Wednesday 3 July 2013

A New City, a fresh Sport and a Modern Mr. President? - My Picks for the next key IOC decisions

September 10th and the place is Buenos Aires, Argentina – A landmark decision(s) would take place on many levels in the ‘World of Sports’, and in particular in the diverse world of Olympics. Once every two years, this mega event alternates between the moderate summer climates to the bearable winter ambiance across the globe.

Three key decisions will be made during the 125th IOC (International Olympic Committee) Session which starts on 4th of September and culminates with the election of new IOC President. We will get there later.
First of the key decisions will involve three candidate cities namely - Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid presenting their cases, one last time in front of all the board members of the Olympic Committee in their bid to win the rights to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Who will it be? Honestly, I am no Nostradamus. However, I do have an inclination towards Istanbul in spite of the recent activities that are taking place in the country positioned in both the continents of Asia and Europe.

I have personally transited through Istanbul and never visited the city or Turkey in general. The question is not about how beautiful the country is; it is about its ability to host the event. If, they are being shortlisted after intense bidding in the past 3-4 years, it is only because the organising committee feels confident of making it happen and IOC delegation committee feels they have a chance. Besides, hosting games in Istanbul will open up the market to new communities and spread the message of Olympics to a wider audience.

On the other hand, the candidate city of Istanbul faces tough competition from the clinical and disciplined committee representing Tokyo and from Madrid, which is recovering from the financial crisis and have to revamp their economy such that there is no repeat of Athens, post the 2004 Olympics.

I believe Istanbul is currently placed in a similar situation in a bid to win the election, reminiscent of Tokyo bidding successfully to win the 1964 Summer Olympics hosting rights.  Tokyo, post World War II and the damage they had sustained wanted to be recognised as a developed economy. And hard work was the only way out, combined with a purpose to become one of the leading economies in terms of innovation and market, and also turn around the catastrophe of the 1940’s. Tokyo was the first Asian city and Japan, the first Asian country to host Olympics of any sort; they went on to host Winter Olympics in 1972 at Sapporo and at Nagano in 1998. Interestingly, Tokyo was supposed to host the 1940 edition of the Summer Games.

Their success stories inspired South Korea to host the 1988 Seoul Olympics to an extent and the National Olympic Committee of South Korea are currently busy in their preparations to host the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And to add to the South East Asia’s list - Beijing successfully hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. I believe 12 years and 2 years (if Winter Olympics is also considered) is a short time to host the same event in the same region, when the aim should be to reach out to new unexplored cities, sporting wise and in the context of Olympics. 

Out of Comfort Zone must be the way to move forward in order to have more impact and spread the ideals of Olympic movement effectively to regions, previously unknown.

Madrid, irrespective of the current crisis, if awarded, will become the 2nd country from Europe to host the Olympics after London 2012 within a span of eight years.

FIFA have opened up their horizon by previously awarding South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014 (they had previously hosted in 1950), Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Will Olympic Games follow a similar pattern? The anxious committees will know as do the rest of the world on 7th of September this year.

Immediately, after the host nation issue has been settled, the members will vote for an additional sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics among Wrestling, Squash and the combination of Baseball and Softball. Whilst, baseball and Wrestling were previously part of the Olympic calendar and in case of Wrestling it still is till 2016, Squash is among the under-dogs so to speak. After having initially voted out early this year by a panel based on review post the 2012 London Olympics, Wrestling has made a strong comeback to remain in contention. Rugby 7’s and Golf will be new additions for the 2016 edition, as announced in the 2009 Olympic Congress held at Copenhagen.

Coming from India my heart feels for Wrestling, as it is a medal prospect for the Indian wrestlers. I am inclined to give Squash an opportunity as it is a great spectator sport. Wrestling federation, FILA is confident of making it while the other two are not the clear favourites at the moment. Wrestling’s inclusion will indeed put a question mark on the review conducted by the IOC post the London Olympics, when it was suggested to drop wrestling from the Olympic calendar in the first place. Personally, I would like to see the popularity of squash increase and would look forward to its inclusion.

And now, to the finale, the election of the President of IOC - Jacques Rogge, ex- Olympian and the current President took over the reins from Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001. I would have personally liked if he continued one more term and he would have, if there would have been any provisions for that. Rogge’s greatest achievement personally would be to bring in transparency in the system and streamline the processes within the IOC. He will be leaving the post in a much healthier state. A soft-spoken, I had an opportunity to briefly chat with him, which lasted about less than a minute. He was kind enough to ask about me, instead of avoiding me and smile for a picture. 

With Jacques Rogge at the Olympic Museum, Lausanne in 2009
There are six candidates in the frame to take up his role - Dennis Oswald (Switzerland), Thomas Bach (Germany), Sergey Bubka (Ukraine), Richard Carrión (Puerto Rico), Ser Miang Ng (Singapore) and Ching-Kuo Wu (Taiwan). Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me as a person, which country the next IOC President would represent. I look forward to an inspiring leader, vocal yet willing to take the back seat and allow the recruited members to run the show. The elected person should carry forward the work and legacy, ensure sports reach out to new geographical locations and aim to better the standards that prevail currently at the IOC.

Change is a difficult destination and the process of change is often seen as an uncomfortable journey. However, it must not be an excuse for not embracing the unexplored avenues and for lack of transparency.

My mind goes back to 2001 at the 112th IOC session held at Moscow, when Jacques Rogge was elected as the IOC President after 21-years of Samaranch’s stay as the President. Since then, 12 years is the maximum, a president can remain at the helm.

Istanbul, one of the candidate cities in the lost to bid the 2008 Summer Olympics, was actively part of that 2001 IOC Session. Since then, they have unsuccessfully bid for the 2012 edition and prior to that for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics.

This is third successive time Madrid will be in the final round having previously lost to London (2012) and Rio (2016). Will Madrid be third time lucky?

Tokyo remains the only city that has previously hosted the Games. Will the past and strong hosting experience help Tokyo? Or will it be Istanbul, who will have to answer a lot of questions in the coming days from the members looking at the current scenario.

Hilton Hotel in Buenos Aires will be busy come September and by the time day ten of the month would conclude and end a week long IOC Session, there will be a new face addressing the sports world as the current IOC President, a proud International Federation reading out a ‘thank you’ speech and a successful city, which will spend the next seven years preparing for the event come 2020. 

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