In the Warm Glow of Congratulations, Thomas Bach Should be Taking a Cold Shower of Reality
Apparent equilibrium of the IOC can be elusory. Thomas Bach, the predicted newly elected President from Germany, will need to be bold, brave and even belligerent, if he is to force the world’s foremost sporting body to break out from some inhibited, conservative attitudes.
The IOC has to an extent reverted, following Samaranch’s revolutionised administration, to exaggerated self-confidence in its essential function – running world sports at the Games – during Jacques Rogge’s benign reign of four “successful” Games.
For all the IOC’s altruism in promotion of existing Olympic sport – its Solidarity Fund’s multi-million dollar scholarships being a spectacular charity in over 150 nations – some of its philosophy rooted in IFs is still stalled in mid-twentieth century: all but biblical for anyone under 20.
In the warm glow of congratulations, Bach should be taking a cold shower of reality.
It seems he intends to do so.
At his inaugural press conference, he said: “One of my proposals is to open up the dialogue with young people, and we made a start of closer contact with the Youth Games.” Why not reinstall, for instance, demonstration sports for trial runs, the opening of the door for instance for short-track speed skating?
Outside both my hotel and the IOC’s Hilton HQ, I have almost been run down a dozen times in the past week by skateboarders or rollerskaters They represent millions worldwide. Are they not more relevant to a contemporary Games than throwing the discus or modern pentathlon?
I am of a generation bred on both the latter: the discus as ancient as wrestling with its legendary history of four-time champion Oerter, yet no 10-year-old from Santiago to Singapore grows up dreaming of emulating him.
My grandson, senior school representative at rugby, cricket and hockey, in adulthood is addicted to…surfing, in the icy North Sea, if not Morocco, symptomatic of his generation. Surfing is a “recognized” Olympic sport, but a mile from being admitted.
Rollersports are also recognised. If pole vaulting is an accepted discipline in track and field, why not include skateboarding, potentially a time-measured obstacle event like hurdling? A skateboard champion would be almost as famous as Usain Bolt.
The self-indulgence of established IFs is matched by that of the IOC’s host city campaigns: a mockery of domestic economics. A proposed strategy of Ser Miang Ng of Singapore – whose optimistic presidential candidacy receded sharply in the wake of Tokyo’s election, the IOC mistrusting power concentration in one continent – was for an extraordinary Session at Olympia to thrash out principles of the immediate future. Bach could adopt this approach following the Sochi Winter Games.
Ever since de Coubertin, Presidents have struggled to retain harmony between the three arms of the Olympic Movement, including IFs and NOCs. Avery Brundage opposed all integration; Lord Killanin attempted without succeeding; Samaranch fought a 12-year battle with Members before embracing the two associate bodies.
Bach needs swiftly to enlist them in forging a program that is as relevant to the back streets of Mexico City, Johannesburg and Manila as to the executive suites of TOP sponsors.
There is one argument in which the election of Bach is an appropriate reflection of IOC history. The survival of de Coubertin’s emerging child in the early 20th century – suffering bleak celebrations in Paris and then St Louis – owed nothing to France, which initially ignored de Coubertin, but was saved by Germany, Britain, Sweden and America.
Germany’s allegiance is profound, arising from its 19th-century base of gymnastics. In 1913, following American domination at Stockholm’s Games, Carl Diem took a commission from Germany’s “Imperial Board of Olympic Games” to study training in the US.
Twenty years later, Diem was secretary-general of Berlin ’36, and administered the International Olympic Institute in Berlin, with its “Olympic Studies Centre” to which many de Coubertin artifacts were donated. He remained one of Brundage’s few close European friends in post-war years, and it had only been the vigilance of the IOC’s sole war-time secretary Lydia Zanchi, locking IOC documents in
the cellar in Lausanne, that prevented Hitler appropriating its identity.
Bach’s elevation is a continuation of the heritage of Willi Daume, arch administrator of Munich ’72 and a failed presidential candidate
against Samaranch in 1980; and of much under-valued Berthold Beitz, EB Member who supervised Samaranch’s controversial sacking of director general Monique Berlioux in 1985.
Sebastian Coe has welcomed Bach’s election as being significant for identifying, as Coe did for London, the heart of the Games being the athletes. If Bach is to do the same, he has to discover down which roads the athletes of today, and tomorrow, wish to travel. Rogge was an athlete, yet invented the restrictive 25-core of sports. The IOC is not so much the parent of the Games as the bus for getting them there. Bach was once one himself.
We truly need a revised Games – on the field. And it may mean no women hammer-throwers.
David Miller, who covered 22 Olympic Games and 14 World Cups, can be reached on Twitter @DavidOlympic. The above article was first appeared in The Sport Intern, a blog published by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany. This article is reprinted here with permission from the blog publisher. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com.