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Critics of the International Olympic Committee portray it as an all-powerful, untouchable and cold cash machine, giving orders and taking money in while giving nothing in return.
IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) gave yet another demonstration of how far off this view is during a half-hour, online news conference following an online Executive Board meeting today (15th). In reviewing the meeting, Bach underscored the importance of the IOC’s partnerships with its Games organizing committees:
● For Tokyo 2020, while a full report is coming to the full IOC Session on Friday (17th), Bach was asked about the possibility of even holding the Games, and then possibly without spectators:
“We continue to be guided by the advice of the World Health Organization and based on this advice and based on the ever-developing situation, we are preparing multiple scenarios with regard to addressing the health situation then next July and August.”
About the scenario planning for 2021:
“It includes all different countermeasures, of preventing countermeasures, quarantine … you name it. But, Olympic Games behind closed doors is clearly something we do not want. So, we are working for a solution of the Olympic Games which, on the one hand, is safeguarding the health of all the participants and on the other hand is also reflecting the Olympic spirit.”
● But for the Youth Olympic Games in 2022, planned for Dakar (SEN), the news was much different, as the event was re-scheduled for 2026. Bach explained:
“The proposal for postponement was made by the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, in a telephone conversation with me two days ago. And I welcomed this move by President Macky Sall, and after an in-depth discussion on the subject, we decided then to establish as the new date, 2026.
“This postponement of Dakar 2022 allows the IOC, the NOCs and the IFs, to better plan their activities, which have been strongly affected by the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the subsequent postponements of other major international sports events and by the operational and logistical consequences of these postponements, as well as the financial consequences of the corona crisis.”
The IOC’s Executive Board agreed to the postponement request and this will be officially approved by the full Session on Friday. Bach was asked to compare the situations and why Dakar was not simply out off a year as was Tokyo:
“We are working altogether with our Japanese partners and friends to celebrate the Games next year from the 23rd of July until 8th of August, 2021. The situation of the Youth Olympic Games in Dakar can be in no ways compared to the situation in Tokyo.
“As I tried to outline, the major concern for Dakar was this proliferation of five Olympic events in three years and there, it made it almost impossible for the International Federations to prepare there, five Games in three years. Imagine the National Olympic Committees, facing the same situation , and add to this the financial constraints the IFs and the NOCs are facing already now. So there you can see that these are two totally different issues and cannot be compared in any way.”
You also have two completely different views from the actual organizing committees. The Japanese organizers and the Japanese governments want to host the Olympic Games and are willing to wait (and pay the costs) for a full year to do so. The IOC acceded to their wishes; Bach has said before that the IOC could have canceled the 2020 Games – it has the unilateral authority to do so – and received tens of millions in insurance coverage payments. But its partners want to go ahead.
In the case of Dakar 2022, the president of the country contacted Bach and asked to have the event postponed for four years. Sall was likely not that concerned about how the 2022 date impacted the sports federations or National Olympic Committees, but very worried about the costs of the Youth Olympic Games in the face of an uncertain health situation in Senegal and elsewhere.
As its partner – the government of Senegal – prefers more time, Bach is willing to give the IOC’s partner more room.
And as for those five Games in three years, it’s actually five Games in four years that would have been on tap: Tokyo in 2021, Beijing Winter Games and Dakar Youth Olympic Games in 2022, Gangwon Winter Youth Olympic Games and Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.
● Bach also announced the IOC’s cash machine is and will continue to distribute money.
An IOC statement noted that $63 million in loans has so far been distributed to 15 sports federations in aquatics, archery, athletics, basketball, cycling, golf, gymnastics, hockey, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, rugby, sailing, taekwondo and tennis, with the first payments made in June. The five federations showcasing added sports in Tokyo – baseball-softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing – and received donations from the IOC, as they are not eligible to receive shares of the IOC’s television revenue distribution after the Tokyo Games.
Another $37 million has been sent to National Olympic Committees, and the IOC confirmed that its “TOP Programme allocation amounting to USD 150 million payable by end of this year.”
Even for the IOC, this was a strain and its statement noted that “In order to be able to deliver all this support, the IOC had to ask the Olympic Foundation for its assistance. The Foundation Board decided to allocate an amount of up to USD 300 million to assist the IOC in its efforts to support the actions of the Olympic Movement.”
(The Olympic Foundation is a separate entity, wholly controlled by the IOC, but which held about $900 million in assets at the end of 2018. Its assets are accounted for in the IOC’s financial statements as part of the combined entity.)
The $100 million distributed so far is part of the $150 million the IOC expects to distribute in support of sports federations and NOCs as coronavirus relief.
None of this is going to reduce the ire of the IOC’s critics, but it is a further demonstration of the IOC’s view of its senior partner and benefactor role in the Olympic Movement structure. Over four decades of working in and observing Olympic organizing committees, a common concern was IOC displeasure or outright unhappiness with regard to some element of a Games. The best reply was “What’s the IOC going to do? Take the Games away from you?”
The IOC does not want to do that, especially now that its mantra has shifted toward lower costs, and sustainability. In a previous time, Dakar would simply have forfeited the Youth Olympic Games and the race for 2026 would start fresh. But that’s not how you treat a partner.
A late question in the news conference came from Graham Dunbar of The Associated Press, who asked if the historical review now ongoing in many places about statuary and other honors – including the removal of the Avery Brundage bust from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco – was going to be undertaken by the IOC.
Bach was ready for this one:
“Every organization has to take their own decision. We have taken note of this decision of the museum on the one hand to remove the bust of their founder; on the other hand, to keep the collection being donated by the founder and keeping displaying them. This is in their responsibility and there, every organization will take their own decision and the role of Mr. Brundage has been the focus of many studies and his history is pretty clear and has been evaluated , so we see no reason that we rewrite history in this moment.”
Brundage was a controversial figure prior to becoming IOC President from 1952-72, a known Nazi sympathizer and proponent of the 1936 Games in Berlin as head of the American Olympic Committee. His collection of about 8,000 objects created the Asian Art Museum in 1966; his bust will be removed from the lobby when the Museum eventually reopens. The director, Dr. Jay Xu said that “in addition to renaming initiatives and removing Brundage’s bust, the museum will also examine its collection to look for discrepancies in provenance and opportunities for restitution.”
Brundage’s views were out of step even in his own time, and his autocratic grip on the Olympic Movement helped create many of the IOC’s critics of today. He and Bach would certainly not have gotten along and maybe that’s one of the best reasons to appreciate the partnership message that Bach and his team have been preaching and practicing.