In a nod to this combination, Seb Coe, the head of the international track and field federation, World Athletics, said in another Thursday Twitter post, “Alex’s passing is a grievous loss to his family, friends and the international sporting landscape. He brought to all of his deliberations a rare suffusion of political, commercial, communication and sporting nous. No gathering at major events will ever be quite the same.”

Everyone should have in their lives the sort of passion for which Alex loved the Olympics. He thoroughly, completely believed that the Olympic movement could, did, does change lives, one by one — and such change moves our world forward. Slowly? Sure. But surely. Because when we come together, we can maybe see beyond the hatreds of the past, live in the moment and build toward a better future, together. 

Alex was a Polish Jew born in Teheran. Say that sentence out loud and think about how that affected Alex and his worldview, about the land he came to, the nation it became, the one he would serve, how it has survived and grown since 1948, when Alex was 6 — and how things are different from December 1942, when he was born, and yet, our fragile and broken world is, in ways large and small, the same.

Alex was frank? He could be maybe tough? OK. When Alex was little, the Jews of Europe went silently. No more. 

The IOC president, to his enormous credit, has gone a long, long way toward recognizing the horrors of  Munich 1972. Who, meanwhile, do you think for years was a persistent voice pushing the IOC to do the right thing? You know who.

Because the ancient Hebrew calendar tilts toward the moon, not the familiar 24/7/365 cycle, the Jewish holidays shift through the 12 months on different days — rather than, say, Christmas always being December 25 — and Alex and I would sometimes find ourselves together in different parts of the world on this or that Jewish holiday. Alex and I would sometimes talk about 1972. Or whatever else was on his mind. 

Three autumns ago, for instance, he organized a lunch commemorating Rosh Hashanah — Jewish New Year — at the track and field championships in, of all places, Doha, Qatar. There were a handful of us and, as the custom prescribes, there were apples and honey on the table to celebrate the sweetness and promise of new beginnings. 

A few springtimes before, Alex and I and one other friend had marked Passover, the story of the telling of the Exodus, in a hotel room at the Lausanne Palace. Passover is perhaps the calendar’s most essential holiday; it is the Jewish origin story, the journey from slavery to freedom. Each spring, each telling of the story, thus brings a renewal of that thing that human beings need most. Hope.

The classic Passover sees a seder, the Hebrew word that in this context means both the story-telling and the event itself, filled with family, friends and food. In Lausanne that spring, though, there were just the three of us. And no kitchen. Problem? No problem. There was matzah, the unleavened bread that is central to the story, and, with Alex, of course, a good red.

Just one more bit of Hebrew: as seders go, to borrow from one of the key bits of the story, it 100 percent was dayenu, enough.

Passover 2022 begins at sundown Friday. That will be literally just hours after the funeral will draw to a close in Ramat HaSharon. 

As our tradition says: may Alex’s memory be a blessing.