Dilma Rousseff

More and more, indisputably Bach's IOC


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In 1980, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain was elected president of the International Committee. The next year, the IOC held a far-reaching Congress in Baden-Baden, Germany, that set the stage for Samaranch’s visionary — yes, visionary — years in office. Germany’s Thomas Bach was elected IOC president last September. This December, the IOC will hold an all-members assembly in Monaco to reflect on his far-reaching review and potential reform process, which he has dubbed “Olympic Agenda 2020.” Backstage, the comparisons to Samaranch have already begun, and within the Olympic community those comparisons are assuredly meant to be complimentary.

IOC president Thomas Bach, flanked by communications director Mark Adams, leaving Wednesday's news conference

Absolutely Samaranch endured criticism, some of it brutal, outside the walls of the IOC’s lakefront Chateau de Vidy headquarters. At the same time, he was widely adored within the IOC as a president who commanded authority but who also understood personalities and relationships.

Bach has already demonstrated the same touch.

On Tuesday night, the upstairs bar area of the Palace Hotel in Lausanne was turned into a viewing party area for IOC members — and reporters, too — for the soccer World Cup semifinal match between Germany and Brazil. The front row featured a couch where Bach, who promised to be “studiously neutral,” and Carlos Nuzman, who leads the Rio 2016 effort, sat side by side.

Behind were rows of couches or chairs for everyone else. Without anything having to be said, it was understood both that the president was to be left alone until the game was over, and that afterward he would be gracious enough to say a few words.

This scene would never have transpired during the Jacques Rogge years. Not that Rogge is not friendly enough. It’s just that this was not his style.

Almost a year in, it’s now evident this is more and more becoming Bach’s IOC. This is as it should be.

The IOC functions best when the president takes charge. When he is a strong figure.

Bach recognized this from the outset.

Politically, financially and diplomatically, he has -- in large measure -- moved adeptly.

Last November, he delivered a speech at the United Nations that delineated the IOC’s place in the complex worlds of politics and sport. He then navigated through the controversies of the Sochi Games. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon met Bach here in Lausanne in June; that meeting came just two months after the two signed an agreement to strengthen ties; Rogge, meanwhile, has been appointed Ban’s special envoy for youth refugees and sport.

Bach moved fast to strike a $7.75 billion deal with NBC, announced in May, that extends the network’s rights through 2032. A key facet of that deal is $100 million to explore the potential of an Olympic television channel — and it surely is no accident that of the 14 working groups in Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020 process, the only one the president himself is chairing is the one exploring the potential TV channel.

A “summit” reviewing the working groups’ activity meets in Lausanne next week; the executive board takes a look at it all in October.

The TV deal extends the IOC’s enviable financial position. Keep in mind the global financial crisis of the past several years while processing these numbers: the IOC’s forecast 2013-16 revenues are up 86 percent compared to 2001-04. Why? Primarily television rights, which have increased by 85 percent to $4.1 billion from $2.2 billion. Throw in another $1 billion for top-tier sponsor revenues, up a comparable 53 percent, and simple math says the IOC is at $5.1 billion.

Bach’s pace has kept staffers half his age racing to keep up. After the three-day executive board get-together, he was due to fly out Wednesday night to Rio for high-level meetings amid the World Cup final with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and others. After the game, he flies to Haiti for the dedication of an IOC “Sport for Hope” project; the UN’s Ban is due to attend as well.

In his news conference Wednesday, asked a question about potential Tokyo 2020 venue changes by a Japanese reporter, Bach talked about how he’d recently had some discussions with senior authorities in Tokyo while on the ground there for all of 12 hours.

Bach, too, knows that all is not rosy with the IOC. Hardly. Absolutely he knows that criticism comes with the territory.

For one, he is not a dictator. He is a president. The IOC has to be careful not to overreach — so, for instance, when the Spanish Olympic Committee announces, as it did last week, that it is going to be working on an anti-doping program funded by the IOC, that is bound to raise questions about the role of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Much IOC business seemingly can take on the air of never-ending, impending crisis. The Rio project, for instance, is well behind schedule. “We have to stay vigilant. There is no time to lose,” Bach said Wednesday, adding a moment later, “We are very confident. The World Cup is encouraging. We are very confident we will have great Games in Rio de Janeiro.”

