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An hour after his election as president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach was fielding media questions about Russia’s anti-gay laws and Brazil’s construction delays in Rio when Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko tapped his shoulder.
“President Putin,” Chernyshenko said as he handed Bach a mobile phone.
New IOC President Thomas Bach
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
“We did not discuss the law,” he said, chuckling.
The call signaled just how much life changed for Bach last week. He came to Buenos Aires as a 59-year-old German lawyer, the head of Germany’s national Olympic committee and one of six candidates vying to become the IOC’s ninth president, taking over for Belgian Jacques Rogge. He left holding one of the most powerful jobs in global sports — a position so prestigious that heads of state call to extend their congratulations.
This was the IOC’s second presidential election in 30 years, and Bach began campaigning for it years ago. His efforts made him a front-runner going into the election and earned him a second-round victory over a field that included Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vaulting gold medalist; Richard Carrión, the Puerto Rican CEO of Banco Popular; Ng Ser Miang, the Singaporean businessman; Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and Olympic rower; and C.K. Wu, the Taiwanese architect and head of the boxing federation.
“We knew all the candidates, but he ticked all the boxes,” said Australian IOC member John Coates. “He’s president of a [national Olympic committee]. He’s an athlete. He’s got good corporate background. He negotiated TV rights deals. He’s the full package.”
In the end, it was the combination of all of those things and extensive lobbying that won Bach’s fellow members’ confidence. His election closed one of the busiest IOC sessions in recent years.
Over a period of five days at the Hilton Buenos Aires in the city’s redeveloped dock area, the organization awarded Tokyo the 2020 Summer Games, put wrestling back into the Olympics and named a new president.
At the center of it all was Kuwaiti IOC member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who has emerged as one of the organization’s power brokers. The sheikh, who is the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, placed his support behind all three winners, and though none of them were a long shot, his influence was considered important enough that some observers even developed shorthand for Ahmad’s well-known preferences, calling it the “TWB strategy” — Tokyo, wrestling, Bach.
In terms of the presidential race, Ahmad made it known early and, in violation of IOC rules, publicly that he was supporting Bach’s candidacy. Throughout the week, he could be seen in the hotel lobby, shaking some members’ hands and kissing others on the cheek. He even huddled with Bach at the start of the hourlong coffee break preceding the vote, and then they split up and worked the room separately.
The other candidates campaigned alone around them. Wu could be seen with one arm over the shoulder of Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., and Bubka and Carrión appealed one-on-one to several fellow members. Each of them knew that their only chance was for the vote to go far enough beyond two rounds so that enough voters could shift from eliminated candidates to create a true rival to Bach.
But that never happened. Bach won in the second round, and when it was finally over, the sheikh expressed some regret that the focus seemed to be on him rather than the new president.
“I am not upset for what people say about me,” Ahmad said when asked about the perception that he’s a power broker. “I am upset that we would decrease the reality of Bach. Bach is one of the main people who play a role in the movement. He was always on the [executive board]. He has a lot of mettle in the Olympic Games and always when there was difficulty, Bach was one of the IOC members depended on by Samaranch or Jacques Rogge. Don’t give me more power and decrease the gentleman.”
Bach gets an IOC in better shape than when predecessor Jacques Rogge became president.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
For all the controversy the sheikh’s support stoked, Bach’s election surprised few. He is the organization’s fourth consecutive European president, dating more than 40 years, and he provides the type of continuity IOC members wanted as the organization looks to the future.
Rather than proposing radical changes, his campaign was built around the promise of bringing the organization together and building consensus. He said he wants to evaluate the organization’s bid city process, procedures for selecting new sports for the Olympics and explore the possibility of launching an Olympic TV network. But he’s made no specific promises on anything and said he wouldn’t look at an Olympic network for at least five years.
Sponsors have been unsettled by the way the IOC has responded to gay rights advocates’ criticism of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, and preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics are behind schedule.
There also is concern about the future of the IOC’s business model. The organization’s prestigious TOP program is under pressure to change the pricing or structure and assets it offers worldwide sponsors. Carrión, who also serves as the IOC’s audit commission chairman, told members that revenue growth will be modest in the years ahead.
