2015 ICF World Championships Slalom

Interview with Thomas Bach: Inside the 2020 revolution

canoe kayak thomas bach interview ioc president olympic committee international icf sportscene 2020 agenda

By Gianni Merlo, AIPS PresidentA new dawn has come for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). After IOC President Thomas Bach's unanimously successful Agenda 2020 vote in December 2014, the time for implementation of change has arrived. AIPS President Gianni Merlo spoke to Thomas Bach about where the IOC now stands in terms of implementing new rules, and what some of Agenda 2020's more abstract points mean in reality.

Q: One month after the epochal revolution in the IOC. What are the initial feelings now, what are people asking you about this revolution?

A: Most people who are not directly involved in sports they asked me first of all the change management process, how did you organize the change how was it possible that there is so much support. This is the question by almost everybody outside the Olympic movement. Inside the Olympic movement you can still feel the enthusiasm and the support so many people are coming and saying “Where can I help?” and others are asking for some more explanations, then to address the issues in the federations or associations. So I’m really very happy because you know people know that we have to continue working that there are all within the Olympic movement they are concerned with implementation.

Q: What is the one thing that the normal public has asked you? Especially one area that is very different is that you went from sports to events. The magic number is 310 events. Have you met someone who has explained this mechanism to you?

A: This is not about somebody explaining to me because we have been thinking this through from the very beginning and we have done so with the international federations and with the NOC’s otherwise we would not have gotten the unanimous support afterwards. We know that it is a challenging mechanism in the sense that in the past for the Summer Games the IOC had to evaluate 26 or 28 sports and now they will have to evaluate after Rio 306 different events. This is not easy but the support was there because everybody acknowledges that this is a fair procedure.

Q: Does this mean that all 310 events will be scrutinized at the Congress after the Games, or is there a group that is safe?

A: After the Games in the past all sports were evaluated and now events are evaluated, one by one. This will not be done in the Congress. This will be done by expert groups, this cannot be done in a session. Then the Executive board will look into it and will then after this maybe make a proposal.

canoe kayak thomas bach interview ioc president olympic committee international icf sportscene 2020 agendaQ: You will have an input and after you study it, you can cut or enlarge the input?

A: There we do not know which way it will go. We have to see what will happen in Rio. Again, we will apply the same system like when discussing the Olympic agenda, we will do this together with the relevant international federations and after we have the evaluation we will also discuss again with the international federations, to give their input and to give them the opportunity to explain and add information.

Q: So it is a full process: evaluation commission, the group of experts, executive, after discussion with the federations, and then the executive will decide what to bring?

A: And in between we have the program commission, who will play a role and in particular the bilateral discussions.

Q: Will the group of experts be outside the program commission or within the program commission?

A: They will be outside the program commission; they will review this proposal, this evaluation.

Q: From this there is also the other program, maybe some events will be cut to open the door for others. Could be the number of federations involved will be 30 instead of 28. How will the money be divided? Do you have an idea on this?

A: First of all, we have to see whether we need to cut events or in order to accommodate new events or whether this can be achieved by agreeing on different quota of athletes

So if an event has 300 athletes you can say we can go to 200 – 270. So to cut the number of the athletes competing. So in this you don’t cut the event.

This is one of the options. The other option is to cut the event when we see it is necessary and then the other option is that host cities make proposals for a new event. Then we see the recommendations that the host city also has to make a proposal concerning your question regarding the financial aspect. This then will be a bilateral negotiation again with the IF’s about the allocation of the amount to be distributed.

Q: For example it will happen in Tokyo with baseball and softball. If the local Organizing Committee will bear all the costs, you will not need to cut from 10,500? Will this be out of this number?

A: This we have made clear in the session in Monte Carlo. This number of athletes for sports or events being proposed by the host city can be added to the amount. So this doesn’t make any trouble for the rest.

Q: This is a process that is very clear. After the big discussion with ASOIF and the Winter sports associations and the big federations if they will go from 28 to 30.

A: This will be the thing that needs to be discussed between the Executive and the others. And also with the potential newcomer federations.

Q: From here it now comes, the big revolution regarding candidature. Because it has not been completely understood. I saw that you responded to a question asked by AP regarding Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Now most people think everything is possible.  Some are even proposing competitions in different cities and different countries. But if this is done the Olympics could be similar to a World Championships. It becomes a different concept.

A: Again, the recommendation here is very clear. People have to study the whole recommendation. The recommendation says that in exceptional circumstances the preliminary rounds of different sports can take place in other cities of a county and very special cases even outside the country but that the Olympic spirit has to be respected. The philosophy of the unity of the time and action location. So this concept means to make it a little more concrete that you can organize a preliminary round of a team sport in another city but then the athletes have to have the opportunity to come to the Olympic village and to join the Olympic atmosphere because this is what makes the Games unique.

canoe kayak thomas bach interview ioc president olympic committee international icf sportscene 2020 agendaThis also if you take an example from the Winter Games. We have already tried to implement this recommendation with the organizers of PyeongChang by saying there with regard to the bob and luge track there we were informed about the considerable investment the Koreans would have to make and that also there were some concerns about the legacy of this track so we offered to them that there the IOC would agree if they would like to organize this for reasons of feasibility and legacy outside the country but under the condition that the athletes, the one group that would be there the first week. Let’s say they start with bob that the athletes could come to the second week to PyeongChang and in the first week the lugers could be in PyeongChang or they could participate in the Opening or Closing ceremony.

