Ugur Erdener

Bach's very busy first IOC EB


LAUSANNE, Switzerland --Russian organizers will set up protest zones in Sochi, the new International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach said here Tuesday. Whether they will work, or anyone will have the courage to want to step into them amid what is expected to be a ferocious security presence, remain very much an open question. The IOC president took the high road:  "It's a measure we welcome," Bach said of the protest area, "so that everybody can express his or her free opinion."

With an emphasis on such immediate challenges and even a nod to ceremony, the first executive board meeting of Bach's IOC presidency commenced here Tuesday and then, no surprise, broke up after a few short hours, the focus on Sochi, on the Rio 2016 project and even on a long-term plan that Bach has taken to calling "Olympic Agenda 2020."

IOC president Thomas Bach at a news conference after chairing his first executive board meeting

The former president, Jacques Rogge, handed over the keys to the presidential office at the IOC's lakefront headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. Later Tuesday, the Olympic Museum, just down the road along the lake, was officially re-inaugurated.

But, first and foremost, Sochi.

The 2014 Winter Games are now just 59 days away. A host of other pressing near-term issues loom large on the agenda.

Despite the massive security presence due in and around the Sochi venues, activists purportedly now will be free to protest, for instance, the Russian law that purports to ban "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to those under 18.

In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree banning "gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets" for 2 1/2 months in Sochi around the Olympics and Paralympics. It is due to go into effect on Jan. 7. The Games start Feb. 7.

Bach said Sochi 2014 organizers informed the IOC of the decision to set up protest zones during their report to the board on Tuesday.

As a point of comparison: protest zones in Beijing in 2008, miles away from Olympic venues, largely went unused. Bach said he was unsure where the 2014 protest site is to be located.

Without making explicit reference to the gay controversy, Bach noted that IOC rules about what athletes can -- and can not -- do and say under the Olympic charter are going to be sent out shortly to the more than 200 national Olympic committees. Rule 50 bars political statements within Olympic venues. Rule 40, moreover, limits what athletes can do in regard to individual sponsorships. "They," meaning the rules, "are there to protect themselves," meaning the athletes, Bach said.

Bach noted that there is "still a lot to do" in Sochi "with regard to infrastructure, accommodation and other issues." Even so, he said, the IOC remains "very confident" that "everything will be in place and we will have really an excellent stage for the best athletes of the world."

The Rio 2016 Games, widely seen in Olympic circles as an "adventure," have already drawn the new president's sharp attention. He said he plans to travel to Brazil -- before Feb. 7, and Sochi gets going -- to meet with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and other officials. And after Sochi, the "top priority" of Gilbert Felli, the outgoing Games' executive director, will be Rio, Bach said, a recognition -- if not admission -- the project needs special attention. Even though Felli is formally retiring as of Aug. 31, he will continue long after to "work closely" with Rio organizers, Bach said.

"We have to realize, and also the organizing committee has realized, there is not a single moment to lose," Bach said. "Every effort has to be made, every single day, to bring the construction of Olympic sites and infrastructure forward."

Beyond all that, there already is in the works the makings of a long-term strategic plan. This is what Bach has taken to calling "Olympic Agenda 2020."

Indeed, the executive board -- after holding the briefest of meetings Tuesday morning with the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and then convening itself for the rest of the day -- is now due to head off for a four-day retreat up Lake Geneva in Montreux, better known as the site of the famous summer jazz festival, for a think session to sketch out Olympic Agenda 2020.

Everything -- for emphasis, everything -- not only should be but appears to be on the table.

As Bach has described it, this "brainstorming meeting" essentially breaks down into four categories:

One, sustainability. This includes everything from bidding for the Games to the 28-sport limit at the Summer Olympics to the management of the Games to "legacy," or what to do with Olympic venues post-Games to avoid so-called "white elephants" like the stadiums in Athens or Beijing.

Also: should the members be allowed again to the visit cities bidding for the Olympics? Should baseball and softball be allowed into the Tokyo 2020 Games? How, broadly speaking, to jazz up the program? Should tug-of-war be allowed in as a sport? Skateboarding? Surfing?

