IOC plays it safe with Bach, Tokyo, wrestling; what's next?

Tuesday September 10th, 2013

One of Jacques Rogge's last acts as IOC president was to award the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo.
Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/Getty Images

The three most significant elections at the week's International Olympic Committee Session in Buenos Aires produced no surprises. Tokyo won the rights to host the Olympics in 2020; wrestling stayed in as a core sport; Germany's Thomas Bach was named IOC president. Perhaps the backdrop of political and economic uncertainty around the globe leant itself to safe, expected choices.

Tokyo's stability prevails

In choosing Tokyo instead of Madrid or Istanbul, the IOC has shifted in its priority from so-called value-added sites to predictability and security. If the committee went through a cycle in which it looked for exotic cities in which to host Olympic Games, Tokyo's selection reflected that period is now over or at least on hold.

The U.S.O.C. leadership has opened the floor for domestic candidates to make their case for hosting the Olympics in 2024. Count on a U.S. bidding city to try to host those Games. Still, the choice of Tokyo may make life tough for any non-European city.

The IOC has never stayed away from Europe for three straight summer Olympics. With the Games set for Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020, a non-European 2024 Games would make this hiatus a first. As 2024 would mark the centennial of the last Olympics in Paris, the French capital is sure to make a strong push for those Olympics. If there is such a thing as favorite this far in advance of the vote, Paris might be it.

Each country may select one candidate city. Among U.S. candidates, officials in both New York and Chicago, which lost out to host the Games in 2008 and 2012, have been lukewarm about trying again. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said that his city, which staged Olympics in 1932 and 1984, would be interested in hosting once more. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a resolution in August to perform a feasibility study on a potential candidacy for Boston. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said his city would like to host. Dallas already has a bid committee in place. Expect a bid from the Baltimore/Washington area. The region's coalition group says it has more sporting facilities with a 40-mile radius than any other region in the country.

Bidding will begin in 2015 and the host city will be named at the IOC Session in 2017. Though official candidature declarations aren't due for some time, the lengthy list of potential international bidders includes: Rome, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Toronto, Nairobi, Casablanca, Doha and Durban.

Wrestling gains a second life

Wrestling received a slap on the wrist from the IOC's executive board, which left the tenured sport in purgatory from February until last weekend when it was reinstated as a full-term sport by the general membership. If the board will do that to one of the oldest, most respected sports on the program, the wrist-slap should serve as a wake-up to the other 27 summer sports and each one on the winter program to keep modernizing as much as possible. Wrestling's proposed changes -- enhanced scoring, more weight classes and greater administrative roles for women and avowed calls to market the sport more aggressively -- ultimately saved the sport, but the message to other sports is clear: Don't fall back on past laurels and allow your entity to become stale at a time when the IOC is trying to stay relevant and gain traction with younger and younger spectators.

As wrestling stayed in the Games, the combined bid of baseball and softball failed to get back in and squash failed to gain inclusion, but both have distinct paths to getting on the program in the future. Baseball needs to curtail its drug issues and break its season to allow Major League players to participate. That isn't likely, since there doesn't seem to be a push from either the front office or the players' union to do so. The NBA has allowed its pros in since 1992 and the NHL has broken its season for full Olympic inclusion since 1998. Baseball may have to take that step it seems unwilling to consider in order to win IOC approval.

Softball needs to keep growing its game to give time for the competitive balance at the elite levels to expand. A few upsets of mid-range teams beating the U.S. would help that cause, and an emerging power that could challenge for the top three would be good, too.

Squash opened some eyes with a snazzy presentation that was the best from the three candidate sports. Squash also did well to play to its strength by using presenters from across the globe to highlight its diversity. The sport is very modern in its use of television and forms of social media to make its endeavor seem current and cool. Now it must find a way to become more appealing to live audiences. The confines of the court require a smaller seating capacity at squash venues, but the sport would do well to stage its events in temporary facilities in front of iconic locations rather than smallish, non-distinct arenas.

Thomas Bach (left) takes over for Jacques Rogge as IOC boss with many potential challenges awaiting.
Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Bach's era begins

The choice of Thomas Bach, a 59-year-old German lawyer, to replace Jacques Rogge as IOC president was expected. Bach won the election decisively, earning a majority of the votes in the second round of balloting. Of course, what is an election without some friendly mud slinging? In the days leading up to the vote, Swiss candidate Dennis Oswald, longtime head of the International Rowing Federation, claimed Bach had used business connections in Kuwait to assist his candidacy. Oswald was reprimanded but declined some calls to withdraw from consideration.

Certainly Bach enjoyed the support of Kuwaiti Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who reportedly threw a great amount of support from African members in Bach's direction. Though Rogge expressed no preference for a candidate, some said Bach was his choice, too. That is a tough combination to beat.

But now, what can we expect from Bach, an Olympic champion in team fencing and the eighth IOC president of nine to hail from Europe?

Just as Rogge did, Bach has spoken about the need to keep the Games to a manageable size, putting less budgetary strain on host cities and opening the Games up to more potential hosts. While some of the other candidates hinted at expanding the Olympic program of summer sports from 28, even while trying the keep the athlete numbers close to the present cap of 10,500, Bach said he wanted to keep the sport numbers the same.

Bach was a protégé of Adidas chief Horst Dassler (i.e., the Das part of Adidas), so he has a keen eye for marketing and the role of sponsorship, though some say Dassler held too much influence in Bach's economic dealings as a member. Look for Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion, a banker by trade, to remain as head of the IOC's finance commission. He and Bach work well together, though the same can't be said for the new president and Oswald, who shouldn't expect much of a role going forward.

Sergey Bubka's exposure as an IOC candidate could lead to a post as head of the IAAF, the governing body of track and field. When Senegal's Lamine Diack leaves the presidency, either Bubka or Seb Coe, the head of London's Olympic organizing committee, would be likely successors. At 49, Bubka, the youngest candidate for IOC president, is well positioned to make another run at it in the future. Bach had 43 votes in the first round of IOC voting, with Carrion next at 23 and Bubka next with just eight.

That's a strong mandate to carry the organization forward through issues of doping, illegal betting and geo-political consideration in deciding where to place future Olympics. Rogge was adept at using the honeymoon period shortly after his nomination to make the rounds at world championships and regional competitions and among sponsors throughout the globe. He didn't take on too many tough subjects, but he didn't slip up either. He left the IOC on firm financial grounds. Bach's honeymoon begins now.

The first controversy he'll face could come from protesting students around the Games or from protesting athletes who decry Russian laws in Sochi; he could face ever tightening budgetary constraints on Olympics if international economies hit a wall; he could face a Ben Johnson-like doping scandal or a terrorist incident that could even surpass what happened in Munich or Atlanta. He'll have to parry criticism from corners he didn't anticipate, which is why his time as an Olympic gold medalist in fencing may have only been a warm-up.

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