The IOC ‘Lords of the Rings’ is desperately in need of action, not words, to effect positive change

As the next three Olympic Games arrive in Asia, the jury is still very much out on International Olympic Committee presidents Thomas Bach’s ‘culture changing’ mantra

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 6:36pm

Thomas Bach might seem like an imperious sort.

The current president of the International Olympic Committee, Bach comes by his regal countenance naturally.

He is a former gold medal fencer who founded a very prestigious German law firm and who resides in the fabulously luxurious Lausanne Palace on Switzerland’s scenic Lake Geneva shore.

But it may not be entirely fair to judge Bach by the obligatory ostentatious trappings of his position. After all, he is attempting to bring a common touch to his lofty perch that was noticeably absent in his two predecessors, Jacques Rogge and the wildly aristocratic Juan Antonio Samaranch.

However, on the basis of guilt by association alone, Bach is still in charge of a group that is largely patrician in nature and woefully neglect in practice.

It was Bach who promised a new day of accountability and transparency when he was elected in 2013.

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No more would potential Olympic host cities be forced to spend millions in government funds for the rights to spend billions on the haughty global sport gathering.

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee, (IOC) adopted a platform called Olympic Agenda 2020, a “strategic roadmap” for the future of the Olympic movement that would fight corruption and doping while promoting transparency and human rights.

After Fifa, world footballing’s governing body, criminally odious scandal rocked international sport in 2015, Bach reiterated the need for the IOC to “change or be changed.”

And yet almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, tales emerged of corruption and suspicious payments linked to Tokyo successfully securing the 2020 Summer Olympics.

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“Of course, we are not amused,” said Bach at the time, conveniently paraphrasing Queen Victoria. And we in Asia are not amused either, Herr Bach, particularly since the next three Olympic Games are coming to the Orient.

Wouldn’t it be just absolutely fantastic if some of the Olympian rhetoric being spewed by Bach and the IOC was even remotely credible? If the IOC truly became an agent for much needed reform in Asia, then it would be the noblest of ventures.

The 2018 Winter Games will be in Pyeongchang, followed by Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing with the 2022 Winter Games. Now, this is more fact than western arrogance to say that corruption has long been endemic in Korea, Japan and China.

While corruption is undoubtedly a global scourge, it has been an accepted way of life for thousands of years out here in Asia, a fact that was driven home when Bach visited Korea recently.

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Not only was Bach in South Korea to receive an honorary doctorate from Korea’s National Sports University, the IOC’s executive board was also meeting in Pyeongchang a mere 11 months before the Games begin.

Two weeks ago South Korean President Park Geun-hye became the nation’s first democratically elected leader to be impeached in a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into a desperate political crisis.

Naturally, this uncertainty does not bode well for the upcoming Winter Games, but when someone gives the IOC lemons, they make lemonade.

With honorary doctorate in hand, Dr Bach told a reeling nation that healing help is on the way.

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“After the political differences that your country is going through now, the Pyeongchang Olympic Games can unite the Koreans and make them proud again of their country and their athletes,” he said.

There is most certainly recent precedent for the unifying powers of the Olympic Games. Last year in Rio De Janero, the IOC found itself in the midst of another political circus as Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was in the process of being impeached herself when the Games came to town.

By the time the IOC left, the country was indeed unified, at least in one respect. Most everyone in Brazil agreed that the Olympics was a colossal waste of money and resources in an impoverished country seemingly spiralling out of control. As far as Olympian legacies go, the debt to host the Games will last for generations.

In fairness to the IOC, there may be a few progressive members who yearn to make a legitimate impact on humanity. It’s also a misnomer to think that the public funds that went into hosting the Olympics would have gone instead into public education or eradicating poverty when there was no previous history of that.

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Still, deep down I am hoping that in five years’ time we can honestly say the Olympic movement made a significant impact on Asia and the world.

But all the titles and peerages of IOC members currently mean nothing because, for now at least, the common touch necessary to affect meaningful social change is still distinctly uncommon in Dr Bach’s revamped IOC.