Asian Games

Diplomat and pioneer put China on the sporting map

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am

Richard Avory 1943-2005

Former IMG senior vice-president Richard Avory was more than a senior official who helped thrust China into the forefront of world sports. He was a skilful diplomat, a pioneer, a confidant and a friend.

To all those who knew Avory, the England-born Cambridge-educated former sportsman was 'larger-than-life' and friendly; a hearty fellow whose heart matched his enormous girth. He died of a suspected heart attack in his Beijing office-home last week. He was 62.

Avory's accomplishment in helping China back into the sports arena was the stuff of legends. He was chiefly responsible for getting China admitted into the Asian Games family in Tehran in 1974.

For this, he will be forever remembered. As deputy secretary-general of the organising committee of the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, Avory's job was to liaise with the Asian sports federations and National Olympic Committees.

He took a Taiwanese official on a 90-minute drive around the city of Tehran pretending to be lost while members voted whether China should be admitted into the Asian Games Committee. China won the vote by just one vote - thanks largely to Taiwan's absence in the voting process. Taiwan and China had not agreed to compete together, so one had to go.

'The issue of China became a passion with me,' he told the South China Morning Post a few years ago. 'How could a country with such a big population and sporting prowess be excluded from international sport? It seemed ridiculous. It has nothing to do with politics. I was, if anything, right-leaning.'

Avory played a huge role in China, helping to establish the Chinese National Football League in 1994 and the Chinese Basketball League the following year.

Before that, he travelled the world to lobby for China's membership in world sports federations. He was successful as China were later admitted into the International Badminton Federation (IBF) and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

Avory had worked for international sports agency IMG for 25 years before he left the company in 1999 to join China Sports and Entertainment and the Beijing-based T&A, a sports and marketing consulting company.

IMG vice-president Francesco Suarez said Avory would be fondly remembered as a person who had a tremendous drive and passion for promoting and marketing sports.

'He was an inspiration,' said Suarez. 'He had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and he was incredibly incisive on people's characters. He was also a pretty good diplomat as well.'

John Fung, who was head of marketing and sales at IMG from 1994-95, said Avory was the man behind the scenes, highly respected by his peers and by athletes alike.

'Around half of all the sports events that were organised in China over the years were probably set up by Richard. He had a close relationship with people like former IBF vice-president Punch Gunalan and Fiba [World Basketball Federation] president Carl Ching [Men Ky]. He's a legend not only in world sports but to the world federations as well,' said Fung.

Avory was born on St Valentine's Day, 1943, in Cirencester, in the rural west of England. His stockbroker father served in the Royal Navy, while his mother had been evacuated to Cirencester from London during the war.

He was educated at Stowe, a well-known private school and attended Cambridge University, where he graduated with a Masters degree in history.

In his younger days, Avory was a talented sportsman and even gained membership at the exclusive All-England Tennis Lawn & Croquet Club. He played there as a junior and represented Britain in Davis Cup and at the US Open in 1963.

He took up residency in Tehran in the late '60s after falling in love with his first wife, Naz Alam, who was the daughter of a former Prime Minister of Iran, Assadallah Alam, a close aide to the former Shah of Iran.

Because of his close connections, Avory was the only known 'foreigner' allowed in the palace, which he fled before the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Avory moved to Hong Kong the same year after the fall of the Shah, and began to establish IMG's reputation in the region, organising a string of top-class international sporting events such as badminton, table tennis, golf, tennis and gymnastics. He was credited with raising more than US$130 million in sponsorship and television rights revenues for sports in China.

He was also senior international vice-president of the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) from 2000 to 2001.

Avory was an intensely private man and little is known about his private life. He is said to have a son from his first marriage and was married again in 1994. His funeral is on October 9 in Beijing.