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  • A New Direction for Olympic Opening Ceremonies?


    (ATR) When Thomas Bach has a dream, he asks Olympic host cities to make it come true, even if that means tearing up longstanding plans.

    Thomas Bach addresses the world's NOCs (ATR)
    On Thursday, the IOC president pushed Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 to stage their opening ceremonies in the heart of their cities, following the example of the recent Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

    Bach tells Around the Rings that he thought he “would toss the stone into the water to see where the ripples go.”

    The celebration in Argentina was open to all, and more than 200,000 people attended a free party on the Avenida 9 de Julio in the heart of Buenos Aires. This was the first time an Olympic opening ceremony was held on the streets instead of at a venue.

    “There I have a kind of dream,” Bach told the ANOC General Assembly in Tokyo. “When I was experiencing the opening ceremony …. in the center of the city, around the iconic obelisk, I was imagining what such a kind of opening ceremony in a landmark place of a city would mean for the Olympic Games.”

    Bach said he wants people to be part of the celebration, sharing the emotions instead of watching other people experience them.

    “I hope sincerely that the friends from Paris have heard this message loud and clear,” Bach said, “so maybe you could all start thinking about what could be feasible in Paris and later in Los Angeles 2028.”

    However, security costs for the Olympic Games are much higher than for a YOG, and opening ceremony tickets, usually most expensive for the Games, contribute a large chunk of revenue.

    Bach spent time discussing the notion of  good governance to the world's NOCs especially with regard to the current governance controversies plaguing ANOC leadership. 

    "What effects one of us affects all of us," Bach said. "So you all and each and everybody of you, has a responsibility to keep this confidence alive and to apply standards of good governance in your NOC and in everything you’re doing.” 

    He said a good example was Sheikh Ahmad’s decision to step down as he deals with legal and ethical issues. 

    Bach said the IOC Executive board recognized that the move was “taken in the interest of all of us.” 

    “But we also stated at the same time that stepping aside temporarily cannot be interpreted as any admission of guilt and that the presumption of innocence has to prevail,” Bach added. “I would once more pay respect to Sheikh Ahmad and the firm stance he took after this decision and the example he has been setting for taking this responsibility to protect all of us and we hope that we can see him back here very soon after his case is solved and we will pay this respect among his hopeful return among all of you and among all of us.” 

    Olympic Stability

    In his 46-minute speech to the assembly, Bach also addressed the stability of the Olympic Movement, the IOC contribution to peace on Korean peninsula, Olympism in Action his confidence in Tokyo 2020 preparations, the athletes rights and responsibilities declaration, the fight against discrimination, good governance and the decision by Sheikh Ahmad to step down temporarily as ANOC president.

    ANOC in Tokyo (ATR)
    “We can really say we are enjoying a stability which I think any other major organization or industry or NGO would envy us,” Bach said. “Because this stability in this world we are living in is maybe the hardest currency you can have.”

    He credited “excellent hosts already decided, with others already on the horizon 14 years ahead.”

    Several cities or countries have expressed interest as far in the future as 2032, including Australia, India, Indonesia and North and South Korea.

    Bach also said many TOP sponsors and rights holding broadcasters have signed agreements through 2028 or even 2032, so that the IOC and NOCs can plan long term budgets and initiate projects.

    More importantly, Bach said is “the confidence that is expressed by the partners” in the IOC and the Olympic Movement.

    “Because these partners, these industries, they do not sign contracts with us for 2028 or for 2032 because we have nice blue eyes and because we are so sympathetic,” he said. “They calculate, they evaluate very carefully before they make such long-term investments with these amounts which are being involved.”

    He said this confidence the IOC has “to earn and we have to earn it every day.”

    Olympic Successes

    Bach took a victory lap on the 2018 PyeongChang Games, which reported a $55 million surplus after the uncertainty that shadowed it a year ago, and the role of the Olympics in promoting understanding and peace on the Korean peninsula.

    Moon Jae-In and Thomas Bach (IOC)
    “I may refer to President Moon Jae-in from the Republic of Korea who has said that we have opened the door to peace talks with our initiative on the Korean peninsula and there the IOC deserves lot of credit for this.”

    He said the NOCs share the credit because they are sending athletes to the Games.

    “We have been asked by the leaders of both countries to continue our efforts to peace on the Korean peninsula through actions in sport and of course the IOC has agreed to this,” Bach said, noting talks early next year with the two Korean NOCs.

    The IOC president reflected on the Olympism in Action Forum, saying it must be evaluated before the Executive Board meets next year.

    “My first personal feeling is it was successful,” Bach said. “We succeeded in opening the doors, we let fresh air in, we gave our critics the opportunity to express themselves, but they had also to accept that they are not knowing the truth alone.”

    He urged NOCs to fill out a survey to help shape the future of the forum, and expressed disappointment in the quantity of responses so far. “It’s an opportunity to make your voice heard,” Bach said.

    Tokyo Readiness

    He praised the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, reiterating that he has never seen an Olympic city so ready as Tokyo 18 months out.

    “Tokyo is really an example for diligent preparation of the Olympic Games,” he said. “They do not only impress us with their friendliness and their hospitality, they do not only impress us with their efficiency, they also impress us how they get the message of the values of the Olympic Games really being promoted.”

    Bach covered a variety of topics in his keynote (ATR)
    Bach spoke of his visit to the devastated areas of Fukushima with prime minister Shinzo Abe.

    “There you could really feel the power of sport to unite people, the power of sport to give hope to people, the power of sport to give optimism to people,” he said.

    He said with the organization of some baseball and softball games, ‘We can show our solidarity with the people of Fukushima, show them that we are standing by their side.”

    Bach expressed admiration for the “milestone achievement by the IOC Athletes commission and by a steering committee by drafting an dthen approving the athletes declaration on rights and responsibilities.”

    He said it was also “an emotional milestone,” because he was not able to achieve a similar declaration when he was an athlete advocate.

    “They managed to put this together with the input of 5,200 athletes from all over the world.”

    He said only the athletes have the legitimacy to speak on their own behalf.

    “So please help them in your NOCs to implement this athletes declaration,” Bach said, adding that they should encourage athletes to attend the IOC Athletes Forum next April in Lausanne.

    Athlete Rights

    Bach and Sheikh Ahmad speak before ANOC GA 2018 (ATR)
    The delegates applauded when the IOC president addressed recent political discrimination against Kosovo and Israel, although he did not mention the countries by name.

    “One of the athletes rights is also the right to participate in Olympic competition without any discrimination,” he said. “I just would like to repeat, we stand firmly on this principle of non-discrimination. And we will not only be satisfied by trying to intervene in individual cases or individual problems. I think you have seen just in the last couple of weeks that we are ready to go a step further, where we advise international federations when they are allocating international events to have a close look into this question of no discrimination.”

    He said each NOC must have an interest in protecting this principle of non-discrimination because it could suddently happen to them.

    “We are living in a time where nationalism is gaining ground over patriotism,” Bach said. “I have to make it clear, we stand for dialogue, we stand for peace, we stand for diversity, we stand for universality, we stand for, tolerance, we stand for respect and we stand against any form on discrimination in the sporting world.”

    Bach concluded that in the world today, the more the Olympic values are challenged, “The more we stand together.”

    Written by Karen Rosen in Tokyo

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