This is the meaning but it has always to be justified by special circumstances. The purpose of this recommendation is not for you to have the organization of the games scattered around a whole country or even different countries. We were very clear, we need to safeguard the uniqueness of the Games and this means that the athletes are living together under one roof in the Olympic Village and we have to balance this with the issues of sustainability and feasibility. Then we say that if in a city there is no real after use for certain venue then we say: “Listen we prefer that before you build something permanently and then we have a white elephant afterwards, please look whether you can have a temporary or demountable facility. Or if this is not possible or advisable, then you can look into other cities for these preliminary rounds or even for very specific sport.

Q: But this is only for the preliminary rounds? But can you make the hypothesis for example the final of a sport being in a different city?

A: It could be possible in very special circumstances, again if we would say a whole sport there has to be organized there, take this winter sport example. There you would have the entire sport, the finals also outside of the host city or even the host country. But this is for very special circumstances only. Let’s say it’s a kind of escalation. We say first look into temporary or demountable venues, if that is not possible for objective reasons then you make look at preliminaries in another place. Then by moving the preliminaries to another place you create space in the host city and then you come back to the host city for the quarterfinal semifinal etc.

Q: Do you think it is possible to organize a final not in a huge facility but a normal facility. Huge facilities would not be needed anymore because the final is the final.

A: No, this is another issue. We are expecting from the candidate that they propose sustainable solutions. That means that it would not be an advantage of the candidate to propose a final hall with 25 000 spectators and afterwards everyone knows that it is not possible. There we are encouraging, asking, requesting from the candidates to propose something sustainable. Here again you have different options. You can propose permanent venues for a smaller quantity of people, or you can come with a solution where you say we have the permanent stadium for 5000 people. For the Games we will temporarily add another 5000, but afterwards we can use only the smaller stadium of 5000. This is what we encourage so that from the very beginning the candidates are only investing in what they will need after.

Q: Because the fact of sport is the field and the athlete. If there is a good field of play and athletes, the rest falls into the background.

A: In the recommendations you see the wording we used is “There can be no compromise for the field of play. The field of play has to have the highest standard. Then for the rest, for the athletes, what is important and for the atmosphere it that the stadium is full. 5000 full is better than 10 000 in a 20 000 hall. This is why we say the Games are ‘athlete-centered’ and there we say no compromise for the field of play. On the other hand ‘athlete-centered’ means that the athletes have to be able to enjoy the Olympic village, the Olympic atmosphere. And this is why in the evaluation criteria we even added a new topic, which is called ‘the athletes’ experience’. To make the candidate cities think from the very moment about what they plan means for the athletes.

Q: Let’s turn to the problem of doping. This has been a terrible year for doping especially for athletics. What do you think can be the turning point against doping that is now also very close to criminal organizations for the illegal betting? These are two worlds coming together...

A: No, these worlds are very different. The only thing they have in common is the manipulation of sports events. But if you want to seriously address these two problems then you have to analyze carefully the roots of these to problems, which are very different. In the fight against doping you have doping tests, you have strict liability you have international arbitration system. All this does not exist on the other side. I can take as much blood from you as I want but there is no indicator in your blood whether you cheated with betting. So it is very different and therefore has to be addressed differently.

That means that in the fight against the manipulation and corruption related to betting we need much more support from the governments than in the fight against doping. Because in the fight against doing our state can never apply a system of strict liability for punishing, sport can. The state alone cannot ban an athlete from international participation. If you as an athlete get six months in jail or on probation just by the government and the international federation cannot do anything then the athlete is going from Italy to another country and is competing. All this shows that in the fight against doping the effective sharing of work should be between the sports organizations, with all these means, the whereabouts, the tests, all these things the state can never do that there the sport is taking care of the athlete and the governments and the laws are taking care of the dealers and the people in the entourage and then the sport and the government are exchanging information so that everybody has the same level.

And in the case of illegal betting we need the responsibility of the government much more. We need laws and cooperation and this is why now in two or here weeks we will have a forum here in Lausanne with the participation of governments of police forces like Interpol and others of the sport organization to address this problem and this is why we created in our fund for the protection of clean athletes we reserved 10 million additionally for this fight against illegal betting and we are starting there a new program together with Interpol with a prevention program where the experts of Interpol in different appearances seminars and other actions will raise the awareness of this problem and will cooperate very closely with us ant eh IF’s to address this great challenge.