Thomas Bach Offers IOC Executive Board an IQ Test

 

The revolution begins tomorrow – or rather, as the new IOC President would prefer to term it – the evolution.

Following a nominal recent Executive Board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, they all departed for Montreux, at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, for what is loosely referred to as a brain-storm gathering. Strictly private.

Bach, for so long close to the forefront of IOC administration, is eager to raise the pace of modernization: above all, it is widely believed, a reassessment and even a precipitate expansion of the Program. Immobility, the clinging to tradition, has been a conspicuous IOC headache.

A key to Bach’s intentions was a meeting he held with Don Porter, president of the Softball half of the new joint Baseball/Softball International Federation. Details of the conversation were not disclosed, though Bach had already hinted that additional sports could yet be added in time for Tokyo 2020 – never mind that this year’s election campaign was fought on the basis of retaining Jacques Rogge’s decade-long 28-sport ceiling.

Thomas Bach is ready for an evolution in thinking that's different from his predecessor Jacques Rogge (above) when he was the International Olympic Committee president.

It is essential for the IOC – having removed and then restored Wrestling – to be seen to evolve. The perception among close IOC observers is that Baseball/Softball and also Squash – throw together with Wrestling for the final Session vote in September on a ‘new’ sport which was inevitably going to be Wrestling, to ease worldwide embarrassment at the original exclusion – are likely to be squeezed into a 30-sport Tokyo arena.

At SportAccord’s convention in St Petersburg this year, I suggested to Rogge that contemporary big cities with panoramic conference halls could comfortably stage two indoor sports over 17 days. Rogge’s response was that “this would shift the goalposts.” Yet whose were the goalposts? They were his, set in place in 2002 when he was wary of an ever-expanding Games.

Rogge’s virtue was to steady the boat following the rollercoaster years of the Samaranch revolution and the Salt Lake City scandal. His 10,000 competitor cap was sensible – though it subsequently rose to 10,500 – but the 28-sport limit was arbitrary. New, young sports endemic among today’s youth could comfortably be embraced by reducing the number of events and competitors in several of the dominant larger sports such as athletics, swimming and gymnastics.

Synchronised swimming? Discus? Rhythmic Gymnastics? Let’s get real.

Bach’s collective brain-storm is overdue. Rogge was an honorable president of generous disposition, but as with many in position of power had become settled in a groove. Bach, former fencing champion, has the energy to switch from satisfaction with several outdated or irrelevant events to a more dramatic spectacle, compelling for sponsors as well as youth.

I have previously mentioned skateboarding, but how about tug-of-war – or rope-hauling as they call it in Germany? Tug-of-war, conspicuous at the London Games of 1908, is as old as the modern Games, indeed older. And as basic a physical exercise as boxing, wrestling and running. It is inexpensive to stage, simple to televise, potentially every country in the world could compete. The
nationalist fervour would be huge. Imagine Tonga’s buffalo-sized athletes against Russia, Nigeria vs. Canada, Finland’s worlds-strongest-man competitors against America.

Staged on sand in bare feet it could be held on the same arena as beach volleyball, so hugely successful in London.

Also among the brain-storm ideas, I believe, will be revision of the regulations on host city bidding: the possibility of IOC Members visiting candidates. Please do not tell me Members will be prohibited from visiting Lausanne Olympic HQ when the Swiss city bids for the Winter Games!

At the same time, there should be review of bidding finance, both by cities and sports, the cost of which has become grotesque. Tokyo’s costs in winning 2020 were almost as high as staging the Games itself.

It is rumoured that Baseball/Softball, Squash and Wrestling respectively spent $1 million, $3 million and Wrestling an astonishing $8 million, if private donations to the campaign across America are included.

The support for Baseball/Softball is extensive, Porter reports. The Japanese would fill baseball stadiums every day of the week. This aspect of domestic preference should be extended to any host city: if a country specializes in a certain sport and could fill the stadiums for an Olympic event, they should be granted the opportunity.

Porter reveals that the Baseball/Softball proposal for 2020 would be a six-day tournament for each sport in the same stadium, needing only a 24-hour conversion.

In Bach’s new regime, I think we may expect EB meetings to become a premiere of the future rather than reprise of the past. Rogge was sturdy, enduring sailor, challenging weather and rivals. Bach was stiletto fencer with eye for the kill. A conservative-minded surgeon is succeeded by a lawyer.

David Miller, who covered 22 Olympic Games and 14 World Cups, can be reached on Twitter @DavidOlympic. This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

 

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