Two, credibility. This revolves around issues such as doping and match-fixing as well as issues of autonomy and governance.

Three, youth and the Youth Games. As Bach said, the notion here is how to " get the couch potatoes off the couch." What if the Youth Games, which came to life under Rogge, were used as a laboratory, just to see what worked and, perhaps, more intriguingly, what didn't? Above all, the IOC's No. 1 challenge is to remain relevant with young people.

Four, the structure of the IOC itself. Here, there are bound to be discussions revisiting some of the reforms that were enacted in 1999 amid the Salt Lake City scandal -- such as, for instance, the rule that now forces IOC members out at age 70 (it used to be 80). Fourteen years after that rule came into effect, there appears to be widespread consensus that 70 is too soon, that considerable talent and networking is being forced out in a world where being 70 is not necessarily old anymore.

This big-picture think is, frankly, long overdue. Every organization ought to go through something like it periodically. For the IOC, the change in the presidency is the natural time.

Bach has cautioned that the Montreux retreat is not designed to and will not produce decisions. There may be a new president but, as ever, the IOC moves at a deliberate pace.

In this instance, that makes sense. There are stakeholders of all sorts to consult. At the outset of his presidency, Bach enjoys considerable goodwill. Even so, he will want time to pursue that buy-in.

The timetable:

December 2013 -- Montreux retreat.

February 2014 -- Sochi session.

Fourth quarter 2014 -- probable extraordinary session, somewhere, to review and presumably enact Olympic Agenda 2020. "I hope we will need one," Bach said.

The IOC executive board and members of the Assn. of the National Olympic Committees after their joint meeting

The other advantage of this Montreux retreat, of course, is that while it can be assumed, politically, that the 14 others on the board are with the new president, the four days together will give him the chance to see who is all the more with him.

These next few days and weeks also will give everyone the chance to see -- with the elections in Sochi coming right up, by a quirk of the IOC calendar -- who is vying for authority in Bach's early years.

If, for instance, Zaiqing Yu of China isn't a candidate for the IOC vice-presidency, that would by most accounts be a surprise.

Similarly, if Turkey's Ugur Erdener doesn't run for the board, that would be unusual. Same goes for Canada's Dick Pound, who lost out by a mere one vote in Buenos Aires in September.

In just under two months, it's Sochi. Now, though, it's off to Montreux. No press allowed. No outsiders.

"I'm really looking forward to a brainstorming meeting in Montreux," Bach said. "Don't expect any kind of decisions from this meeting. It will be brainstorming."


It's Tokyo for 2020

BUENOS AIRES -- Tokyo won the race for the 2020 Summer Games Saturday, capping one of the unusual, unnerving and indeed unsettling contests in International Olympic Committee history. In the second round of voting, Tokyo prevailed over Istanbul, 60-36.

Istanbul had moved into the final round of voting only after surviving a tie-breaker with Madrid in the first round. The tally: Tokyo 42, Istanbul and Madrid 26-26.

In the run-off, Istanbul defeated Madrid, 49-45.

Istanbul had been left for dead by most who did not understand the complexities and nuance of IOC voting, especially with the interlocking influences of Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and Tuesday's presidential election, in which Germany's Thomas Bach is favored among five other candidates.

125th IOC Session Buenos Aires - 2020 Olympics Host City Announcement

Part one of the domino chain -- a Tokyo victory.

Part two -- making sure Istanbul was not embarrassed. Four years ago, it was Tokyo that had to be spared embarrassment, leaving Chicago to a first-round exit.

Part three is due to play out Tuesday, and of course it now remains very much to be seen whether Bach, the sheikh and others can execute successfully.

All along, meanwhile, Tokyo had promised the IOC a "safe pair of hands" in a world increasingly confronting economic and security challenges.

"We guarantee to deliver," an emotional Tsunekazu Takeda, Japan's IOC member and the head of the 2020 bid, said late Saturday.

