The IOC and the future of the Olympic Movement

IOC-7The 125th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) concluded in the South American city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tuesday last. It was mooted as a major event that would feature significant impact on the future of the International Olympic Movement. There were three major decisions to be taken at the Session:

  • The election of the host city for the Summer Olympic Games on 2020
  • The election of one sport to be brought onto the Sport Programme of the Summer Olympic Games of 2020 and 2024
  • The election of a new IOC President

The foregoing was thought to be so momentous that the international media descended on Buenos Aires in huge numbers.
At the conclusion of the Session however the international community may well be engaging in a serious re-think of the International Olympic Movement.
In many respects it was business as usual for the IOC and a sort of patting itself on the back for what it has done.
Perhaps the most consistent aspect of the Session was the flurry of accolades repeatedly showered on outgoing President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, who headed the organisation and indeed the Movement for the past 12 years.
United Nations?
While many seem to think otherwise the IOC is quite unlike the United Nations. For one thing the IOC is a self-appointed and self-elected and by extension self-perpetuating international sport organisation.
The membership does not come from all over the world.  The IOC determines which persons it would recommend to serve among its membership.
When the IOC was established at the Sorbonne, France in 1894, Europeans dominated its membership. The same holds true today even though the membership has moved from the small band to in excess of 100 individuals.
One must distinguish between the National Olympic Committees, which, together with the IOC individual members make up the International Olympic Movement and the actual IOC.
Following the scandals of the Salt Lake City bid to host the Winter Olympics of 1994, the IOC was forced to leave the door slightly ajar. This left the NOCs and International Federations (IF) to access a limited number of places on the IOC for a specified time period.
However many analysts still see the IOC as an eclectic and elitist organisation essentially operating in something of a cocoon seemingly afraid of opening itself to the fundamental democratic principles that it asks of its affiliates around the world. In this regard many see the IOC as operating under the rubric, Do as I say but not as I do.
Many therefore long for the day when the National Olympic Committees of the world would have a meaningful part to play in how the IOC is run.
For the time being however and certainly after the 125th Session in Buenos Aires the IOC remains perceived by many as something of a plutocracy – an organisation of the rich for the rich.
It may take some time for the IOC to be able to shed this image by so many.
Tokyo and the Olympic Games
On 7 September 2013 the IOC members and the entire world listened to the presentations of Istanbul, Turkey, Tokyo, Japan and Madrid, Spain, as each sought to woo votes enough to award them the right to host the Summer Olympics of 2020.
As the presentations were delivered the glitz was such that few gave due consideration to the fact that for the past two years the four bidding cities and their national, regional and local governments had expended millions of dollars merely in preparing their bids.
It is perhaps the power of sport and its enduring influence on peoples around the world that little or no attention is paid, initially at least, to the exorbitant sums expended on the bidding process bearing in mind that this amount is negligible to what must be expended once the right to host the Games are won.
It is not surprising therefore that poor countries, with the exception of Cuba, have come to the recognition that they do not stand a chance of ever hosting the Summer or Winter Olympics and do not submit bids.
In sport as in life therefore, cockroach has no place in fowl party.
Tokyo had actually submitted a bid in 1936 and won the right to host the Olympic Games of 1940. However the state of the international community, dominated as it was by wars, prevented the hosting of the Olympic Games. Indeed the records show that the Japanese were themselves involved in wars in Asia and the government gave up the Games in 1938 after which the IOC opted for Helsinki, Finland. The second World War started in 1939 and put paid to any edition of the Games until London 1948 (Dr Ben-Ami Shillony’s review of The 1940 Tokyo Games: The Missing Olympics: Japan, the Asian Olympics and the Olympic Movement by Sandra Collins)
Tokyo again won the right to host the Olympics of 1964 and did so with much flair during the period 10 – 24 October, with 5,151 athletes in attendance (4,473 men and 678 women), from 93 countries, contesting 163 events in 19 sports.
The Tokyo Olympics were the first to have computerised results storage and were also the first to have been televised around the world.
1964 was the very first time that the Olympics had come to Asia and the Japanese used it as their coming out party after the wars to showcase the extent to which they had bounced back enough to be considered a world power in economic terms.