Bach is as equipped as anyone to tackle those issues. Viewed as decisive and dependable, his eye for strategy and business opportunity was on display in his work with the IOC television and marketing services to change the organization’s approach to TV rights in Europe. He spearheaded a new strategy that involved moving from selling regional rights in Europe and Asia to selling national rights in each country. In Europe, the approach led to a $133 million increase in TV rights by selling rights in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
But in the moments after the IOC election, Bach’s focus was elsewhere. He stood at a high-top table in the Hilton lobby with his wife eating lunch as IOC member after IOC member came over to congratulate him.
Eventually, someone handed him a photocopy of the official vote tally. He ran his finger beneath his name and across the paper to the number 49. He shook his head and smiled, still in disbelief.
The moment Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Olympics, International Olympic Committee members and bid consultants began looking ahead to the campaign for the 2024 Summer Games and, in particular, whether the United States would mount a bid.
Many, including influential Kuwaiti IOC member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who supported Tokyo’s winning Olympic bid, and Michael Payne, who worked on Istanbul’s bid, said the time was right for the U.S. to put forward a host city again. Though several cities, including Dallas and Washington, D.C., have announced their interest in hosting the 2024 Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee hasn’t committed to putting a city forward.
A city would need to be selected in 2014, and the bid process would begin in 2015.
“We appreciate [the sheikh’s] enthusiasm for a bid from the United States, but that’s something we’ve got to be very thoughtful about,” Probst said. “If we do decide to move forward with a 2024 bid, we’ll try to put ourselves in the best position possible to be successful … with a great technical bid and a great bid leader.”
Mike Lee, chairman of Vero Communications and a consultant on Rio 2016’s bid, said that all of the moves the USOC has made since Chicago’s losing bid in 2009 to host the 2016 Games put the U.S. in good position for a successful bid. Chicago’s failed effort came on heels of New York City losing a bid in 2005 to host the 2012 Games.
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who backed Tokyo’s bid, says the U.S. should mount a bid for 2024.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
But Lee said that Tokyo’s selection means the USOC will face strong competition for 2024. Had Madrid won, that would have taken European cities like Paris and Rome out of play, and an Istanbul win might have taken both European and Middle Eastern cities out of the picture.
“It’s going to be an interesting and strong field,” Lee said. “With the decision to go to Tokyo, you can see at least one challenge possibly from a strong European city. There’s also been an indication a bid will come from the Middle East, specifically Doha.”
Probst said Tokyo’s selection won’t affect the USOC’s decision. He said the USOC will create criteria to select a U.S. bid city.
“We have to put ourselves in the best possible position to win, and realistically, that’s not a huge number of cities,” he said. “It’s got to be a city that is compelling to people around the world, that resonates with all the IOC membership. You’ve got to have a story that’s, ‘Why America, why that particular city?’ If we’re going to bid, we want to win the bid.”
Payne agreed, saying, “If they put one up, it’s got to win. The U.S. can’t afford to put up a city that doesn’t absolutely nail it this time.”
Probst named to IOC
U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Larry Probst became the fourth U.S. representative to the IOC last week, following a 71-20 vote by IOC members.
The election came four years after Probst attended his first IOC session in Copenhagen, Denmark, and watched the IOC eliminate Chicago in the first round of the campaign to host the 2016 Olympics. He subsequently hired a new CEO in Scott Blackmun, and the two of them worked hard over the last four years to improve the organization’s relationship with IOC members.
“Obviously, there were some issues that needed to be addressed and problems solved,” Probst said. “The entire team, Scott and his team, myself and our IOC members, have worked hard the last four years to move things in a positive direction, and this is symbolic of making some significant progress.”
Probst joins Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero as U.S. members of the IOC.
DeFrantz wins board seat
Anita DeFrantz beat out Canadian Dick Pound and Malaysian Prince Tunku Imran for the only vacant seat on the IOC Executive Board. The former Olympic rower previously served on the executive board from 1992 to 2001.
“Having Anita on the executive board is a big deal and it’s good news for the USOC and the United States,” Probst said.