The vote means the IOC will be heading to Asia five times in 12 years, including the Youth Games that under outgoing president Jacques Rogge have become a fixture on the Olympic calendar:

Beijing 2008, Singapore 2010, Nanjing 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 and -- Tokyo 2020.

Now, too, the Games go back to Japan for the first time since the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998.

The Summer Games were held in post-war Tokyo in 1964, a historical and emotional note that was referred to time and again in the campaign -- along with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused so much devastation in northeastern Japan.

The vote Saturday ended a campaign sure to be studied long into the future, and deservedly so.

After the luxury of choosing among some of the world's finest cities or turning to so-called "new horizons," Saturday's verdict offered evidence to some that the IOC picked what it had, given what it had. This was Istanbul's fifth bid, for instance; Madrid's fourth, and third in a row; Tokyo's third, and second straight.

All three cities certainly could boast positives. But all three came burdened as well with worrying negatives. Tokyo: the leak at the stricken Fukushima reactor. Madrid: one-in-four unemployment and lingering recession. Istanbul: deadly anti-government riots, the war in neighboring Syria and, in its sports programs, a massive doping scandal.

High on the agenda of the new president: this  2020 election season surely ought to serve as nothing less than a dramatic warning signal that much about the IOC bid and election process deserves wholesale review.

The 2020 race turned in February, 2012, when Rome dropped out, the then-prime minister, Mario Monti, saying the national government would not provide financial backing for the project, estimated at roughly $12.5 billion.

The United States opted not to get in, despite reaching resolution with the IOC on a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue splits.

For 2012, the IOC had five cities -- London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow.

For 2016, four -- Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago.

2020: only three deemed, ultimately, finalists.

When Rome went out early, the race seemed it would be a referendum on Istanbul.

After all, in recent years the IOC had been in an expansionist mode.

In 2014, it had reached out to Sochi. Never before had there been Winter Games in Russia.

It went to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 -- after the Brazilians, during the campaign, produced a map that showed the Summer Games had never been to South America.

It went to Pyeongchang in a landslide in 2018, the campaign promising to help open up burgeoning Asian markets to winter sports.

Another trend seemingly pointing Istanbul's way: the blockbuster project.

A key IOC theme is what in Olympic jargon is called "legacy." Since Barcelona and the 1992 Games, and perhaps even Seoul and the 1988 Games, the notion of "legacy" has found expression primarily in the idea an Olympics could physically transform a city with massive infrastructure projects, and in turn those projects and the Games could the re-brand a city -- and by extension a country -- on the world stage.

Many have since tried to emulate Barcelona's success.

The Athens 2004 plan, a drama of dysfunction, finally cost Greece about $11 billion, at least double what was initially budgeted. Many facilities sit now moldering, unused, in the hot Mediterranean sun, so-called "white elephants."

Beijing's 2008 Games capital budget? More than $40 billion. As in Greece, there are Olympic "white elephants" in China, too.

London's 2012 Olympic plan? More than $14 billion -- though careful planning has resulted in the use of the facilities in Britain.

Sochi 2014? The budget, at least that admitted to by the Russians as they built a brand-new winter resort from scratch: north of $50 billion.

Rio's capital plans, much like the Athens project, have been shadowed by delays. The IOC just days ago told the Brazilians, again, time is of the essence.

It was against this backdrop that the Istanbul bid unveiled what in prior years amounted to the classic IOC play -- a series of enormous metro, airport and sports-related construction projects aiming to transform the city in time for 2020.

The estimated price tag: $19 billion.

Madrid offered a vastly different tack. After bidding for 2012 and 2016, it basically had almost everything in hand already -- only four new permanent venues and three new temporary sites would have to be built. Madrid's capital costs: $1.9 billion, one-tenth Istanbul's.

That's why, the Madrid mayor, Ana Botella, would assert the Spanish capital offered the movement a "new model."