From all reports the Games of 1964 were a resounding success and it did set the stage for significant changes in the way the Games were held thereafter.
Tokyo submitted a bid for the Olympic Games of 2016 but lost out in the final round to Rio de Janeiro. Interestingly, Madrid was also involved back then. At the time many thought that Tokyo had the best bid but this was not the judgement of the IOC members as evidenced by their vote.
This time around, Tokyo found itself in the final round with Madrid again and Istanbul. It was however second time lucky winning in the second round.
Winning the Bid
Interestingly the three candidate cities all delivered very emotional bids on the final day of presentations. It seemed as though each thought this an important way to reach the hearts of the voting members of the IOC and procure maximum votes.
Every one of the bidding cities had a dream of some sort that would be fulfilled by their being awarded the Games of 2020. They must have taken this from Sebastien Coe’s final presentation when London defeated Paris for the Olympic Games of 2012.
It was the fourth occasion on which Istanbul had submitted a bid and it was the first time that it had reached the final round of voting for the award of the Games. It was clear that over the years the city had learnt from each previous experience and had brought on board, this time around, some expertise that really enhanced what was on offer to the voting delegates of the IOC.
The final presentation displayed a fast improving country technologically and an eagerness to keep pace with international developments even in the face of continuing global economic challenges.
The leaders of the bid emphasised the strong stance that the country is now taking against doping in sport, an issue that has bothered the international sporting community.
Istanbul may well have suffered from its proximity to the trouble spots in the Middle East even as the bid highlighted its spanning two continents, a window to the world.
The recent turmoil in Turkey itself may have added to the concerns that the IOC members already had about the country, more generally.
Additionally the IOC members may well have been wary that the after effects of the so-called Arab Spring, the existing chaos in Egypt and the decimation taking place in Syria may all somehow leave the region in an uneasy calm for several years to come.
Madrid delivered a dynamic, fast-paced and typically Spanish presentation to the IOC Session in Buenos Aires.
The leader of the bid, son of former IOC President and carrying the same name, Juan Antonio Samaranch, declared that they had learnt from their previous experience when they lost out to Rio and were committed to delivering a low-cost Games. Therein may well have been the fly in the ointment.
Perhaps, in their anxiety to show prudence in spending on the Games the Madrid Bid Committee lost the IOC members. The latter may well have had visions of the demonstrations in the streets of Spain against the sad state of the Spanish economy. They may well also have had visions of the demonstrations in Brazil during the Football Confederations Cup where the people condemned the state of the economy as well as the high prices of tickets to next year’s Football World Cup, bearing in mind that the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are two years later. They must have wondered about protestations against Football ticket prices in a country where Football is elevated almost to the status of a religion and pondered the likelihood that something similar could happen when the ticket prices for the Olympics are announced.
Finally, the IOC members may also have taken into consideration the prospect of just how much a low-cost Summer Olympics would negatively impact the extremely high standard to which they have become accustomed.
The Tokyo delegation was not to be outdone by the others in terms of emotionalism. There was enough of this to go around several times over.
To be fair, however, the final bid presentation was as clinical as we have grown accustomed to seeing from the Japanese, generally.
The concerns over the leakage from the Nuclear plants damaged in the earthquake last year were raised but Japanese Prime Minister, Shinto Abe, gave personal assurances as leader of the country that he would ensure that the matter is adequately addressed. Interestingly however there were no specifics as to how this would be achieved. Yet his response seemed to have satisfied the IOC members enough for them to vote for Tokyo.
There is little doubt that the IOC members are well aware that Asia has perhaps one of the strongest markets for sport in the world today. It is the reason that so many international sports federations are hosting so many of their respective competitions there.
There seems no shortage of companies anxious to join the ever-growing list of sponsors of sporting events in Asia.
Despite the heavily cluttered traffic scenario in Tokyo the IOC members seemed satisfied that given Japan’s penchant for advanced technological developments the city would overcome any potential hiccups in this regard.
At the conclusion of the vote awarding Tokyo the Summer Olympics of 2020 at the125th IOC Session the IOC seems satisfied that it deserves a pat on the back for ensuring the financial viability of the Games.
Make no mistake, the decision was heavily economic as much as it was political.