POSTED: September 19th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: Thomas Bach has few evident problems as IOC President

(L to R) IOC communications head Mark Adams and newly elected IOC chief Thomas Bach / IOC
(L to R) IOC communications head Mark Adams and newly elected IOC chief Thomas Bach / IOC

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Thomas Bach is fortunate. No President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken office at a time when the Olympic Movement is in both such a tranquil and wealthy state. Over the last 40 years, the man, with the title of being the most powerful man in world sport, has usually had an in-tray overflowing with problems.

When, after the 1972 Munich Games, Lord Killanin succeeded Avery Brundage, the autocratic American and, incidentally, the only non-European to hold the post, there was not only the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Olympic Village but also whether amateurism was an outdated concept and whether the eligibility rules should be changed.

In 1980, Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected, just as the United States and several of its allies were boycotting the Moscow Games. The Olympics seemed to be in danger of collapse but it is to Samaranch’s credit that, in the end, political problems were overcome while also overseeing the massive increase in financial income. Yet his reign was tarnished by the Salt Lake City ‘favours-for-votes’ scandal, which erupted in December 1998 and the repercussions from which were still being felt, when Samaranch stepped down in 2001.

Dr. Jacques Rogge, therefore, took over in a period of some uncertainty and he has steered a steady course, while, at the same time, building up the reserves of the IOC. There have been a series of successful Olympics, climaxing with the triumph of London, while he has driven through several admirable innovations such as the Youth Olympics.

Therefore, for Bach, convincingly elected as the 9th President, the future looks more serene than it ever has done. The 59 year-old German has a solid mandate and his difficulty seems to be one not of solving problems but of finding how it can put his mark on the Olympic Movement. Of course, emergencies can suddenly arise.

The protests against the Beijing torch relay, which Dr. Rogge said were the lowest moments in his presidency, erupted almost unexpectedly. Preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Games are not going smoothly and the threat of further demonstrations, similar to those earlier this year, will further concern the IOC. At least, it will be able to judge whether those protests are likely to re-occur in 2016 and also how Brazil will cope with a major sporting event when the FIFA World Cup is held there next year.

There is the possibility of the IOC introducing its own TV channel, something which will be aimed at the youth of the world because, as Sebastian Coe reminded the IOC in Buenos Aires, it is vital for the future health of the Olympic Movement that it engages with youngsters.

Although Bach is determined to keep the same number of athletes, 10,500, taking part in the Games he believes that, within these constraints, the number of gold medal events may be increased. He is also keen to make sustainable development a priority for cities bidding for the Olympics, something that was evident in the London Games and says that the present bidding process asks “too much too early”.

The Olympics are a unique brand and the IOC must not shy away from looking at ways to expand its recognition rather than trying to curb any expansion. Certainly the Summer Games should not be any bigger than they already are. However, Bach should now look at the Winter Games and see whether these could be more relevant to more countries by including a few indoor sports currently  on the programme of the Summer Games rather than simply confining the winter events to those on “snow and ice”, as the Olympic Charter states.

Given that Munich, with a host of suitable indoor venues, is an early front-runner for the 2022 Winter Games, might not a German IOC President seize the chance to promote this change?

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001. 

Keywords · John Goodbody · Thomas Bach · Jacques Rogge · IOC · Olympics

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