The Spanish team also came to Buenos Aires feeling the momentum of the early July meeting at the IOC's longtime base, Lausanne, Switzerland. There, before the entire IOC membership, Spain's Crown Prince Felipe wowed the members with a speech full of energy, elegance and enthusiasm, declaring memorably, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

The troubled Spanish economy? Not one question about it in July in Lausanne. Nor here Saturday.

In Buenos Aires, the Madrid team was easy to spot. "Spread the red" was their motto, their team out and about, the men in red ties, the lady mayor in her power red blazer.

The Japanese came to Argentina, in a way, exactly where they started.

Tokyo launched its 2020 bid in part as a response to the devastation of that 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Along the way, the Japanese presented the IOC with an unparalleled opportunity.

Tokyo's capital budget was fixed at $4.9 billion. Its major project was a re-do of the national stadium, with estimates fixed at $1.5 to $1.9 billion.

Because Tokyo had bid for 2016 as well, there was now $4.5 billion sitting -- literally, untouched, available, at the ready -- in the bank.

That money was held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

This money, the IOC was assured, would be available for "Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction, provided that the appropriate authorizations were obtained."

Which meant, pretty much, anything. Again, and for emphasis -- anything one could imagine.

The Tokyo 2020 team helpfully pointed out, too, that the money for the stadium fix-up was coming not from the TMG but from the Japanese national government itself. So whether you penciled the stadium cost at $1.5 or $1.9 billion, it didn't matter. All the $4.5 billion would still be available. For any "Olympic-related purpose."

For comparison: that $4.5 billion was more than NBC paid the IOC, $4.38 billion, for the rights to televise the Games in the United States from 2014 through 2020. It was like the Japanese were inviting the IOC on a seven-year-long date and saying, oh, by the way, we have $4.5 billion available, too, all of it totally legal and we are super-happy to share -- are you at all interested?

This is why throughout the campaign the Tokyo team stressed the financial security of their bid, saying the IOC would be "safe hands" in Japan. They reinforced the theme by saying Tokyo itself was a "safe" place to walk, even at, say, 3 in the morning.

They sought, too, to stress Japan's reputation for innovation in such fields as technology.

At the same time, for months the Tokyo team struggled to convey the passion they themselves felt working for the bid -- the emotion that brought hundreds of thousands of Japanese to the streets at a parade in Tokyo for the 38 athletes who won medals at the London Games.

Late in the campaign, they turned to the imagery of the earthquake and tsunami. In August, at a briefing at the world track and field championships in Moscow, Naoko Takahashi, the Sydney Games women's marathon winner, talked about how she had been in charge of a project to send shoes to kids in Kenya; instead, the shoes were sent to kids in northeastern Japan; when the kids in Kenya who were supposed to have gotten the shoes heard what had happened, she said, those kids sent the Japanese kids a prayer song.

"I promise in Tokyo every one of you will feel the Olympic spirit," she said. "In the year 2020, it will be full of feelings of celebration."

Then, though, the damage from the earthquake and tsunami came back into focus again -- this time through the prism of the Fukushima reactor.

At issue, ultimately: how bad was the problem, were the authorities covering up its scale and scope and, finally, what was going to be done about it and by whom -- keeping in mind, at least for Olympic purposes, that 2020 was seven years away.

On Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said flatly to the IOC members, "Let me assure you: The situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."

Asked by senior IOC Norwegian member Gerhard Heiberg to clarify, Abe asserted the radiated water was confined to a completely blocked-off area and posed zero risk now or in the future, declaring, "I shall take responsibility for the drastic resolution to render this situation completely problem-free. I shall say this most emphatically and unequivocally."

Tokyo got only three questions from the members after their presentation. Two included asides praising its "emotional" and "inspiring" presentation.

Meanwhile, as everyone fully understood, a vote for Istanbul would take Doha, and Qatar, out of the running for several years, perhaps a generation.

With the emirate poised to play host to soccer's World Cup in 2022, and some in the IOC gravely concerned about the import of Qatari wealth on the IOC bid process, the beginning of the Istanbul campaign seemed full of such promise.

Then came the $19 billion construction play, which seemed so completely and totally in line with recent winning bids elsewhere.

