Thomas Bach

All in one go: sport, music, art, street culture, and finally

All in one go: sport, music, art, street culture, and finally

BUDAPEST — As ever, the International Olympic Committee speaks in code, and though this very first edition of the World Urban Games is not — repeat, not — an IOC event, you’d have to maybe be one of those people who doesn’t understand why breakdancing is the next big Olympic thing to see that the IOC believes WUG is an idea whose time is, like, now.

Also, that Budapest is a very cool city and, beyond that, that they have proven here to be super-responsible and trustworthy and get stuff done, even — especially — on short notice, which tells you they’re people you want to work with, and, you know, hmm.

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach is a winner.

From some, that sentence is likely to draw howls. What? Is this, like, sucking up, or what? 

Please — chill. Any objective, reasonable analysis of the International Olympic Committee president’s record would lead to that conclusion. The man is an Olympic gold medalist. A brainy lawyer. An adept businessman. Now in his sixth year as IOC president, he is all but a shoo-in for re-election to a second four-year term in 2021.

Perhaps twice in Bach’s career has he been a “loser.” Once, when as a champion fencer representing West Germany — he, like the outstanding middle-distance runner Seb Coe in Great Britain — campaigned to go to the 1980 Moscow Games amid the U.S.-led boycott. Britain went. West Germany did not.

The next time came in 2011. On that occasion, Bach was leading the Munich campaign for the 2018 Winter Games. PyeongChang won. And Bach was — not happy.

Of course, Bach rebounded two years later to become IOC president. But as the IOC session on Wednesday approved a plan to re-do the process by which it selects cities for the Summer and Winter Games — driven by Bach’s avowed concern that the current system produces too many “losers” — it’s perhaps worth wondering, why? And what of his own experience?

Breaking news: it's on for Paris 2024

Breaking news: it's on for Paris 2024

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — As expected, the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday gave approval to four sports to join the Paris 2024 program: surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and, quelle horreur for traditionalists, breakdancing, or in IOC jargon, breaking.

“More youth, more urban, more women,” Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet said of the organizing committee’s goals for its program — the four sports a one-time add not guaranteed to be listed as part of the so-called “core” Olympic program. 

Surf, skate and climbing will feature at Tokyo 2020, along with karate and baseball/softball. Breakdance made a breakthrough at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. 

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

Milano-Cortina for 2026, and seven years of ... adventure

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee turned 125 on Sunday. It celebrated by opening a new, $145-million headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva.

In a news release commemorating the occasion, the current IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he saw “direct parallels’ between the IOC then and now.

“When Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC, his vision and values at the time went against nationalism, against aggressivity among nations. It was about friendship and understanding. It was about bringing people together. It was about making the world less fragile.

“This is somehow a position we are in this moment with regard to the Games. We see this zeitgeist of rising nationalism. We see this zeitgeist of aggression. It is a great opportunity because we can demonstrate how relevant, how important our values are. We have to fight even more for understanding, for dialogue, for respect.”

On Monday, the IOC confronted its most consequential bid-city election in years, choosing the site of the 2026 Winter Games: Stockholm-Åre in Sweden or Milano-Cortina in Italy. A swirl of complicated dynamics framed the vote, including rising nationalism and aggressive anti-immigrant politics in Italy and, within the IOC itself, purported reforms designed not just to bring the organization into the 21st century but to underscore the import of its values. 

In a verdict seemingly at odds with all that lofty rhetoric, one that worldwide could well send taxpayer perceptions of the IOC’s self-proclaimed reforms — dubbed Agenda 2020 and the New Norm — all the way back to the last century, the members picked Milano-Cortina. The vote was not even remotely close: 47-34.

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

Is Agenda 2020 for real? Or is it really just so much noise?

The 2026 election for the Winter Games, coming right up in just days between Stockholm-Åre and Milano-Cortina, might as well be subtitled: change or be changed meets put up or shut up.

Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president in September 2013. The next year, in December 2014, the IOC enacted his 40-point reform plan, Agenda 2020, and it has since become – purportedly – the basis of IOC strategic thinking. Layered on top of that came the New Norm in February 2018, 118 more points purportedly designed to effect further change.

Now comes the 2026 election, the first to test the Agenda 2020 blueprint.

The IOC’s difficulty in attracting candidate cities is well known – referendums, anyone? It is enough to note that the IOC almost surely considers it a huge win that for 2026 it has two western European candidates in for a vote. 

That, though, is not enough.

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

The International Olympic Committee, in moving three — not four — candidates along Thursday to the final stage of its 2026 Winter Games process, also signaled unequivocally where it wants those Games to go: Stockholm. 

Will Stockholm actually stage the 2026 Winter Olympics? Is there government will in Sweden for this thing? Magic 8-Ball says — what?

This is why Milan and Calgary were also moved along.

