IOC's signals of change

There are two ways to look at the announcement Saturday from the International Olympic Committee that sports such as skateboarding and sport climbing will put on "performances" at next summer's Youth Games in Nanjing. If you are the sort who recognizes that the IOC is and always will be, no matter what, a traditionally minded organization, where change moves at a stately pace, the fact that these sports are being reduced to demonstrations doubtlessly will provoke, yet again, exasperation. It's 2013, almost 2014. Come on, IOC. Get with the program. Skateboarding, right? And climbing is huge, particularly in Europe.

Then again, if you are the sort who sees that the new IOC president, Thomas Bach, has in three months launched an ambitious reform agenda designed to usher in change, and that getting skateboarding and climbing in particular before the members in Nanjing is a way to get them to see such sports with their own eyes so that both sports can get into the mainstream Games program sooner than later -- ah, well, then you understand how he is moving.

The IOC executive board at its Montreux retreat // photo courtesy IOC

"We want to send a signal we are open for new and younger sports," Bach said.

In a teleconference Saturday that wrapped up a four-day "brainstorming" session at the Swiss resort of Montreux, up Lake Geneva from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Bach announced a string of initiatives that together fit together as part of what he is calling "Olympic Agenda 2020."

In all, he intends to present a wide-ranging reform package to the full membership for discussion at the Sochi session in February and then for a vote at what the IOC is calling an "extraordinary session" to be held Dec. 6-7 in Monaco.

The entire list is likely to encompass the wide range of topics that dominated last summer's presidential campaign, which Bach won in September, everything from what sports are on the Games program to the age limit of the members (currently 70, with a move to lift it to 75) to whether the members ought to be allowed again to visit cities for the Olympic Games.

Such visits were banned in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City scandal of the late 1990s. That scandal ushered in a 50-point reform plan in 1999. Many of the issues now on the table have been percolating through the years since, through the presidency of Jacques Rogge, whom Bach succeeded.

Asked Saturday whether during the Montreux retreat the 15-member executive board discussed issues such as the age limit, the program and visits to bid cities, Bach demurred, saying that had to wait for public airing in just a few weeks.

He did say of the four days together: "This was a good experience with regard to team building because being together for four days and discussing for four days long, there you could expect you may see some hiccups in this discussion. It just did not happen. It always was very constructive. And, frankly, for four days long."

It is not clear whether, in the IOC's 117-year history, the Montreux retreat was something of a first. But for Bach it assuredly was: "This is a first brainstorming meeting I have lived in my time as an IOC member or as an IOC executive board member. I can not speak for the others."

The concepts -- as well as the details -- of what Olympic Agenda 2020, as Bach made plain repeatedly, are going to have to wait for Sochi and Monaco. A number of agenda items, however, he disclosed Saturday:

The executive board urged the 2022 Winter Games bid cities to "make the broadest possible use of temporary facilities," the IOC perhaps finally getting about  holding down costs, recognizing that Beijing 2008 ran to at least $40 billion, the Sochi project is north of $50 billion and such sums are entirely unsustainable. The IOC will pick the 2022 site in 2015. The six candidates now in the race: Almaty; Beijing; Oslo; Stockholm; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland.

The IOC is putting up $10 million to develop new anti-doping tests and methods and asking governments to match.

The World Anti-Doping Agency's annual budget is roughly $28 million. So -- a little math here -- $10 million is roughly equal, rounding up, to 36 percent of WADA's entire annual budget.

This shows what happens when sport takes over the WADA presidency -- IOC vice president Craig Reedie becomes WADA president as of Jan. 1 -- and is prepared to make this sort of intelligent investment. Now let's see whether eternally cash-strapped governments, who are always proclaiming they want to see a level playing field and are very public advocates for clean athletes, are willing to step up and match the IOC's $10 million.

More simple math: $20 million would equal just over 71 percent of WADA's annual budget. With that kind of money, the agency could afford to find the best and brightest researchers. Money typically has a way of solving problems that often can seem intractable.

In his role as incoming WADA boss, Reedie, incidentally, would have been just as surprised as anyone by this newest IOC initiative. Bach, in contrast to Rogge, is running the IOC  in the manner of a hands-on chief executive; Rogge had more of the style of a chairman of the board. For his part, Reedie is on his way to snowy Montreal and WADA headquarters for meetings there the next few days; with the promise of at least $10 million, he surely will receive a warm welcome amid the blizzards blanketing the eastern seaboard of North America.

The IOC, meanwhile, also is putting up another $10 million in a bid to protect athletes from "any kind of manipulation or related corruption," a match-fixing initiative. Early next year, Bach said, the IOC will sign an agreement with Interpol to set up a monitoring system aimed at guarding against illegal betting at the Games.

As for the anti-doping initiative, Bach noted that of course today's tests rely on blood and urine samples. What if, he said, there was another way? Hair? Or other cellular matter? "It would of course be very helpful if there would be another test method if we could find … prohibited methods for a longer time," he suggested, adding "This is another issue we want to address in particular."

On another issue, Bach, who during the campaign raised the idea of an Olympic television channel -- a notion that all but killed Chicago's 2016 bid because of the incredible complexities involved with NBC's multibillion-dollar support of the movement -- said the executive board during the retreat "took a first decision" by authorizing a "feasibility study."

The TV plan would be subject to discussion in Sochi and Monaco, according to the IOC.