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Discipline was the dominant theme of International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach’s news conference on Wednesday morning, but he was full of confidence about the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
He mentioned, for the first time the savings to the organizing committee’s budget from the simplification measures and his continued belief in the preparations:
“There, a savings of about 280 million dollars will be achieved from the operational budget by applying 50-plus measures which had been agreed between the organizing committee and the IOC Coordination Commission in the last meeting.
“We also see that the work on the Covid countermeasures is making good progress and there, more and more measures are added, including the potential availability of vaccines and rapid testing, where we are very confident that they will be available. So all these new methods will be added to the toolbox which then will be available when we will have to take the final decision which tools – finally – we have to take, and can take out of this toolbox, and to apply them for the safe organization of this Olympic Games, about which both the organizing committee and the IOC are both very confident.”
The savings of $280 million from a $5.6 billion organizing committee budget (for a Games in 2020) represents a 5% savings, which Bach was pleased with:
“I think it’s a significant result considering the circumstances. So you have to realize that most of the expenditure had already been made before, because everybody was preparing for the Games taking place this year. It’s not that you could start to draw on a white piece of paper; you have very limited room to maneuver there.”
Asked about whether savings could or should be made in the Opening Ceremony, Bach pointed out that a lot is at stake in this one program:
“[T]he Opening Ceremony is the showcase for the host country to show its culture, to show its perception of the Olympic Games, of the Olympic values, and it is also the opportunity for the athletes to march in the Opening Ceremony, belonging to their Olympic team and then having also the very significant protocol part of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. All these reasons together, of course, with the fact that this Opening Ceremony is normally followed by more than one billion people around the world led to the joint decision there with the organizing committee that we should maintain the format of this Opening Ceremony while the content may be adjusted one way or the other. … [W]hat is important – like all the other measures being taken – that we should not and we will not touch on the athlete’s experience.”
But much of the deliberations of the IOC Executive Board were taken up with disciplinary matters, with boxing and weightlifting again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons:
● On AIBA, the International Boxing Federation, currently suspended and not involved in the Tokyo preparations:
“[W]e have received the report of the [IOC] monitoring group, and I can summarize the reaction of the EB in one sentence, that we are very worried about the lack of progress with regard to the governance reform of AIBA. There is talk of presidential elections, but we do not see any progress about these governance reforms which are very important.”
Boxing is scheduled to have 286 total competitors in Tokyo.
● On the International Weightlifting Federation, Bach complimented its progress on doping control, having delegated it to the International Testing Agency in accord with the IOC’s preference. But:
“With regard to governance, we have, however, strong concerns. We have strong concerns about the lack of progress with regard to the reforms of the IWF Constitution and about the lack of acceptance of independent advice in this procedure. And another point of concern with regard to governance was the representation of athletes within the federation, which definitely needs to be strengthened.
“We will communicate these concerns to IWF and we will advise them, at the same time, that we are reviewing the event program and the quota that exists for the Olympic Games Paris 2024. We will also advise them that we reserve the right, if need be, to take further measures which are including, but not limited there also, to review the place of weightlifting on the program of the Olympic Games Paris 2024.”
So weightlifting is back on the razor’s edge. There were 260 lifters in Rio, but as punishment for the sport’s horrific doping history, the athlete quota for Tokyo was cut to 196, across 14 weight classes. If boxing and weightlifting were dropped from the Paris 2024 program, it would create considerable breathing space for the other federations against the IOC’s new cap of 10,500 athletes for that Games.
There were also significant reports concerning conduct related to the National Olympic Committees of Belarus, Italy and Iran.
In Belarus, which had 124 athletes and won nine medals in Rio in 2016, continuing political unrest against President Alexander Lukashenko – the only president the country has ever had and also the Belarus NOC president – has been going on since the national elections in late September.
On 30 September, retired basketball star Yelena Leuchanka, who played in the WNBA, was sentenced to 15 days in prison for taking part in protests.
Bach noted that the IOC had inquired about this and other matters and had received some answers back:
“[T]he NOC stressed that her condemnation to 15 days in prison was according to the national legislation in the country. …
“We are very concerned about the information we are getting and again [from athletes in Belarus], the last ones last night. This is why we are looking into it and we will strengthen our investigation because what we are hearing there that, in fact, athletes are saying they are discriminated by their NOC just for political reasons. And non-discrimination is an essential value of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Charter. This is why we are so concerned and this is why we are taking it so seriously.”
Bach was also asked about the question of governmental interference in Italy, but replied that he had high hopes for continuing discussions between the National Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Sport.
He was also asked about the execution of Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran. Here, Bach admitted the limits of what the IOC can do as a sports organization dealing with governments:
“With regard to the deplorable case of Navid Afkari, we have addressed this case both in my report to the Executive Board as well as in the report of the chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry, where we have informed the Executive Board about the measures we have been taking from the very beginning after we learned of the case together with United World Wrestling. We have taken several actions at the time in consultation with a number of non-governmental organizations and also some governments. I myself had written a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran as well as to the President of Iran, asking for mercy for Navid Afkari. And, you know, unfortunately, all these efforts did not lead to the result, I think we all wanted to see: mercy for Navid Afkari.”
No further action against Iran was detailed.
There were no questions about the possible new law in the U.S. that would allow the Congress to de-certify a U.S. National Governing Body, or dismiss the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Board of Directors. Passed by the House and Senate, the fate of S. 2330 will be known next week.
Bach was again and again in the questions about whether Tokyo 2020 will take place in 2021. His key word was “confident”:
“We cannot speculate about what will be in 10 months from now, a third or fourth wave [of the virus], or a fifth wave, whatever. We are seeing the experience that in the last couple of weeks, during this second wave – which is obviously underway – that you can organize big and complex sporting events already now, and with all the restrictions in place now. We are almost more confident that at the beginning of the next year, we can add to the tools for the counter-measures which we will have available that we can add new and even more reliable rapid tests and that there also vaccines even will be available.
“And this makes both the organizing committee and the IOC very, very confident about the Opening Ceremony on the 23rd of July next year.”