Erzurum, Turkey, the fourth entry nominally still in the hunt before Thursday’s policy-making executive board meeting, was always going to get cut. For 2026, it had zero chance. Not fake news.

Also not fake: none of these three may yet make it to the finish line. In which case, what then, Magic 8-Ball? 

Is it, “Cannot predict now”? Or, “Outlook not so good”? 

As ever, meanwhile, the IOC like Magic 8-Ball speaks in code, and in decoding the announcement that Stockholm, Milan and Calgary were your finalists, it’s 100 percent obvious that the IOC wants to go back to Scandinavia, which after all is the the heart and soul of the Winter Games experience and, indeed, sought to use Thursday’s announcement as a means to deliver this shout-out to the political and governmental authorities in Sweden:

Hey, play ball with us. Because if you do, you’re gonna win.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs: the esports revolution is coming to the Olympics

Signs, signs, everywhere signs: the esports revolution is coming to the Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach has been president of the International Olympic Committee for nearly five years now, and one of his pet phrases is thus: “We have to get the couch potatoes off the couch.”

Prediction, and cue the screams of the traditionalists: the couch potatoes are very likely going to shape, perhaps significantly, the 2028 Los Angeles Games. 

The esports revolution is coming, and fast, for it cannot and will not be stopped, and indeed the gamers are almost surely going to help propel a thorough and long-overdue review — if not, indeed, the start of a re-do — of the Olympic program. That next-generation program is coming, in 2028 and LA.

“It’s the passion that really gets us together,” Bach told 21-year-old Jake Lyon, a professional gamer for the Houston Outlaws in the Overwatch League, as part of a Friday and Saturday forum dedicated to esports.  

A gold medalist in fencing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Bach told Lyon in a remarkable one-on-one, nearly hour-long breakout session Saturday morning at the Olympic Museum, both having shared on stage the emotion that comes with championship and victory, “We feel the same passion for your activity as you feel the passion for our activity.”

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

It’s a familiar refrain that in long-lasting marriages the husband wakes up every morning and, first thing, says to his loving bride: I’m sorry. For what? Anything. Everything. Whatever.

In American public life, meanwhile, there is a familiar — more, expected if not demanded — ritual of contrition that must be performed as a condition of potential redemption. First and foremost: there must be an apology. Those two words — I’m sorry — must be said in earnest and, similarly, meant for real. 

This brings us to international relations, in this context sports politics, in particular the sporting authorities who operate in the Olympic space, almost all of whom are connected to their governments in some or significant fashion. Such diplomacy rarely comes packaged in a simple declarative as straightforward as, I’m sorry. Diplomacy relies on semantics, on nuance, on shades of meaning.

These things make the International Olympic Committee go around. They make the World Anti-Doping Agency work, too. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.  

In that spirit, a recent letter sent by senior Russian authorities to WADA president Craig Reedie — with copies to IOC president Thomas Bach and International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons — offers everyone a way forward in a multilayered dispute that has been going on now for years. To pretend otherwise is, similarly, to ignore reality.

Frosty in PyeongChang

Frosty in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Bailey is an American sprinter. 

He won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the London 2012 Summer Games. But he had to give it back because of teammate Tyson Gay’s doping conviction. Like many sprinters, Bailey then gave bobsled a go. Last January, Bailey tested positive himself for a stimulant in a case involving a dietary supplement called Weapon X. Based on a "light degree of fault,” a three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel gave him a mere six months off.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In December, in a decision little noticed except in track and field and bobsled circles, in the arcane world of sports lawyering and of course in Ryan Bailey’s entourage, CAS slapped Bailey with two years — a signal to one and all not in the United States that anti-doping jurisprudence in the United States might well be considered, well, weak.

What in the world does this have to do with the CAS decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympics? The prospect of an appeal from that decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal? Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency, CAS and the International Olympic Committee? 

Pretty much nothing, and at the same time — it's a riff on everything.

 

The altogether cleverness of 'Olympic Athlete from Russia'

In taking action Tuesday on the Russian doping matter, the International Olympic Committee was faced with the delicate task of trying to thread a needle while wearing a pair of those red mittens that were all the rage at the Vancouver Olympics way back when in 2010, which, you know, is more or less when — because the Russian team performed so poorly there — this sordid tale began, right?

The task at hand was to make it seem like the IOC was coming down hard on the Russians — to appease the baying jackals of the western press, in particular the Americans and the Brits — while simultaneously crafting a diplomatic compromise that would serve the IOC’s long-term purposes.

The IOC, seeking to balance a multitude of interests, got what it wanted.

The initial reports screamed out over the news and social media in our 24/7 gotta-have-it tell-me-what-it-means-this-instant world: Ban! Ban! Ban! 

Reality: the IOC made a play for what it always plays for, stability.

And the more sophisticated argument, because as always the real work is in the details, is that the Russians are getting off way easier than would seem at first blush.