Then, though, it all started unraveling.

The IOC evaluation report made plain that Istanbul is a large and complex city and the 2020 plan widespread and more difficult to deliver than Madrid's or Tokyo's.

The bid, meanwhile, had sought to "reposition Turkey and to foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games." But at the core of the riots that shook Turkey this summer was the perception among many of the protestors of a shift away from the secular and toward the fundamental -- that is, a more Islamic society.

At the same time the Istanbul bid was saying an "emphasis would be placed on the use of social media," and the IOC increasingly turning to Facebook and Twitter to get its message out to young people, there was Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan declaring Twitter a "menace," saying, "The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Finally, over the summer Turkish sport itself was rocked by an enormous doping scandal. First, nine Turkish track and field athletes got two-year bans for doping. Then, just a few days later, 31 more were suspended, too, 20 of the 31 23 or younger, eight of them teenagers, one just 16 years old. On Aug. 28, 100-meter hurdler Nevin Yanit, the European champ who was fifth at the London 2012 Games, got a two-year ban. Still pending: the case of 1500-meter winner Asli Cakir Alptekin.

The 31 suspensions were tied to tests ordered by track's international governing body, the IAAF, connected to the Mediterranean Games, an Olympic-style competition held in June in the Turkish city of Mersin. The track and field events there were staged at the "Nevin Yanit Athletics Complex."

As July turned to August, there was increasing talk within Olympic circles that the Istanbul bid was losing traction. Even as Istanbul 2020 announced that Erdogan was coming to Buenos Aires, it was speculated that it was not because he was intent on leading a winning bid -- it was a matter of saving face.

On stage Saturday, Erdogan called Istanbul a "city of tolerance" -- no reference to the riots whatsoever -- and said Turkey wanted to "unite the continents in brotherhood."

In the questions-and-answers that followed, Turkey's IOC member, Ugur Erdener, disclosed a bombshell -- that though this was Istanbul's fifth bid over the years, Turkey had just two years ago finally gotten its act together to create a national anti-doping agency.

As a point of sharp contrast, the Tokyo 2020 team noted that not one Japanese athlete had ever failed a doping test at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Mami Sato, a three-time Japanese Paralympic long jumper with a smile that lit up the rainy winter night here in Argentina, confessed afterward that she had been so nervous before the vote.

"I was so worried for my country," she said.

But she said she was also, in her way, confident, the strength of a woman whose home in the earthquake and tsunami zone, just 200 meters from the sea, had been thrashed. She had lost contact with her family for nearly a week before learning that her parents and grandmother, in her 80s, had made it.

She said, "This bid connected people at all levels across Japan. I have never felt Japan so strong.

"I hope," she added, sighing a happy, contented sigh, "this power continues for seven years, to and through 2020."



Three for 2020 in, Doha and Baku out

QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- In cutting the 2020 Summer Games bid city field Wednesday from five cities to three, the International Olympic Committee eliminated both Baku and Doha, immediately raising the provocative question of whether Doha -- which, let's face it, is due to put on soccer's 2022 World Cup -- is ever going to get its chance to make its case before the full IOC. The IOC's 15-member policy-making executive board, meeting here amid the sprawling SportAccord assembly, passed Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul through to the so-called "candidate city" phase.

The IOC will select the 2020 city at a secret vote in September, 2013, in Buenos Aires, a congress marked also by an election to succeed Jacques Rogge, who because of mandatory term limits will be stepping down after 12 years as IOC president.

The contours for the 2020 election are plain:

Will the Eurocentric IOC, after electing Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Games, want to return to far-away Asia for Summer 2020? This is Tokyo's second-straight bid, Madrid's third, Istanbul's fifth overall.

The IOC report released Wednesday that assessed all five would-be 2020 cities called Tokyo's application "very strong." Tokyo typically has graded out terrifically well in such so-called "technical" reports. Now comes the hard part:  the political sell.

"We have to explain to the members our planning … the excitement … [why] it would be the best Olympic Games and a model for the future," asserted Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee.

