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EXCLUSIVE: IOC President Thomas Bach hints at more sports for the Olympic Programme and changes to the Bid City procedure
IOC President Thomas Bach. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
By Gianni Merlo, AIPS President, La Gazzetta dello Sport
MILAN, November 25, 2013 - Thomas Bach, the new chairman of the IOC, arrived in Rome on November 21  to take part in the Congress of the European Olympic Committees, organised by the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI). He met Pope Francis and Enrico Letta, the Italian Prime Minister. In the Vatican, there was great sporting traffic because the morning before, the Argentinian rugby team had been there and then Sepp Blatter. In his speech to the Congress, Bach drew up a balance of his first ten weeks as Chairman in which he travelled all over the world checking his programme with others. The audience of chairpeople of the national Olympic Committees was immediately able to see the difference in the approach to problems compared to Rogge. The former Chairman kept strictly to written speeches while Bach improvises, following just a few notes and speaks looking into the eyes of his listeners. He plays on the human impact.

He’s also hyperactive, subjecting himself to a tour de force of meetings, which tested the strong fibre of his staff but not his own, seeming to be perfectly at ease in the frenetic life.

“Let me explain - it’s better to organise a trip to various continents with stops of one or two days at most, following a precise logic, so that better results are obtained. There’ll be time later to rest”...

- Mr  President, in your programme, you talk about a review of the criteria followed for drafting the Olympic programme. What will the changes be?
“Let’s say that we’ve started to study the possible procedural changes. Two limits are insurmountable - the number of athletes taking part and the minimum number of fixed stadiums required from the cities. The rest is under discussion.”

- Does this mean that there’s the possibility of increasing the number of sports, of going beyond the 28 established by the Olympic Charter?
“Currently, we’re at 28 sports, or better, federations, taking part. Perhaps we won’t have to cancel disciplines to increase and keep the number of athletes fixed but just reduce the quota. First, the concept has to be clarified and then we’ll act. We can go from 26 to 27, 28, 29 or 30 sports. The Charter can also be amended, also removing the limitation of the choice to be made 7 years before. There can be more elasticity. We’ll talk to Ricci Bitti, Chairman of the ASOIF and a very open and constructive man, about it. Perhaps a change can already be made with a view to Tokyo 2020.”

- You’re also asking for a different approach to the possible candidate cities; what does this mean?
“Currently, we ask aspirants to complete an enormous form but we’re unable to discover the soul of their proposal in this way because others, and they are often always the same, help them with the ‘homework’. Instead, I would prefer to hear from them how they intend to create this Olympic appointment, as it’s creativity that can help more, also in our movement. Standard choices don’t launch evolution. I’m also basing myself on the experience as Chairman of the Evaluation Commission. Sometimes, I moved away from the fixed pattern, which forced us to ask for answers to standardised questions that drove the people we were talking to into soulless verbal acrobatics. And I asked for the real opinion, free of patterns. This is what I mean because I believe that the candidate cities can give us points for reflection and improvement of the same product.”

- We’re moving towards Sochi, the Winter Olympics. What’s the situation on the gay front, which caused such a stir in the summer?
“Putin is quoted as saying that, in Sochi, there won’t be any discrimination as far as sexual orientation is concerned and his words were clear. Our Olympic Charter will be respected.”

- Talking about the Winter Olympics of the future, there was the possibility of a conflict with FIFA if the World Cup 2022 in Qatar was played in January of that year.
“I’ve met Blatter several times. The proposal that has been aired concerns November 2022. I think that it’s an excellent initiative and I hope that the football world follows Blatter’s idea.”

- During your speech in Rome, it seemed that you had sent a sort of message to your colleagues about doping.
“I only said that we must protect honest athletes. With Sochi in view, we’ll make an additional 57% surprise checks, i.e. we’ll go from 800 to more than 1200 checks. However, in the meantime, the national committees must also act as a consequence to avoid unpleasant cases at the Games. If an athlete is found positive, the other blameless athletes in the same national team will also be tainted. We have to defend them. We must all work in this direction because we must beat doping and the manipulation of results by building a united front.”

- What strategy will the commitment to youth world follow?
“Next year there will already be the second edition of the Youth Games in Nanjin and we must exploit that event to attract the attention of the young people who are not part of our sports system. Let me explain. We mustn’t limit ourselves to sending messages to those who already do sport but we have to convince the other millions who might follow us on internet but don’t actually do any sport. We have to work with UNESCO to introduce sports curriculums into schools. We have to develop a long-term plan of education on sport. It’s a massive commitment and we can’t waste more time and the contribution of the school is essential.”

- In December, you’ve called an atypical executive board meeting - a day in the headquarters in Lausanne followed by a three-day work retreat in Montreaux. Why have you chosen this place, which is also close to Lausanne?
“This solution emerged but the concept is that of leaving our building, the usual places, behind for once, to concentrate on the work to be done. This meeting will enable us to create the commissions that will be concerned with the various problems coming out of the brainstorming and which will be given priority. These commissions will then produce the recommendations to be assessed by the Board and the Olympic Session.”

- How can the independence of the IOC be defended?
“Our independence must be clear. I also reiterated this in my speech to the UN. Sport must be neutral. However, it’s obvious that every decision that we take will have a political valence but it’s important that this stays within the sphere of our autonomy and independence, which are protected by good governance. We must respect the principles in our Charter.”

- How did the visit to the Pope go?
“It was very interesting. He congratulated me on my election in his hometown. But I reminded him that I also won a world title in Buenos Aires, so there had always been feeling. Then I talked to him about our Olympic Village that we would like to be the mirror of the civil society that lives together. He’s a man who knows sport well, he’s one of us. And he’s also a passionate fan of a team, San Lorenzo.”

- Has the visit to the Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta opened the way to the possible candidature of Rome 2024?
“Letta is a man with sport at heart and he knows the contribution it can make to society because an Olympic Games is an important catalyst in a country. I had the impression that there is great interest in the Games. Italy is a great country in sport; it has a strong Olympic Committee and many people of international value. If Rome is a candidate, I can say that it will be an important proposal.”

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