LANE ONE: IOC approves Olympic Agenda 2020+5 after six-hour discussion; Tokyo spectator decision not final; human rights & Beijing 2022 collide

Thomas Bach (center left) leading the final day discussion during the 137th IOC Session (Photo: IOC/Greg Martin)

For those who expected the International Olympic Committee’s discussion of the 15-part Olympic Agenda 2020+5 to be completed by a voice vote in less than 10 minutes must have been in shock for most of Friday’s live stream of the final day of the 137th IOC Session.

The presentation and discussion of the 2020+5 program ran on for more than six hours, beginning at noon in Lausanne, Switzerland. But the final result was not in doubt.

The IOC membership, after making some very interesting and conflicting remarks, approved the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 package unanimously, at least based on a show of hands, to which IOC chief Thomas Bach (GER) saw no abstentions or votes against.

The discussions themselves did not change any of the recommendations, and the potential implications of the program are enormous. Beyond the many suggestions and questions raised, the implementation phase will now begin and the many changes contemplated will have to be worked on and worked out.

The 15 recommendations centered around solidarity of the Olympic Movement, digitalization, sustainability, credibility and economic and financial resilience. There were a lot of ideas tossed out, and Bach emphasized in opening remarks:

“Digitalisation is a huge opportunity for us to address people more directly, engage with youth, and promote our Olympic values. Keeping in mind that about half the world’s population is still digitally underserved, our core value of solidarity will guide us in addressing also this part of our global society.”

● “Year after year, studies like the Edelman Trust Barometer highlight the ‘implosion of trust’ that define our times. …

“This ‘implosion of trust’, this risk of functioning of all our societies, is deeply affecting
governments, social institutions, businesses, and NGOs like the IOC. In fact, anyone who is
perceived to be part of the so-called establishment is scrutinised by a mistrusting public like never before. This trend is strengthened, or worsened, by a lack of open-minded discussion because many people are just living in their echo-chambers which only confirm their opinion and prejudices.”

Among the many points discussed was athlete protests and the athlete voice. During the discussion of the first recommendation, William Blick, a former rugby player and the President of the Ugandan National Olympic Committee, offered:

“Mr. President, I do not agree with athlete’s protests in areas of competition or on the podium. I think this should never happen, as discussed before, but I think we should now use and promote areas that we believe are more suitable for athletes to be able to air their voices on issues they find at heart and we should be able to continuously use these areas that we believe are most suitable leading up to the Games so that at least people can know that there is a platform that athletes can be able to use.”

The athlete’s voice issues were taken up further by IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), who explained the process, and commented on the critics:

“[W]e have seen groups with special interests who claim to represent athletes, without a mandate from athletes or for any accountability. There have been calls for reviewing commercial and financial models across the Olympic Movement. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we don’t only listen, and consider, the voices of a few, but ensure we give equal recognition to the voice of all athletes: athletes from all regions, cultures and backgrounds. We are a global movement and we must continue to reflect this in collecting athlete’s views in our decision making. …

“We have consulted with more than 3,500 elite athletes and Olympians, representing 185 NOCs from all Olympic sports. In addition, we have also had many one-on-one consultations with many NOC athlete commissions and International Federations commissions and what we’re doing now is we’re putting all of that feedback and information back together, and I must say a lot of National Olympic Committee athlete commissions have also done their own surveys and those have all been shared with us.

“We’re now compiling and putting all of that information together. We also have an independent expert who is putting their recommendations together and then give to the Athletes’ Commission. We will then have the huge task of going through all of that. We will come up with recommendations and those recommendations will go to the Executive Board for further discussion.”

On Thursday, the Session heard reports from the organizing committees for Tokyo 2020, the Beijing 2022 Winter Games and Paris 2024. The issue of whether foreign spectators will be allowed to attend the Tokyo Games continues to be front and center. In his end-of-Session news conference, Bach said:

“[T]his will be the decision of our Japanese partners and friends and we will respect and accept this decision, and this also concerns the timing of the decision because only they can know what it means for the health regulations in their country, what it means for the organizing committee and what it means for the overall situation in Japan. So, this is why I said in my opening speech already, that we are standing at the side of Japan without any reservation.”

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto denied reports that a final decision to bar foreign spectators has been made and indicated the actual decision will come by 25 March, the date of the start of the Olympic Torch Relay in Japan.

Vaccines became an even bigger issue on Thursday, as the IOC announced:

“[T]he IOC has received an offer from the Chinese Olympic Committee, the host of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, to assist in making vaccines available. [Bach] noted that the plan was to make vaccine doses available to NOCs in whose territories the Chinese vaccine has been approved by the relevant national health authority.

“Although the details are still being worked out, President Bach confirmed that the IOC is ready to pay for these additional doses of vaccines for not only the Olympic but also the Paralympic teams, as well as for two further doses, which can be made available to the population in the respective countries according to their needs.”

Asked about vaccine requirements for the Games and whether the IOC would ask for athletes to be vaccinated – potentially ahead of the general public – at his news conference, Bach added:

“We have said from the very beginning and we are sticking to this principle that we are following and also the athletes and the National Olympic Committees should follow there the national regulations on vaccination. This is a clear government responsibility and in this we will not interfere. This is not within our expertise or remits; each government has to decide there, following the circumstances in their respective country.”

Part of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 concerned human rights, which led to news conference questions about Beijing 2022 and Chinese treatment of its Uyghur minority, of Tibet and Hong Kong. Bach offered interesting answers, including perhaps the most brilliant statement ever made on athlete boycotts:

“We are redressing it within our remits and this was a part of the discussion there today, that within our remits, our responsibility, all these questions are being addressed. A number of these questions are a part of the Host City Contract and this is our responsibility, and this responsibility we are taking very seriously.

“This leads directly to the question which is behind there, of boycott discussion. And there, we can only repeat once again and give advice to learn from history, a boycott of the Olympic Games has never achieved anything. …

“Be mindful of the boycott in Moscow 1980, which was because of the intervention of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, nine years after this boycott. So it really served nothing but punishing their own athletes and then led to the counter-boycott in Los Angeles.

“It also has no logic. Why would you punish the athletes from your own country if you have a dispute with the government from another country? This just makes no real sense. And the athletes would be the ones who are suffering.”

Pushed further, Bach also added:

“I think this has been very clear today, that within the remit of the IOC, we are taking this very seriously. This means, with everything, what is related to the Olympic Games – human rights, labor rights and others – are or will be part of the Host City Contract and on this we are working very closely with the organizing committee. There we are also monitoring; this includes, for instance, supply chains or labor rights and freedom of press and many other issues. This is our responsibility and again, this responsibility has been acknowledged by the United Nations, by the international community and this we are taking very seriously.

“We are not a super-world government, where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the U.N. Security Council, no G-7, no G-20 has solutions. This is in the remits of politics. We have to live up to our responsibilities within our area of responsibilities, and the governments have to live up to their responsibilities in their remits.”

On the future of the sports program and the inclusion of electronic sports that mirror physical sport, Bach said this is a long-term issue:

“Obviously, this is a question for my successor; we are not talking about Paris, this is probably more a question for Los Angeles. But as far as I am concerned, it would be in addition to; it would be additional, not in place of . It would not replace sports as we know it.”

There was a lot to process from this Session, not to much from the decisions taken there, but from where Bach has placed the IOC strategically for the future. But first will come the challenges of staging the Tokyo Games and then turning quickly to the Beijing Winter Games, where the questions about athletic performance will be rivaled by those about the hosts.

Rich Perelman

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