Wrestling retains its hold
Seven months after being dropped from the Olympic program, wrestling persuaded the IOC to give it a second chance. The sport received 49 votes from IOC members, giving it a first-round majority over competitors baseball and softball (24 votes) and squash (22), which also were vying for one final spot in the 2020 Olympics.
Wrestling was the clear favorite coming into the vote, but its federation had to answer more than a half-dozen questions from IOC members about everything from alleged corruption to gender equality.
“Wrestling has changed,” said FILA President Nenad Lalovic. “Wrestling has become a modernized sport ready to compete with other sports. We persuaded the IOC members [that] our improved sport will support the Olympic movement.”
— Tripp Mickle
For the president
IOC members offered their thoughts on the biggest issues facing new President Thomas Bach
■ Prince Albert II, Monaco: Although the numbers coming out of London in terms of TV viewers were great, we always have to find ways of making not only the Olympic program but the values that make up our movement still meaningful to younger generations and the public at large. We have to be careful that we don’t slide down the ladder.
■ Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, Kuwait: We still have illegal betting, the economy, doping is a major problem and [the] Sochi Winter Games. The mechanism for choosing sport, which sport to go out, which sport to go in. What is the criteria, what is the mechanism, should be more clear. There are a lot of issues for the movement.
■ Richard Carrión, Puerto Rico: We know that the revenue line will flat-line in the next quadrennium because I don’t think the television growth will show such a large increase. Flat-line may be overstating the case because there will be 10 to 15 percent growth in television revenue. We also have to deal with the impact of new media and how the economic model of new media will impact revenue and, more importantly, how we use new media to help people experience the Games. We will have to program for these new platforms.
■ Gunilla Lindberg, Sweden: We have a lot of things to work on. The Olympic program and the magnitude of the Games. It’s huge today.
■ John Coates, Australia: The biggest issue is Rio. There’s a fair bit of work to be done on that. The Olympic Games is what we’re here for and that’s what needs to be the priority.
■ Gerhard Heiberg, Norway: He has to sit with the sponsors we have and ensure he’s interested in helping and supporting them. He has to get into the business side and look at the questions we have with sponsors and TV partners. He has to make some business calls.
■ Patrick Baumann, Switzerland: Get the Rio Games on track. He needs to make sure they’re a success and as fast as possible. There are some obstacles to that. They have good people but there are issues.
■ René Fasel, Switzerland: The size of the Games and the cost of a Games for a city organizing it is a huge question mark. We have to try to find solutions. How can we reduce the cost of the investment a city has to do? How can we make it better for future bidding cities?
■ Kevan Gosper, Australia: The success of a president rests on the outcome of the Olympic Games, so his biggest challenge is to ensure Brazil is on track. Sochi is pretty much on track, but he’s got to involve himself in that.
■ Dick Pound, Canada: You’ve got to get your hands on the [Olympic sports program process] right away. Every time we try to do something we get it wrong. We get pushed into crazy decisions like there are 25 core sports rather than 28. I’m an Olympic fan, but we don’t have 25 core sports. We may have 15.
■ Angela Ruggiero, United States: You have to make sure you’re taking care of the athletes. In most cases, Olympians are still amateurs. We dedicate our lives to competing at the Olympic Games, so really understanding the struggles the athletes are going through is important. Pay attention to the athlete career program that helps transition from sport into careers afterward.
— Compiled by Tripp Mickle
The competition to host the 2020 Olympics wasn’t a beauty contest. It was a contest to see what city concealed its blemishes best. And Tokyo won that battle with ease.
“The other two were just too risky,” International Olympic Committee member Denis Oswald said of Istanbul and Madrid after the Sept. 7 vote.
That’s why Tokyo fell just six votes short of winning the election outright in the first round, and it’s why the city won with a clear 60-36 majority in the second round. Compared with its peers, Tokyo offered the best option for the Olympic brand, right now. It’s a dependable city that has hosted the Games before; it has a strong infrastructure in place and $4.5 billion in the bank to build 10 new venues; and it has the world’s third-largest GDP.
Tokyo was exactly what the IOC wanted: Safe, dependable, financially sound and, relatively speaking, risk free.