BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - New International Olympic President (IOC) Thomas Bach may not seem like a revolutionary choice to lead the world’s biggest sports organisation but the experienced German is set to quickly push through changes that will alter the Games.
The 59-year-old Olympic fencing champion and lawyer swept past five rivals to clinch the elections with a clear majority in the second round, confirming the 119-year-old body was ready to appoint a business-savvy leader to manage its multi-billion dollar potential.
With excellent connections in the world of business and politics, Bach was long seen as the natural choice to succeed Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge who methodically ran a tight ship following IOC corruption scandals and the global economic downturn.
“I know of the great responsibility of being IOC president. This makes me humble,” Bach said after the vote.
“I want to lead according to my motto: ‘unity in diversity’. This means I will do my very best to balance all the different interests of stakeholders of the Olympic movement.”
Bach has also pledged to take a close look a the size, cost and sustainability of the Games, offering to make the bidding process more attractive to cities and usher in more than the present limit of just 28 sports.
While Rogge sought to contain the size and cost of the biggest multi-sports event by capping the number of athletes, sports and medals, Bach is more flexible.
“We should definitely keep the limits on number of athletes and establish a limit on number of permanent facilities,” Bach told Reuters in an interview last month. “With this framework we could gain good flexibility with regard to the programme.”
“The number of sports, there we can be more flexible.”
Bringing more sports will still need to be approved by the IOC but it represents a U-turn from Rogge’s strict policy of one sport replacing another to keep to the limit.
Adding sports would refresh the Olympic programme much faster, especially after the IOC’s failed effort to change the programme for the 2020 Games two days ago.
After cutting wrestling in February, the sport made a triumphant return at the expense of squash and baseball/softball, highlighting the inherent problems with the current system as no new sport was added to the Olympics after years of planning.
Bach has also expressed an interest in making bidding for the Games attractive to more cities, relaxing some of the guidelines and reducing the cost of campaigning to host the Games that now can reach almost $100 million.
Only three cities - Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo, which on September 7 was awarded the Olympics - bid for the 2020 Games.
“Maybe we are asking too much of them,” Bach said.
“We must ensure that organising the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible. In this respect we may have to reconsider the bidding procedure to make it more encouraging while ensuring operational excellence.”
An efficient operator with hands-on experience in major businesses, starting his career as an executive at sports equipment manufacturer adidas, Bach has also set his sights on developing an Olympics-dedicated broadcaster using the resources and material within the IOC.
“Having already the production company in hand we need a discussion with our TV partners, with the international federations about how we can get more Olympic sports in the period between the Games on the screen,” he said.
“This is a vision, this is nothing you can manage in one two three, in four or five years,” said Bach. “But as our Chinese friends say every long journey starts with the first step and it is time to undertake this first step.”
Editing by John Mehaffey