The cities that were passed through Monday to the finalist stage for the 2022 Winter Games race — Oslo, Beijing and Almaty — underscore perhaps the IOC’s most fundamental challenge:

There were only three left.

The IOC had essentially no choice but to go with those three, and Oslo is by no means certain to stay in. The government there must yet offer certain financial guarantees; it won’t be known until November whether that can happen.

Over the past several months, scared off by the $51 billion figure associated with the Sochi Olympics, other cities said no thanks to 2022: Stockholm; Lviv, Ukraine; Krakow, Poland; Munich.

In an IOC-commissioned survey released Tuesday, asked if staging the Olympic Games leaves the host city or country with “many benefits,” 73 percent responded favorably, 13 percent not. The online survey consists of 36,000 interviews in 16 countries; age groups ranged from eight to 65. A margin of error was not immediately available.

So there’s obviously a disconnect -- all those people all over the world believe the Games are beneficial, according to that poll, and yet all those cities and governments, when it comes to 2022, bowing out.

It’s reality, it's perception, it’s a significant communications challenge, it's all intertwined.

Asked about the disconnect Wednesday, Bach spoke, uninterrupted, for nearly six minutes. This is obviously unusual at a news conference — but underscores the importance of what’s much on the mind within the so-called "Olympic family."

This is what he said:

“Explain. We have to explain and to explain and to explain. This is sometimes, you know, we could say easily sometimes you have a difference between the published opinion and the public opinion. But this would be too easy. It is obvious we have to explain our system of bidding and organization of the Games better.

“That means we have to show that this is a very transparent procedure from the very beginning. You know, you can start with a working group — the results of this working group are public, are open to everybody, the report and the visit of the evaluation commission will be open to everybody, the bidding files are to everybody. The evaluation report is open to everybody. The comments from the bidding cities are open to everybody. Obviously, we need to explain this better and more.

“We have to explain better and more the system and the logic of the two different budgets," meaning, on the one hand, the Games operational budget and, on the other, however much a city, region or nation opts to invest in infrastructure. "It is, you know, this is easy when you speak to a financial or business community. They understand very well that you can not depreciate the investment for housing for thousands of people within 16 days to zero. But obviously the broader public does not understand this.

“This is an investment budget, what you could put in the Olympic Games budget and what is Olympic-related — there what you could argue is the rent for the four weeks, where this housing serves as the Olympic Village. The other day, a colleague of mine said, it is like with a housewarming party. It’s as if you would calculate the cost for a housewarming party [in] the construction cost of a house. It’s a little bit the same, therefore for the two budgets and for the investments to be made. There again we also have to explain.

“And the Olympic Agenda to make sure — it is first of all up to the candidate cities to tell us how the Games fit into their environment. That means which investments have they planned, anyway, to develop their city, their region, and how the Games fit into this, not blaming in the end the IOC and the Olympic movement for infrastructure projects they wanted to do, anyway, but using the Games just as a catalyst because they know that without the Games they would not never have gotten the approval to put them in place.

“I was once, allow me this to be a little bit because as I say I have to explain and I may take the opportunity to explain — we had once had a bid in Germany, this was for the Summer Games, this was the bid from Leipzig,” for the 2012 Summer Games. “One day the prime minister there of this region invited me to visit there Leipzig and to show me the project. Then he got me to a helicopter and we were flying over the airport of Leipzig.

"Then he showed me some land and said, ‘Here we are going to build the next landing strip for the airport.’

“I said, ‘What do you need it for?’

“‘It’s the other way around. I need it, the candidature for the Games, to get this approval for this landing strip.’

“In the end, if they would have gotten the Games, then people would have said the Games have to pay for this landing strip. It’s just not logic but sometimes in this business it’s more about perception than it is about reality. So we have to keep explaining and thank you for giving me the opportunity to start.”


Boston Marathon bombings: 'For what? For what?'

The particular cruelty of the attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon is not just that bombs killed and injured real people with real lives and real families who loved them. Who love them still. That is only the starting place.

The pictures from the scene, the descriptions of witnesses -- runners nearing the finish line, the roar of the two explosions, runners suddenly legless, the street awash in blood and gore -- are so horrifying in their brutality that they must shock any and all of us who adhere to the markers of a civil, decent world.

This picture from the Twitter feed of PR professional Bruce Mendelsohn shows some of the finish-line carnage

It is said that sport can show the path to a better world. It offers windows to a world in which we can talk to each other in ways we might not otherwise find. Through the tests of body, mind and soul, sport can illuminate such things as friendship, excellence and respect -- the so-called Olympic values.

