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Anxious IOC Grasps Optimistic Change

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Thomas Bach
Thomas Bach via mercopress.com

Physical similarities between Thomas Bach and Frank Sinatra may be slight, but not for the first time, in his four years as President of the IOC, Bach can bask in the knowledge that he did it his way.

The Extraordinary Session in Lausanne – one is tempted to say obliged – voted dissent-free to elect both Paris and Los Angeles simultaneously, at September’s Session in Lima, Peru, for the Olympic Games of both 2024 and 2028. In his way, Bach is proving as visionary as was Juan-Antonio Samaranch, for this decision assuredly belongs to him.

IOC self-acclaim was billowing across Lake Geneva’s humid calm, and likewise both bidding cities were looking pretty pleased with their guaranteed election: indeed, one already effectively achieved, bar some remarkable re-think by one or other in the intervening weeks.

Yet the risks are immense. As Bach acknowledged, the world order can change overnight – politically, financially, socially, as we know from Rio’s fraught Olympics last year. Despite acclaim by three administrations about to forge a ‘tripartite deal’ – candidates plus IOC – there is a tricky French path ahead for President Macron: parliamentary, potential terrorism, Paris slums unrest, national snowballing immigration. Historic, romantic France cannot live by emotion alone, for all the promises and expectation from Mayor Hidalgo.

If any city in the world can be confident of enduring stability on all fronts, it must be Los Angeles: like Paris, hosting its third Games. Mayor Eric Garcetti, viewed like Peter Ueberroth in 1984 as a potential future US President, exudes confidence in a US state with a GDP superior to most nations. He should be reminded of LA’s problems in 1932, when Europe was financially crumbling: eleven years is a long wait even for a bid privately funded.

Nobody is clear on the precise schedule of the new deal approved by Bach’s colleagues, strategically ‘planned’ by four collaborative vice-presidents. The situation is comparable to the Twenties when, magnanimously responding to the stature of founder Pierre de Coubertin, the Members simultaneously elected Paris and Amsterdam for 1924-28. Bach may not equal the autocracy of de Coubertin, but is close to the former dominance of Avery Brundage in the Sixties and Samaranch in the Eighties.

The presumed ‘done deal’ is that ‘negotiations’ by Bach with each candidate will lead to a single vote in Lima, appointing Paris for 2024 – known not to be willing (or capable?) to accept 2028 – and LA for the latter. Although it is asserted that the 2028 candidate will receive no cash incentive, having saved the expenditure of a second bidding campaign, it’s a sure bet there will be lucrative compensation.

While the IOC is gratified to have secured 11 years’ expected stability and continuity – with parallel economic adjustments for election of a Winter Games host in two years’ time for 2026 – what cannot be judged is the subsequent climate for bid cities for 2032 and beyond.

Will it become a time for, say, a Budapest-Vienna share, or for rich dictatorships, as it was for Berlin in 1936?

The ground for bureaucratic evolution had been well prepared by the EB and vice-presidents, led by Australian lawyer John Coates, and a legitimately euphoric Evaluation Committee charmed by two iconic cities. Bach opened yesterday’s debate: the double vote would be embraced by reappointing the Evaluation Committee to study ’28 capabilities, requiring new guarantees. No Charter revision is legally required: the tripartite agreement conforms with existing principles.

Approval-vote placed before the Members, none were moved to tears in passionate defence of tradition. Reality of celebration of the President’s ‘golden opportunity’ carried, rather, a camouflaged sense of panic: the continued withdrawal of candidate bid cities such a Oslo from 2022, Boston, Hamburg Rome and Budapest from 2024. What confronts the IOC is not a moral conflict, but practicality: a tide of global TV spectator audience for Rio’s festival, weighed against a city administration almost overwhelmed by financial reversals during seven year’ preparation.

One or two Members hovered around resistance, but stopped well short of rebellion. Prince Imran of Malaysia worried legitimately about relegation of potential new bidders until 2032. Mario Pescante, so long the soul of Italian Olympism, lamented the anti-establishment phenomenon that spreads across Europe (not least in France), and threatens European ventures. Pragmatic Richard Pound, Canadian guru, observed that the real story is “being prepared to do it”, and that procedure should be kept simple.

To re-emphasize just how healthy is the IOC on one hand – financially – chairman of the Financial Commission Ser Miang Ng of Singapore provided the official accountant’s report. It would have been beyond the imagination of a near bankrupt IOC pre-Samaranch, that the IOC now allocates 3.4 million Dollars per day – thereby 90 per cent of income – back into Olympic sport.

Yet a watching moralistic world is waiting to learn what jurisdiction the IOC/WADA will retrospectively impose on Russia’s massive cheating at Sochi 2014. This is a shadow that will continue to haunt Bach, notwithstanding his vigorous initiative and pursuit of the economic/modernization principles of his Agenda 2020 evolution. A sporting audience can be a cruel jury: a decision imperative prior to Pyeongchang’s Winter Games early next year.

Perhaps the most relevant comment of the day came from LA Mayor Garcetti: the invaluable ‘gentrification’ element of sport, its capacity to help lift the poor, the neglected, the underclass, into a meaningful existence.

This is why Bach’s evolution needs to succeed.

By David Miller for The Sport Intern

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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