By STEPHEN WILSON
In just over one year from now, the IOC is scheduled to hold a presidential election at an all-members session in Athens, Greece.
That meeting, planned for June 24-26, 2021, and including a trip to Ancient Olympia on June 27, has been in limbo following the unprecedented postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thomas Bach has wide support of IOC members for a final term that would run from 2021 to 2025. (ATR)
As a result of Tokyo 2020 being pushed back by one year, the IOC session that would have taken place next month on the eve of the Games has been replaced by a virtual session on July 17.
In addition, the IOC will now need to schedule a session (probably a shortened version) in Tokyo in July next year, assuming the Games go ahead.
So what happens to the Athens session and presidential vote?
While no decision has yet been announced, it looks like the meeting will go ahead in 2021, possibly on the original June dates or a bit earlier. The intention will be for members to attend the Athens session in person, provided that health and travel protocols permit it.
What is clear is there will be a presidential vote next year. And what seems just as certain is there will be only one candidate – the incumbent, Thomas Bach.
Jacques Rogge and Thomas Bach on Bach's first day in office on Sept. 17, 2013. (ATR)
Bach, the German fencing gold medalist elected the IOC’s ninth president in Buenos Aires in 2013, is eligible for a second and final term of four years after completing his initial eight-year mandate in 2021.
While Bach has not publicly announced his intentions, it is widely assumed among members that he will seek re-election. The deadline for declaration of candidacies is three months before the vote.
Bach is currently steering the IOC through the unprecedented challenges caused by the Covid-19 crisis and Tokyo’s postponement. It would seem unthinkable for him to bow out now at this pivotal moment.
A number of Bach loyalists have even privately suggested recently that the 66-year-old German should be put up for re-election next month at the July 17 remote session, saying there is no point waiting until next year. However, changing the election rules now would surely subject Bach and the IOC to public criticism, and the idea has been all but ruled out.
Bach enjoys overwhelming support among the 100 IOC members, more than half of whom were elected during his term in office. He wields unassailable influence over the executive board and general membership.
Anyone seeking to run against Bach would be committing the equivalent of political suicide. So, barring any unforeseen health issues or other surprises, he is on the path to an uncontested re-election next year.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., IOC member in Spain, could be a candidate in 2025. (ATR)
Which begs the question: Who might be candidates for the top job when Bach’s next term comes to an end in 2025?
There is no obvious successor.
Patrick Baumann of Switzerland, the secretary general of FIBA and president of GAISF, had been considered the most likely candidate, but he died of a heart attack during the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018.
Long-time powerbroker John Coates of Australia, the IOC’s point man on the Tokyo Games, would fit the bill, but his membership ends in 2024 when he turns 74.
Here are some potential presidential hopefuls as of today.
-Juan Antonio Samaranch:
Could the IOC be in line for a second Samaranch presidency? The elder Samaranch was one of the most influential presidents in IOC history, serving from 1980-2001. One of the last acts of his presidency was getting his son elected to the IOC in 2001. The 60-year-old Samaranch Jr. (known as “Juanito’’ to friends and colleagues) is a current IOC vice president and chair of the Coordination Commission for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. Samaranch is popular among members and known to be keenly interested in running for president. His two decades of IOC experience give him a head start over other possible candidates. Will the family name and legacy help his chances? Or will the prospect of electing the son of a former president send the wrong signal?
Kirsty Coventry, ANOC Athletes Commission chair, also serves on the IOC Executive Board. (ATR)
Could the IOC be in line for a third Belgian president after Henri de Baillet-Latour (1925-42) and Jacques Rogge (2001-13)? The 60-year-old Beckers-Vieujant holds a high-profile role as chair of the CoComm for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, as well as vice chair of the CoComm for Los Angeles 2028. The businessman also chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Finance and Ethics Commissions and the Human Resources Committee. A key test for the Belgian will come on July 17 when he and four other candidates contest three vacancies on the executive board. Elevation to the rule-making board would further solidify his credentials; defeat would be a big setback. If Beckers-Vieujant does serve on the EB and help steer Paris to successful Games, he could be a serious contender in 2025.
The two-time Olympic swimming gold medalist from Zimbabwe joined the IOC in 2013 as an athlete member. Since 2018, she has chaired the Athletes’ Commission and served on the executive board. She is also Zimbabwe’s sports minister. The 36-year-old Coventry has been appointed by Bach to numerous key roles, including chair of the CoComm for the 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar. She also sits on the CoComm for Tokyo. Her term as an athlete member runs out next year. However, Bach is expected to ensure that she stays on the IOC as an individual member. At this point, Coventry shapes up as the leading female candidate. With a few more years of experience at the top level, she could be strongly placed for a presidential run.
Tony Estanguet, Paris 2024 president (ATR)
The three-time Olympic canoeing gold medalist is the president of the Paris 2024 organizing committee. His name and face will become more and more familiar as the Games approach. The 42-year-old Estanguet entered the IOC in 2013 as an athlete member and served as vice chair of the Athletes Commission from 2016-18. The problem: As with Coventry, Estanguet’s athlete membership ceases next year. However, there is no immediate possibility of making him an individual member from France; Guy Drut already holds that spot. Therefore, it would take a creative solution for Estanguet to be appointed to the IOC, perhaps through an NOC or IF role.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Among female members, current executive board members Nawal el Moutawakel
of Morocco and Nicole Hoevertsz
of Aruba could harbor presidential ambitions.
So, too, could Mikaela Cojuangco Jaworski
of the Philippines and Dagmawit Girmay Berhane
of Ethiopia. Both women are standing for the EB in the July 17 elections, and the results will indicate their level of support.
Executive board members Ser Miang Ng
of Singapore and Sergei Bubka
of Ukraine -- unsuccessful presidential candidates in 2013 – may want to try again in 2025. EB member Prince Feisal Al Hussein
of Jordan and Gerardo Werthein
of Argentina could figure in the mix.
As for Sebastian Coe
, who is finally set to be elected to the IOC in July, his membership is tied to his presidency of World Athletics. That and his age – he will turn 67 in 2005 – would seem to rule him out of serious consideration. He may not be interested in the job anyway.
With the election five years away, there is plenty of time for new names to emerge and the political landscape to change.
This Olympic competition still has a long way to run.
Stephen Wilson is the former long-time Olympic correspondent and European Sports Editor for The Associated Press. Contact him at email@example.com
Homepage photo: ATR
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