THE BIG PICTURE: Bach warns of new boycott threats; Tokyo confirms venues; IOC approves Dakar for 2026 and elects five new members

The 136th IOC Session was the first by videoconference, but there were a few folks at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne (Photo: IOC)

Amidst the concerns for the staging of the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) opened the 136th IOC Session with worries over an old adversary: boycotts.

From his opening remarks, made to his fellow IOC members by videoconference:

“Unfortunately, we are already seeing clear signs in some parts of the world that the one scenario is on the rise, where society and nations are driven by even more egoism and self-interest. This leads to more confrontation and to the politicisation of all aspects of life: culture, economy, health, science, humanitarian aid; even the fight against doping is already being targeted.

“During the IOC Session in January this year I already highlighted the growing misuse of sport for political purposes as one of our biggest challenges. I am afraid that this threat to sport is even bigger now. In some people’s minds the ghosts of the past are rearing their ugly heads. Boycotts and discrimination because of political background or nationality are once again a real danger.

“This is all the more unfortunate as this comes exactly 40 years after the completely unsuccessful boycott of the Olympic Games Moscow 1980 by some countries. It appears that today, some just do not want to learn anything from history: that such sporting boycotts do not have any political effect whatsoever. The Soviet army stayed nine long more years in Afghanistan after the boycott. A sporting boycott only punishes the athletes of the boycotting country and deprives their people of sharing in the success, pride and joy of their Olympic team. The only political effect the boycott of 1980 had, was to trigger the revenge boycott of the following Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984.”

Asked afterwards if his boycott concerns were aimed primarily at Beijing (CHN), host of the 2022 Winter Games, Bach replied:

“This was not related to Beijing, or Beijing only. This was related to a number of experiences we had to make in the recent months and in the recent year, where we had problems between different countries, with visas, where athletes were told by their government they should not travel to another government, where another government said ‘we will not give visas to athletes from other governments’, so we have seen this kind of boycotts growing in the – let’s say – two years about, or one-and-a-half years, and this is what I was relating to. So I did not have a specific country or a specific person in mind.”

Bach’s references were likely to the November 2018 tussle over Spanish acceptance of athletes from Kosovo to compete there under their own flag, and the February 2019 refusal of the Indian government to grant visas to two Pakistani shooters for an ISSF World Cup event, after a terror attack in Kashmir.

The Session was a transformative one for the IOC, not only for the use of videoconferencing, but for the provision to the public (!) of many (but not all) of the documents and reports filed for the Session (available here). This is a major move forward in the transparency arena and is hoped to continue into the future.

As to the news of the Session:

● The Tokyo organizers confirmed that all of the venues for the Games – including the Oympic Village – had been secured and further reported that the revised competition schedule has been completed. Hotel and contract services issues are next up.

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said “safety, security and simplicity: that must be the image of the Games.” The organizers will mark one year to go next Thursday on the 23rd.

Chief Executive Toshiro Muto explained the reexamination of the Games programming will continue through the end of the year. As to simplification, the number of people beyond athletes coming to the Games is being reviewed, as well as in all service areas; the results could be announced at the next Coordination Commission meeting from 23-25 September. The estimate of added costs won’t be available until after the service-level review is completed.

Muto also confirmed that volunteers will have their assignments transferred directly to the same venues and session to 2021. Ticket holders will have their purchases maintained, but there will be refunds upon request, beginning in the fall.

Asked about the possibility of the 2020 Games being held without spectators, Bach noted:

“It’s too early to tell. It’s not what we want. We would like to see stadia full of enthusiastic fans and to give them all the opportunity to live the Olympic experience and support the athletes and this is the first line, what we are working for.”

● The Session approved the move of the 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar (SEN) to 2026, at the request of Senegal’s President, Macky Sall.

● The Future Host Commissions – winter and summer – reported discussions with 15 potential hosts for future Olympic, Winter or Youth Olympic Games.

More good news came from a review of audits of the bid committee expenditures for the 2026 Winter Games, which averaged less than $5 million per city vs. $35 million per city for the 2022 Winter Games. No report was released, but would have been helpful.

● The IOC elected, as expected, five new members:

= Maria Colon (CUB), Olympic gold medalist in the javelin;
= Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (CRO), the former President of Croatia;
= Reema Bardar Al-Saud (KSA), the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.;
= Battushig Batbold (MGL), banker and financial analyst;
= Sebastian Coe (GBR), double Olympic gold medalist and World Athletics chief.

Bach also confirmed that he will run for second term as IOC President in 2021; absent some future calamity, he will re-elected unopposed.

● The IOC also published its 2019 Annual Report, which showed reserves as of the end of last year of $2.51 billion.

The Executive Board has a short meeting scheduled for next Wednesday. Bach indicated this would primarily be for the “on-boarding” of the new members.