Looking presidential

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- At every edition of the Olympic Games, Summer or Winter, the International Olympic Committee president stands up before a global television audience of billions of people to say a few words. The cameras, like it or not, take the measure of the man.

The president, for lack of a better word, has to look -- presidential. He has to match the moment. He has to appear calm, confident, in control. This is what Jacques Rogge has done for the past 12 years and Juan Antonio Samaranch for the 21 before that.

The six candidates running for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee took Thursday to the lectern here at the Beaulieu conference hall, each seeking to make the case that he has what it takes -- the gravitas, the stage presence, the know-how.

This was uncharted territory for the IOC. It had never before asked the presidential contenders to get up and speak before the assembled members like this. Thus the pressure was on. While it was evident the race was surely not going to be won -- obviously there were no ballots cast Thursday for the presidency -- it could, like any campaign, with a misstep of some sort, be lost.

The early returns:

"You think -- how would this person look standing at the front of the world representing the organization? It's a helpful exercise," Canadian member Dick Pound said. "It's far better than sort of, 'Let's have a coffee.' This is a kind of a platform."

Denis Oswald of Switzerland, one of the six: "I wouldn't say it will change the course of the election. It probably will position each of the candidates better."

The presentations wrapped up a two-day so-called "extraordinary session" at which the IOC heard from the three 2020 bid city candidates -- Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo -- and selected Buenos Aires to play host to the 2018 Summer Youth Games.

The Argentinian capital defeated Medellin, Colombia, in the final round of voting, 49-39.

The IOC will be in Buenos Aires in just two months for the historic assembly at which it will pick the 2020 site and its next president. The 2020 vote will come Sept. 7; the presidential vote goes down Sept. 10.

The six candidates spoke Thursday in this order: Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion; Singapore's Ser Miang Ng; Germany's Thomas Bach; C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Oswald; and Ukraine's Sergei Bubka.

Bach has long been considered the front-runner. Even so, there's a current that insiders have taken to calling "ABB" -- "anyone but Bach," a term that has gained traction within the last several weeks. Will it come to define the race?

For his part, Bach is completely sanguine about the entire thing. He has said many times and in many ways that he is not running against anyone; rather, he is running on his own record and in favor of his own ideas.

"This is not about being the favorite," he told reporters after emerging from the auditorium. "I'm an athlete," a fencing gold medalist at the 1976 Montreal Games. "This is like a sports competition. It does not mean anything if you feel well in the warm-up rounds or the test competitions. It's about [being] fit on the day of the big final. And the big final is on the 10th of September."

Another element in the campaign: what role will the Kuwaiti power-broker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the IOC member and president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, want -- or seek? He and Bach have long enjoyed a cordial relationship. Is that a plus for Bach -- or given the sheikh's hand in several recent winning elections, not so much, with some members perhaps cautious about the perception of too much of a two-for-one deal?

One more dynamic: what role, if any, will Rogge play in the election? He has sworn to be studiously neutral. For sure he will be publicly. Behind the scenes? And especially in the final couple weeks? This remains to be seen -- though it must be said, and for emphasis, that the president's record suggests he would do nothing that would even hint at impropriety.

All six, meanwhile, aim to take over an IOC at a crossroads:

Young people increasingly have alternatives other than sport.

The world's population centers are shifting to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Though the IOC made it first to post-Soviet Russia and China, FIFA in 2010 staged a World Cup in South Africa and is due to go to Qatar in 2022.

It's uncertain how many more years the IOC's longstanding revenue model -- which depends on roughly a dozen top-tier marketing sponsors and a U.S.-based broadcaster -- can remain reliable.

These, and other, concerns mean one thing:

The next president must have the vision thing.

Ng, for instance, said, "In this rapidly changing world, the IOC will need a new leader with fresh ideas and new energy to carry our flame."

Carrion, too: "The next leader will have to face challenges that are clearly on the horizon and many more challenges that have not revealed themselves yet. That's the leader you want.

"… It is about the trust in the leadership position. That's a decision each and every member gets to make, and I know they will do it carefully and wisely."

Twelve years ago, when Rogge was elected, the IOC was just emerging from the scandal tied to Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. The IOC needed a steady hand. To use the obvious metaphor, the Belgian sailor gave the movement calm waters -- he delivered credibility and consistency.

Now the movement needs that, and more. It needs energy, vitality and innovation.

Just to take one of those examples from above -- how does the pie get divided between the national Olympic committees, international federations and organizing committees? It has not been anyone's experience that any of these entities are lining up to turn money back in.

It's a positive that whoever takes office will not be coming in at a time of crisis. The IOC is, as all six have pointed out in their so-called manifestoes, on solid footing after the Rogge years.

Then again, consider:

The last three editions of the Olympics have taken place in Beijing, Vancouver and London.

The next three: Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang. Compare the name value of those three against the prior paragraph and ask, how to keep sponsors and broadcasters invigorated against that line-up? That's just one many reasons why this next president has to be innovative.

It would be hugely relevant to know, exactly, what kinds of innovation the candidates highlighted Thursday to their colleagues -- or just how presidential they looked at the lectern.

To see, for instance, the reaction to the proposal in Wu's manifesto that the IOC reinstate visits to bid cities -- that is, in groups, along with involvement from national Olympic committee and international federation representatives. Or his emphasis on the power of education.

Or Bubka's proposals for an "Olympic Future Project" -- a detailed study about the impact of the movement -- as well as the "Council of Elders," an idea drawn from the ancients of Sparta, and an IOC Youth Council and Icon Council, among intriguing notions in his manifesto.

But the IOC opted to run Thursday's presidential presentations behind closed doors.

This is, to be gentle, counter-productive.

Best practices and good governance demands transparency. Why? Because transparency increases public confidence. Simply put, that confidence then enhances relevance.

Not only did the IOC keep out the media, the process it designed also had the effect of keeping out some of the contenders themselves. Once a contender spoke, he was allowed to sit in the room and listen to the others. Until then, he was kept out. So, for instance, Carrion, who went first, heard all the other five presentations. Oswald, who went fifth, heard only Bubka's. Bubka heard nobody's. Does that make sense?

Asked at a very short news conference Thursday evening a general question about the afternoon's events, Rogge said, "I think it was an innovative and a good idea to have the candidates present their programs. The membership liked it very much."

The IOC's next chance to go through this presidential election process will come either eight or 12 years from now. With so much at stake, it seems anachronistic -- at best -- for it to go through key parts of the system in 2013 behind closed doors.

There are so many stakeholders: the NOCs, the IFs, sponsors, broadcasters, athletes, fans. You're not just talking to 100 people. You're talking to billions. What's to hide?