Change the Olympic Charter to prolong Thomas Bach in the IOC?
Juan Antonio Belmar
June 11, 2024

At the last session of the International Olympic Committee in India (October 2023), several IOC members urged and implored Thomas Bach to amend the Olympic Charter to allow him to be re-elected for one more term. On the occasion, the president of world Olympism thanked, but without being blunt, he slipped a phrase to not close the door completely “presidential terms are necessary, but I recognize that I did not expect this from you and it went straight to my heart”.

The debate was opened from that moment on, bearing in mind that the Olympic Charter -the IOC Constitution-, establishes a period of eight years, renewable only once for another four years. The votes of confidence were not long in coming. It seems that those who first come out to say so, have the recognition and are in a good position in an institution that alone, concentrates the power of world sport, therefore, that first line of adherents of the IOC president legitimately seek to have their leader governing for another term. There were several speakers on the occasion, from Luis Mejía Oviedo, president of Centro Caribe Sports, to the Algerian Mustapha Berraf, president of ANOCA, who represents 54 national Olympic committees in Africa, who said “the Olympic Movement needs to go through this period of torment with a president who has a proven mettle”.

But, the underlying discussion is not on the merits and good governance that Thomas Bach himself has had. His “legacy” is undeniable: starting with the implementation of Agenda 2020 when he took office in Buenos Aires in 2013 for his first eight-year term, where he dared to break the paradigms of sport and relied firmly on the three fundamental pillars: credibility, sustainability and youth. In addition to implementing a set of 40 detailed recommendations whose main objective is to promote and safeguard the values of Olympism and strengthen the role of sport in society. It then broke through with Agenda 2020+5, which focuses on reinforcing the uniqueness and universality of the Olympic Games, promoting sustainable Olympic Games, reinforcing athletes’ rights and responsibilities, further strengthening safe sport and the protection of clean athletes, and adding Artificial Intelligence as an asset to improve sport as a whole. In this quick synopsis since Thomas Bach came to power in 2013, it is a far cry from what he will deliver by the end of 2025.

SAMARANCH’S MOVE

But, the most skeptical still think that despite all these attributes and advances of Olympism in recent times, the Olympic Charter is still an instrument that regulates, rules and sets the limits to safeguard long periods of governance. Limit or extreme situations are part of the evolution of these organizations, enjoying in many passages of good health and, in others, with a black mantle where allegations of corruption and bribery scandals hit from time to time. In the final stretch of Juan Antonio Samaranch Torrelló’s term of office, he was forced to undertake a revolutionary reform of the IOC structures and rules in force up to that time when it was found that several IOC members received money in exchange for their votes for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. The 2000 Commission – as it was known at the time – expelled IOC members who violated one of the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter referring to probity and for betraying their oath by consciously compromising the interests and honor of the IOC.

This coup d’état modified the IOC’s indefinite reelections, and as of 2001, the maximum term at the head of the organization was set at 12 years. In fact, who succeeded Samaranch was the Belgian Jacques Rogge, who was at the helm until 2013, also with lights and shadows because in his period the venue of the Rio Olympic Games was assigned on October 2, 2009, subsequently becoming the biggest scandal of the Summer Olympic Games, once again, for vote buying.

The question remains to this day: didn’t Jacques Rogge know about Brazil’s vote buying? Or, perhaps, the Games Venues Commission and the corrupt people who traveled the world with diplomatic passports and were received by the main dignitaries of the world never left any clue open to discover the scourge of these nefarious international leaders, some called Ad honorem sports leaders.

30 YEARS IN PRISON FOR RIO 2016

The separate chapter of the Brazilian leader Carlos Arthur Nuzman is scandalous. It was discovered in 2017, six years passed since the designation of the venue to the detriment of Madrid and there was only an expulsion by the IOC, because those who condemned these economic and corruption crimes were the courts of justice of Brazil with an effective sentence of 30 years in prison for Nuzman.

It is good to know that sports leadership in general has a cyclical behavior, it happens every so often with serious facts and allegations. It happens not only at IOC level, but also in more than one international federation, national Olympic committee and more recurrently in local sports federations. The events and scandals of Salt Like City and Rio are in the collective subconscious and are frequently cited to show that it happened and it is not so distant in time.

Thomas Bach and Tony Estanguet (CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA)

Let’s go back to the genesis of this editorial, I still think that good governance and therefore good leaders can come back in the near future, a maximum period of 12 years is not only prudent, it is three Olympic cycles, it is like preparing an athlete for an Olympic medal and no one is surprised that after that great goal he thinks about retirement. One hopes and aspires that the leaders deliver their maximum potential in a position as relevant as being president or IOC member, understanding that by their investiture they are constantly under the scrutiny of the people, of their peers and, especially of the athletes themselves.

THE OPINION OF THE ‘PERENNIAL’ RICHARD POUND

The performance curve of an athlete is not infinite and the performance of a leader also has its times, even if it is difficult to recognize it. On this same point, there is an illustrious leader of the Olympic Movement and, today Honorary IOC Member, Richard Pound, who has been linked to the IOC for the last 45 years and who has responded to the desire of some sports leaders in the world: “I do not have the feeling that Bach intends to modify the Olympic Charter to extend his presidency. If he asked for my advice, I would advise him against such an action.”

Thomas Bach’s work and governance must serve as an inspiration for new leaders, succession does not guarantee success, but it provides the opportunity to meet and discover new leaders in sport. Modifying the Olympic Charter to continue in power is not the best sign, even if it is a legitimate, democratic act and could have the votes to be reelected. Institutions need to believe in those who are coming and, please, allow alternation in corporate governance, which is always healthy and transparent.

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