The report called Madrid's file "strong." Obviously, Spain is currently beset by economic woes. At the same time, much of what's needed to stage an Olympics is already built; that's the advantage of two prior bids. But can the Madrid 2020 team deliver a winning message?

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., a key Madrid bid official, said, "The IOC, by coming to southern Europe, would be giving a new generation of youth hope and opportunity, and we can afford to do it  because the infrastructure is already in place."

Can Istanbul run the gamble of bidding for the Games and the 2020 European soccer championships simultaneously? The IOC report, noting that Istanbul's file offers "good potential" but needs to be "refined," stressed that the notion of not only bidding for but actually staging the Olympics and soccer so close together -- they would be held just months apart -- presents "significant risks."

Ugur Erdener, an IOC member as well as president of the world archery federation and the Turkish Olympic committee, said the Games were his country's "first priority," adding, "That is very clear."

The announcement Wednesday follows Rome's February withdrawal from the 2020 race. Some had considered it a favorite. The Italian government said it simply could not provide the financial guarantees the IOC demands.

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was never going to win for 2020 -- Azerbaijan doesn't even have an IOC member -- and so whether they were passed through was always more a matter of passing interest, no more. Make no mistake: a Baku bid is to be taken seriously because they have abundant resource and will. But Baku is for future editions of the Games.

The intrigue in this 2020 election was always Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Then again, the intrigue in the early stage of the 2016 election involved Doha as well.

Four years ago, the IOC cut Doha at this same stage, even though the 2016 technical review had it rated ahead of Rio de Janeiro, which then went on to win.

This time, after a ferocious internal debate at the IOC's executive board session meeting last summer at the time of the world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea, Doha was allowed to jump into the 2020 race amid the proviso it hold the Games from Oct. 2-18 to avoid the desert heat.

Doha has successfully staged the 2006 Asian Games and, last December, the Arab Games. Doha has won the right to stage, among other significant events, the 2014 swimming world short-course championships and the 2015 men's world handball championships; last spring, it put on the IOC's sport and environment conference.

Overwhelmingly, the summer sports federations said ok to the Doha bid.

The Qataris are adamant about the use of sport as one of the four "pillars" of both a "national vision" plan that aims to achieve concrete goals by 2030 and, as well, to cement Qatar's role as a "leading nation in bringing the world together," the Qatar Olympic Committee's vision statement.

Here in Quebec City, there was more debate.

In Olympic politics -- as in all politics -- perception is as important, if not more so, than reality. It may or may not matter that the issues confronting Doha are on-the-ground real. What matters is that some number of key Olympic stakeholders believe they are real enough.

Is the country big enough for the Olympics? The soccer World Cup is big. But the Olympics are a completely different scale: 28 simultaneous world championships. The financial aspects might pose no difficulty, the IOC report said, but building, coordinating and testing transport, housing, competition and non-competition venues as well as identifying, training and housing a Games workforce, all within seven years "presents a major challenge and risk."

What about the idea of the 2020 Olympics as dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup? That's not the way the IOC works. In Brazil, the World Cup is coming before the Olympics -- in 2014, two years before the 2016 Summer Games.

There's this, too, and it's impossible to pretend this isn't part of the dynamic: it wasn't going to happen that Rogge's final months in office were going to be marked by questions at news conferences relating to whatever did or didn't happen in the 2022 FIFA election that gave Qatar that World Cup.

If in Baku they have resource and will, that can be said time and again in Doha. Anyone who has ever been there knows how patient, persistent and committed they are in the emirate to achieving their goals.

"We will continue and we will not give up. Sport is in our DNA," Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, a Doha 2020 vice-chair and secretary-general of the Qatar Olympic Committee, said after the IOC announcement.

Echoed the other Doha 2020 vice chair, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, "We're good learners. We're good listeners. We'll be back."

It all begs the question: when are they ever going to get the chance to least get a vote before all 115 members of the International Olympic Committee? That, rest assured, would be a most interesting vote.

Which brings the underlying issue squarely into focus, doesn't it? Is that really why Doha got cut?