There is in all of sport perhaps no greater individual test than the marathon. It's just you and yourself out there. No matter how many thousands of people are in the race with you, it's really just you and however much will you can summon to keep going.

This would seem what the blasts were really aimed at Monday.

They were timed to do maximum damage not just in the real world we live in.

They were aimed at an idea -- more, at an ideal.

The blasts were of course a statement. Why else did they go off near the finish line of the marathon that is, of all the road races in the world, the most venerated?

Three people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two blasts, authorities were reporting late Monday evening. The explosions went off, seconds apart, about four hours after the start of the men's race.

Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Rhode Island, was receiving his finisher's medal after completing the race in 4 hours, 2.42 seconds. He crossed at 2:43 p.m., about seven minutes before the first explosion, as he told the New York Times. He thought at first it might be a symbolic cannon. Then he heard the second blast and started running toward the white smoke. He saw at least 40 people on the ground:

“These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now. So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments. It’s disgusting. It’s like a war zone.”

President Obama, in a statement from the White House, said, "We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice."

The president did not refer to the attacks as an act of terrorism. He cautioned everyone from "jumping to conclusions."

You can be sure, however, that federal, state and law enforcement authorities are going to treat this as terrorism. You've got multiple explosive devices. On a stage designed to attract national and international attention. That equals an act of terror.

The pressing question, of course, is -- what is the motive behind Monday's attack?

Monday was tax day in the United States. Is that it?


It was the Patriots' Day holiday Monday in Massachusetts, which commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775. Massachusetts switched its observation of the day itself to the third Monday in April in 1969, and Patriots' Day there in recent years is as much known for the marathon as for the holiday.

The holiday, however, carries significance for anti-government activists and this third week in April carries a number of anniversaries with potential significance: the assault in Waco, Texas, that ended a 51-day standoff and left 80 members of a religious group called the Branch Davidians dead (April 19, 1993); the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which officials have said was carried out in part as a response to the Waco event (April 19, 1995); and, as well, school shootings in Columbine, Colo. (April 20, 1999) and at Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007).

The shootings at Virginia Tech and the Waco assault took place on a Monday -- Patriots' Day itself those particular years.

Is there a connection to any or all of those events?

As everyone knows, security at all sports events has ramped up considerably since the Munich 1972 Games and again since 9/11.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams, quoted by Associated Press, said "first thoughts" were with the victims of Monday's attack and their families. Rio 2016 organizers expressed their "deep thoughts and condolences" and Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, condemned what she called an "insane act of violence."

Brazil, host to not just the 2016 Summer Games but the 2014 World Cup, has never confronted a significant threat of terror attacks.

The inescapable truth is that a marathon is 100 percent impossible to make safe. The corollary: that makes a marathon, especially one of the majors, a hugely attractive target.

The 2004 Athens Games marathon was disrupted when Neil Horan, a defrocked Irish priest who that day was wearing a red kilt, knocked race leader Vanderlei de Lima off course with just five kilometers to go. Stunned, de Lima picked himself up and continued to race, eventually finishing third. Horan, who had a history of mental illness, was given a 12-month suspended jail term, a 3,000-euro fine and banned from all future sports events.

What happened Monday in Boston is, needless to say, several orders of magnitude beyond that.

At the same time, it reinforces the point -- a marathon can not be made "safe."

The London Marathon is due to take place Sunday. Officials there, according to a statement released by the London Marathon Twitter account, are already reviewing security arrangements.

Whoever set off those bombs Monday in Boston sought to effect maximum damage. Literally, figuratively and -- perhaps most important -- to our collective imagination.

Lauren Fleshman, one of America's top female runners, was in Boston, cheering on friends. She  wrote on her blog that the "area by the finish was so packed that you couldn't even move."

She also wrote, "The Boston Marathon has so many stories from thousands of people that won't be told, because a few people are cruel and crazy and impossible to understand, and that makes me even sadder than I already am."

Paul Thompson, a 29-time finisher of the race, a sports cardiologist who has made a career out of studying the health implications of running the Boston Marathon, talked with the Wall Street Journal as he was driving away from the bloody scene near the finish line. He was crying.

"For what? For what?" he said. "These people are totally innocent. They're not engaged in combat."