The first word uttered by Thomas Bach as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, at around 12.42 p.m. today, may not have been very Presidential, but it tells you that this was no cake-walk.
The 59-year-old German’s clear-cut — but not landslide — victory in the Argentinean capital, in the race to become only the ninth president in the IOC’s more than century-old existence, was a triumph of sustained hard work, some would say over more than two decades.
The Olympic fencing gold medalist’s “Unity in Diversity” slogan was appropriate not just for the thoughtful and wide-ranging platform he constructed, but also for his formidable campaign organization.
An assemblage of well-respected Olympic figures from around the world has been working unstintingly behind the scenes on the German’s behalf, as was quickly apparent as soon as the unique sporting road-show that is the Olympics touched down here.
The breadth and solidity of this support helped to ensure that various “noises off” in the international media, some of which could have been profoundly damaging to Bach’s cause, never gained traction among the men and women who mattered.
As IOC members digested the detail of the result in the Hilton lobby, alongside lesser Olympic Family members and sundry hangers-on, it was Richard Peterkin, IOC member for Saint Lucia, thought to be a supporter of Richard Carrión, who provided the most penetrating instant summary.
“It was the winner that the majority of people wanted,” he said. “He has worked hard, he has a vision and he is very inclusive. That is what we want.
“If you win with 49 votes, it probably means you need to continue to be inclusive,” he said.
Just before the session reconvened at 11 a.m. to cast their keenly-awaited votes, Bach already looked to be firmly in the driving seat, in spite of whispers buzzing around the corridors that Denis Oswald was coming under pressure to withdraw, to help consolidate the Carrión vote.
Ser Miang Ng, the candidate from Singapore, who had created a positive impression early in the campaign, had the air of a man walking to his execution; a top Carrión lieutenant confided, meanwhile, that the Puerto Rican’s task looked “formidably difficult.”
There was still time for a few moments of tension after chief scrutineer Francisco Elizalde, with the air of a slightly rumpled sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant, glided across to IOC President Jacques Rogge bearing the news that no one had secured a first-round majority.
As it later transpired, though, the German candidate was only four votes short; the second round duly carried him beyond the 47 votes he needed.
What, then, is in store for the Movement and the IOC itself under its first new leader for more than a decade?
Of course, time alone will tell, and I would expect Bach to take some time for reflection and consultation, notwithstanding the turbulent state of the world and mounting anxieties about the Rio 2016 project in particular.
There will also be a period of musical chairs, with several important jobs set to change hands.
All in all, though, I would expect him to have conceived a pretty clear idea of the course he wants to steer by the time IOC members reconvene for the next IOC Session, which is in much less than a year’s time immediately prior to the Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
There are plenty of clues as to Bach’s likely priorities in his campaign platform.
We can expect changes to the process that bidding cities are obliged to subject themselves to if they want to host the Games, in line with the view expressed by Bach in the course of his campaign that: “We must ensure that organizing the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible.”
Changes are also likely, in my opinion, to the way in which the sporting program for the Summer Games — “a jigsaw puzzle” as Bach has described it — is put together.
I would foresee attempts to transfer to the Summer Games the success experienced by the Winter Olympics in injecting excitement and youth appeal by embracing new events.
I would expect the Youth Olympics to be used much more deliberately as a laboratory for trialling new sports and formats, with the clear aim of “promoting” the most successful new events to the Games proper.
And, while Bach and his team will have little choice but to continue to rein in the Games’ propensity to grow ever bigger, I think we are likely, in time, to see an increase in the number of gold medal events, accommodated by shorter event times and smaller Olympic competitions.
As the new President explained his position during the campaign:
“I think we should definitely keep the limit on the number of athletes and we should establish a limit on the number of permanent facilities.
“Within this framework, then we could gain good flexibility with regards to the program.”
With money set to be tighter than in recent years, I would anticipate a more systematic attempt to instill more uniform standards of corporate governance on National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations.
I would also expect a relatively rapid move to press ahead with a dedicated Olympic television channel, as a cornerstone of the Movement’s all-important youth agenda, together with a drive to more effectively harness the awesome power of social media.
An interested, if languid, observer from a second-floor balcony as Bach’s election was announced was one Sebastian Coe, whose speech to IOC members earlier in the week — for which he earned a standing ovation — had placed such strong emphasis on the critical importance of re-energizing the bonds between sport and youth, for the good of both the Movement and society as a whole.
For the moment, Coe does not even have a seat in this singular — and singularly influential — global club.
But, with memories of London 2012 still fresh in the mind, it was hard to stifle the thought that he, as much as Bach, might yet embody the future of Olympism.
For more Inside the Games articles about the new IOC president, click the following links:
“It has been a good week,” says Sheikh Ahmad after Bach elected new IOC president
Bach named new president of International Olympic Committee
Contact the writer of this story David Owen through his Twitter feed that can be accessed here. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article and its photos are reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.