News : IOC President Thomas Bach: His will be done – sport
“Uff”. That was the first word Thomas Bach breathed into the microphone. On that September day in Buenos Aires, 2013, it almost seemed as if he wanted to underline the tension he was relieving of. His freestyle as the new President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came as no surprise. Five competitors had stepped into the ring and there was intense friction in the final competition. But the favorite question was always clear, not least thanks to the support of the multifunctional Sheikh Akhmed al-Sabah from Kuwait. The most astonishing thing was that Bach had to go to a second ballot before he was the first German and ninth IOC chief.
That was seven and a half years ago. When the 67-year-old is re-elected for another four years at the 137th IOC session on Wednesday, the matter will be even clearer. Bach is the only candidate; none of the 101 IOC members who are entitled to vote – who, by the way, does not include Sheikh al-Sabah, who suspended himself after the opening of criminal proceedings against him in Geneva – competes against Bach. So it will be a crowning act in which two formative developments of Bach’s first term of office are bundled: that the rings company was tailored to him, and that the reputation of the organization is not particularly good. Also because of Bach’s leadership.
Economically, the IOC seems to have done some things right over the years. Before Corona, TV contracts and sponsorship deals washed in record income, the summer games have been awarded to solid locations until 2032. But there is an immense number of events on the political and moral currents that raise criticism. And one topic stands out that has been with the former Olympic fencer from Tauberbischofsheim and later business lawyer since he was elected: Russia.
The fall of man in Sochi
If you had to squeeze the Russian state doping into a picture, it might be this: open mouths and wide eyes, two faces curdled in horror by Claudia Bokel and Beckie Scott, at that time the athletes’ spokespersons for the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) .
The scene comes from the documentary “Icarus”. Director Bryan Fogel accompanies Grigory Rodtschenkow, former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov was one of the architects of the fraud, at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, for example, when the Russians swapped samples through a hole in the wall of the laboratory there. The games were the first major event under Bach’s supervision, a $ 50 billion gigantic parade by Russia’s head of state Vladimir Putin, a sin against nature and human rights – and against the cornerstones of fair competition. Rodchenkov tore down the facade of the fraud himself, he fled to the USA, where he is still hiding today. While filming, shortly before the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016, director Fogel presented to a panel of experts what the key witness had told him: deep-rooted fraud across all sports. Two guests back then: Bokel and Scott.
When a sporting nation cheats in this way, both later decided that it should be banned, with no ifs or buts. But the Bach-directed IOC came to a fundamentally different conclusion. It waved a team of almost 300 athletes through to the games in Rio. It was similar at the 2018 Winter Games, with the difference that the Russian flag and anthem were now banned. After that, IOC representatives repeatedly demanded that the affair should be “closed”. He had always resisted a collective ban that athletes against whom there was nothing would wrongly suffer from it. But wasn’t that exactly what the fraud was aiming for? To manipulate doping samples and databases in such a way that nobody could check who is clean and who is not? And what does it look like when a doping athlete is threatened with a four-year ban – and loopholes the size of a moon crater open up in a state doping fraud lasting several years?
What also became apparent in the course of the Russia cause: how much the athletes are really at the center of Bach’s Olympic agenda. Or stop. In the aftermath of the Rio Games, Claudia Bokel described how the IOC executive, directed by Bach, had stifled a debate about Russia’s participation (the IOC denied that). Back then, Bokel and Scott asked athletes on their own how they felt about the cause (an “overwhelming majority” were in favor of Russia’s exclusion, according to Bokel). Both athlete spokespersons later said they had been bullied at the IOC and Wada.
After all, many athlete representatives have now understood that they can only assert their interests in this biotope if they organize themselves more independently of their associations. Like the Athleten Deutschland association, which has been fighting since 2017, among other things, to distribute the IOC’s income more fairly to the main actors, the athletes – to no avail. Or for weakening rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which forbids athletes from advertising with personal sponsors during the Games – with success. The fact that a lot is happening here is, if you will, also thanks to Thomas Bach. He has honestly earned the opposition of the athletes.
Travel warning from the president
But it’s not just the athletes who take the sport into account. Various criminal investigators in the IOC context have recently been very busy around the world. Among them: the French Finance Prosecutor. Six years ago, Lamine Diack, who was President of the World Athletics Federation from 1999 to 2015, determined this, whereby: Godfather would be better off. A Paris court last year saw it as proven that Diack and his son Papa Massata had skimmed off large amounts of money from association businesses, and even doping athletes could buy their right to start among them. For Bach this was doubly explosive: Diack was a close companion in the IOC for years; In addition, a second procedure is pending, which is supposed to address alleged voting purchases before the games are awarded in 2016 and 2020. Even if the IOC always asserts that it cooperates with all investigations.
