Beijing, Dec 25: The Olympic Movement was at a crossroads in 2013 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) underwent a shift in power in more than a decade by electing Thomas Bach as its president, replacing Jacques Rogge.
The 59-year-old German claimed an overwhelming victory over five rivals in a secret ballot by his fellow IOC members in Buenos Aires in September, which was widely interpreted as a message that the IOC wants to sail in the safe waters as it has been during Rogge’s 12-year tenure at the helm of the world’s leading sports organisation.
Rogge, who succeeded Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001, has restored the reputation of the IOC after the bribes-for-vote scandal over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. The affair clouded Samaranch’s final years in power, reports Xihua.
The 71-year-old Regge took a hard line against doping and ethics violations, created the Youth Olympics in 2010 and oversaw a growth in financial reserves. Under his watch, the IOC has also taken the Olympics to new places, including awarding the 2016 Games to Rio de Janerio.
Although the Belgian has left the Olympic Movement in much sturdier shape, the ninth IOC president has much to do.
Bach’s first priority is to ensure a successful Sochi Winter Games next February. The build-up has been overshadowed by western criticism of a recent Russian law outlawing the promotion of gay propaganda among minors, an issue that has raised concerns about the conditions for athletes and spectators.
The IOC has said it received assurances from the Russian government that it will respect the Olympic Charter as public protest zones would be set up in Sochi during the Games. “This is a measure we welcome, so that everybody can express his or her free opinion,” Bach said.
And with less than three years to go, preparations for the 2016 Games in Rio remain dogged by construction delays, environmental worries and financial uncertainties.
Warning that Brazil has “no time to lose”, Bach said he will travel to Brazil in the next couple of months to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and Rio organisers.
There are even much bigger threats to the long-term health of the Olympic Movement. Among the most pressing problems for the IOC are reforming the sports programme, keeping the Games manageable for the hosts and at the same time not seeing incomes dwindle and continuing the fight against doping and match-fixing.
In the July-September edition of the Olympic review, Rogge made the point that one of the great strengths of the Olympic Movement is its ability to adapt to change while adhering to the traditions and core values that define the mission of the IOC.
Rogge was emphatic in making the point that no organisation can survive over time without accepting change. He acknowledged that a new IOC president will undoubtedly bring more change to the Olympic Movement.
Indeed, Bach, the first Olympic champion to head the IOC, pledged outright in his election manifesto to reform the structure of the Games and their bidding procedure to attract more candidates.
He has made clear he wants a more flexible system for setting the Olympic sports programme, an issue which came to prominence after wrestling was stunningly dropped from the 2020 Tokyo Games last February. The sport was voted back in September, defeating squash and a combined baseball-softball bid.
Bach, who won Olympic gold medal in the fencing team foil event at the 1976 Montreal Games, has also been talking about revamping the process of bidding for the Olympics, seeking to cut costs and ask for more “creativity” from potential host cities.
“From most of them (it’s) always the same answer because they all answer they way they think we want to hear,” Bach said. “I would like to invite the potential bidding cities to tell us how they think that the Olympic Games would fit best in their social and natural environment. It depends on diversity and creativity for them to stay how they see it.”
Three months after assuming the presidency, Bach began to press forward with his campaign to reform. He took his executive board to Montreux last week for a four-day brainstorming session on what he calls the “Olympic Agenda 2020″ – his blueprint of possible changes during his eight-year tenure.
During the course of the discussions, several decisions were agreed and the outcomes of the sessions will next form part of a wider debate at the IOC Session to be held before the Olympics in Sochi next February where Bach and the executive board will join with the rest of the members.