Annual General Meeting, 21 May 2016

A glorious spring day on the Swiss Riviera saw no fewer than 94 BRA Members converge on Vevey from all parts of Switzerland – even the easternmost extremities.  Many came by train, (…some no doubt through tunnels destined to feature prominently in the day’s proceedings). They weren’t coming to visit the new Charlie Chaplin museum, or to stroll in the sunshine amongst the flowers on the lakeside promenade… either of which might well have been an attractive alternative to approving reports and accounts at a BRA annual general meeting. But this was no ordinary AGM. It was our 70th Anniversary. Andrew Konecki had assembled from the archives a fascinating exhibition of documents tracing the Association’s history. News cuttings and letters from members of the Royal family and prominent figures such as Norman Tebbit and Terry Waite made for absorbing browsing after lunch.

But first the AGM. This offered an opportunity for members to take leave of our stalwart outgoing Chairman, Nigel Coombs, who has steered the ship through choppy water and transformed the Association’s website. We were offered not one, but two Chairman’s reports – the second from our new Chairman, Graham Robertson, who had effectively taken over when Nigel left for a well-earned trip around the world. He and all the nominated candidates for the Council were elected by overwhelming majority (for the first time using formal ballot papers and scrutineers to count the votes), so Graham Robertson now has his hand firmly on the tiller.

Ted Talbot, the retiring Treasurer, presented a healthy set of accounts and earned warm applause by agreeing to succeed Jo Smith, MBE as Auditor.

Proposals from Council to modify the Articles of Association to include an AGM quorum of 30 members and to replace proxy votes with postal votes were approved by large majorities after a useful and constructive discussion. 

The meeting ended on a rather downbeat note with two important decisions on contentious issues (details forthcoming in the Minutes), but the atmosphere remained friendly and cordial throughout.

So business done, the fun could start. We repaired to aperitifs and to meet the man who had certainly helped to attract so many members to Vevey –  our guest speaker, former Federal Councillor and President of the Swiss Confederation, Adolf Ogi.

The Hotel Astra in Vevey had prepared an excellent meal for us, the wine flowed generously, and Nigel Coombs had contrived a seating plan that seemed to work perfectly, to judge by the volume and animation of the conversation in the room. So by the time Adolf Ogi got to his feet, the audience were eating out of his hand.  An honorary member of the BRA for over 20 years, he’s an unorthodox politician – a man of modest origins, approachable, sincere and honest. There wouldn’t have been any room for spin-doctors in his ministerial office… He treated us to an amusing account of his extraordinary life, rich in anecdote and with as much emphasis on the positive role that sport can play in life as on his political achievements.

But these were significant, and certainly none more so than his determined implementation of the long-delayed plan for a new Lötschberg tunnel, part of the ambitious railway link through the Alps. A leader of vision and great optimism, he portrayed the tunnel as a symbol of unity and fraternity (not just something that has light at its end,,,), and brought the house down with his – politically incorrect! – tale of tunnelling engineers who offered “two tunnels for the price of one” should they have the misfortune not to meet up in the middle. He summed up his political philosophy as: “Do what you believe in, and believe in what you do”.  Not a bad precept for any politician.

One thing he believes in strongly in is how sport can transform the lives of young people. A top skier himself, and former boss of the Swiss Ski Federation, he used his experience as a military officer and a manager in business to promote the most positive values in sport, “a toolkit for life” as he termed it. There were echoes of Kipling’s “If -” in his description of those values, such as generosity in victory, cheerfulness in defeat, team spirit, fair play, respect for officials, determination, persistence in adversity, always aiming to do one’s best…  These were the values he had promoted around the world when serving at the UN as Kofi Annan’s Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace.

Adolf Ogi made much of his affection for Britain and its inhabitants. He’d studied in London and worked in a textile firm near Liverpool. He loved British humour (and as we heard was a skilled purveyor of it!)  He felt that Britain, with Switzerland, could still show the way forward, since Europe had failed to follow the advice of one very prominent Head of State at the Nice Summit in 2000.  Following Mr Ogi’s description of the Swiss system of government since1848, the host had said:  “Well, now we know what we need to do. We simply have to join the Swiss Confederation! “

There was a sad note when he spoke of the foundation for children he had created in memory of his son, Mathias, who died in his 30s of cancer. But the name of this foundation neatly sums up the personality of this remarkable man: “Freude herrscht” (“Joy reigns supreme”). He exudes an indefatigable love of life, relentless optimism, the can-do spirit, a belief in humanity and its ability to make life better for everyone. We all came away up-lifted and boosted by our brief encounter with an exceptional man, who left us with a good piece of advice for young people: “You’ll never have a second chance to make a first impression”.

For those who missed the opportunity to hear him speak, you can buy “Dölf” Ogi’s biography in English (as well as German and French)


Max Bishop

P.S.  We took the opportunity of the RAFA/RBL lunch in Yvoire to gather together a few BRA Councillors and Anne to present John Spicer, who was unable to attend the AGM, with a gift in appreciation and thanks for his work on the Council and in helping to lead the Central Region.

BRA event photos