How such a cooperation sometimes appears, was shown in a confidential protocol that the SZ reported on in autumn. Frank “Frankie” Fredericks, once Sprint World Champion from Namibia and later IOC dignitary, fell into twilight in March 2017: A money transfer with Papa Diack suggested that he had sold his vote for the 2016 Games (which he denies ). Shortly afterwards, Bach sent a message to Fredericks: He should be careful not to travel to France. Nanu? Fredericks was at a loss. The only plausible explanation: Bach worried that investigators in France might also target Fredericks, and in fact they soon asked him to Paris for an interview. At the time, when asked by the SZ, Bach stated that he had not been able to hinder any investigations because Fredericks was not being investigated at the time. But then why the travel warning?
Energetic in the back room
Even among widely respected IOC members, there are certainly appreciative words for Bach. The German brought in an “energy” that was previously lacking, says Dick Pound, the 78-year-old doyen of the IOC. But this energy has led to a lot of things aligning with Bach, as Pound himself learned. At the session in Pyeongchang 2018, the Canadian criticized the IOC’s policy on Russia, and some IOC members attacked him exceptionally sharply – as if criticism of the boss was an insult to majesty. When Bach announced his new candidacy in a virtual round last year, such a storm of homage swelled “that it should actually have been embarrassing to him himself,” as one of the top Olympic officials thinks.
There were many modifications under the energetic president, one example: the new application process for the Olympic Games. Bach always justified this with the fact that the previous procedure had produced too many losers, and it is well known that some awards were accompanied by various oddities. Only: Now a small circle around the president is making far-reaching preliminary decisions in the back room. Are there only two applicants left for the 2024 Summer Games? Then both will be rewarded, Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028. And for 2032 Brisbane will be preferred. Other candidates? Duped. The session with all members? Disempowered.
Another example from the back room? Clemens Prokop, President of the German Athletics Association from 2001 to 2017, sat in the front row when the Russian doping scandal hit athletics. Under Lamine Diack’s successor Sebastian Coe, who has been in office since 2015, the World Federation has been severely sanctioning Russia to this day, whose athletes were not allowed to start at all, later only under a neutral flag and now not at all. Coincidence or not: The intimate relationship between Coe and Bach, says Prokop today, was just weakened when the Briton stood firm against Russia’s association – unlike Bach, who was always very keen on the “unity” of the sports family. In any case, Coe did not become an IOC member until July 2020, five years after his election as head of athletics. Supposedly because the Lord was supposed to take care of his reformed association first. Prokop is not the only one who thinks this is a pretext: “In the past, the President of World Athletics has always been a member of the IOC. In my opinion, this postponement was a clear affront to Coe.”
Eight years after Sochi
Firm resistance from the IOC is unlikely to be heard in the years to come. The committee has long been shaped according to Bach’s ideas. Around two thirds of the current IOC members don’t know any other ring boss than Thomas Bach: no less than 65 of them have been appointed in the past eight years. It’s a bit like in the Catholic Church, where the Pope can set the course according to his own taste by selecting cardinals. But the course for what?
According to the IOC charter, the second will also be Bach’s last term of office. But such statutes are just as flexible in the Olympic world as, well, the constitution in Russia, with the help of which Bach’s Sochi partner Putin secured a permanent reign last year. Veteran Pound does not believe that this will happen in the IOC, but he also says: “Charters can always be changed.” From the time around the turn of the millennium, when there was broad consensus after the 21-year reign of Juan Antonio Samaranch to reduce the period of service to twelve years, there are less than two dozen IOC members left. When asked whether Bach definitely rules out the possibility of a third term as IOC President and that he will remain at the top of the IOC beyond 2025, the IOC does not give a “yes”, but rather a hint that the Charter clearly regulates this issue. Rule 20 defines the term limit (eight plus four years), and there are “no plans to change the IOC charter at this point”.
Inwardly, the IOC ranks are largely closed. And outward? The games this summer in Tokyo, if they take place, will go down in the annals as a tough corona edition. In February 2022, it will be Beijing’s turn to host the next Winter Games. Eight years after Sochi, an event is coming up that might even brutally surpass Putin’s break in terms of gigantism, the destruction of nature – and human rights. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are interned in a camp system in China, experts speak of the largest mass internment since the Second World War. International demands to withdraw the Games from Beijing have been gaining force for months.
How will the old, new IOC President moderate all of this?