IOC elections remind us that Tokyo Olympics are much closer than we think
The vote for the IOC presidency provided plenty of the bitter rivalry and dodgy lobbying traditionally associated with the power of being the Lord of the Rings
New IOC president Thomas Bach (right) who succeeded Jacques Rogge (left). Photograph: Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images
You would not believe some of the derision hurled my way from certain colleagues in Croke Park last Sunday, simply for spreading the news that Tokyo got the 2020 Olympics. Roy Curtis, a man known for his great big grizzly bear hugs, walked away in near disgust when told Tokyo must be the perfect choice.
“Here we are, All-Ireland hurling final day,” says Roy, “and all you want to talk about is some Olympics 6,000 years from now. Only from the son of ‘The Runner’.”
True, there is still some considerable family affection for Tokyo, although 6,000 years is a slight exaggeration. “You initially sit there thinking seven years is a long time,” Sebastian Coe wrote on Monday, recalling the moment, in 2005, when London got the 2012 Olympics. “Believe me, it flies. Tokyo needs to put that bid into action – fast.”
If anything there will come a point when Tokyo will start thinking that seven years is not long enough. But at least they have the imperial family on the side. Coe wasn’t exaggerating when suggesting the one thing that probably swung last Saturday’s vote in Tokyo’s favour – over Madrid and Istanbul – was the presence of Princess Hisako of Takamado. Her speech, delivered in perfect English to the IOC delegates gathered in Buenos Aires, gently pressed all the right buttons. “This is the first time a member of the Japanese Imperial family has addressed you,” she concluded, with perfect elegance and eloquence, “and I dare to hope that our paths may cross again.”
One can only imagine how this must have agreed with the IOC delegates’ own sense of royalty, and even then, it was felt, Madrid and Istanbul realised there would only be one winner. In the end the whole vote proved a little tame, if not entirely predictable. Although that’s not saying the political beast that is the IOC is not alive and roaring. Indeed what followed three days later, back at the Buenos Aires Hilton, surrounding the vote for the ninth IOC presidency, provided plenty of the bitter rivalry and dodgy lobbying traditionally associated with the power of being the Lord of the Rings.
If the Tokyo vote was all about the there and then, the vote for the IOC presidency was all about the here and now, or at least the next eight years. It might be unpaid, albeit coming with an unlimited expense account, and a nice presidential pad at Lausanne’s Chateau de Vidy, but it’s still considered the most powerful position in world sport, and therefore the most carefully vetted. So, that it went to the 59-year-old German lawyer Thomas Bach was absolutely no surprise: Bach has been groomed for the position for the past 22 years, since first joining the IOC in 1991, and might as well have the five-ringed emblem tattooed onto his forehead.
It surely helped that Bach also has the original Olympic title next to his name: he won an Olympic gold medal in fencing, representing West Germany, in Montreal in 1976. That actually makes him the first Olympic gold medallist to hold the position (although IOC founding president, Pierre de Coubertin, also won a gold medal, for literature, at the 1912 Games, for his poem Ode to Sport).
Coe, coincidentally, has known Bach since 1981, when they were both part of the first athletes commission that addressed that year’s Olympic Congress: “The IOC,” said Coe, “and the wider movement, can be confident that in moving forward they have a new president who sees the Games through the eyes of competitors.”