IOC President Thomas Bach defended his handling of the Russian doping scandal, attacked critics of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and claimed no cities would have bid for the 2024 Games without his “Agenda 2020” reform program.
In a speech to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees on Tuesday, Bach appeared determined to counter the negative public perception surrounding the Olympic movement following a turbulent year of doping crises, the troubled buildup to Rio and continuing concerns over the costs of hosting the games.
Bach cited media headlines in the months ahead of the Rio Games about security, water quality, the Zika virus and allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Citing Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election last week, Bach said the Rio Games were a “case study” in the difference “between published opinion and public opinion” and “between perception and reality.”
Bach said the Rio Games were a great success, citing record global television viewership and social media interest, though he made no mention of the empty seats and organizational glitches that also affected the event. Bach said the success of the games was a “miracle” in light of the severe recession and political turmoil that Brazil has been going through.
He also went to great lengths to defend the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to impose a total ban on Russia from the games, saying he has received support from dozens of world leaders on the issue.
The World Anti-Doping Agency had called for the complete ban following a report by investigator Richard McLaren that detailed systematic, state-assisted doping in Russia. The IOC instead allowed international sports federations to decide which Russian athletes could compete.
Bach said he has met with many heads of state and government since the games and all backed the IOC’s position.
“They appreciated and acknowledged we did not take a political decision but we took a decision that took in the interest of sport and respected justice for clean athletes and protecting the clean athletes worldwide,” he said. “To see this acknowledgement and this appreciation by so many political leaders was a confirmation of our decision and is a great encouragement for all of us.”
McLaren’s final report is due out next month and will focus on allegations of Russian doping and manipulation of samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Two IOC commissions are also looking into the allegations, which could lead to calls for sanctions on Russia for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Bach said once the investigations and hearings are completed, the IOC will take “the necessary measures and all the sanctions because if only part of this would be true, it would be an unprecedented attack on the integrity on the Olympic Games and on the Olympic competitions.”
On a separate issue, Bach said no cities would have come forward as candidates to host the 2024 Summer Games had the IOC not passed his “Olympic Agenda 2020” project, which aims to reduce the cost of hosting the games and insists on maximum use of existing and temporary facilities.
Several cities pulled out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Games over financial and political concerns. Last month, Rome withdrew from the 2024 race because of opposition from the city’s new mayor. That decision leaves Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, as candidates.
“Without `Olympic Agenda 2020,’ we would have had zero candidates,” Bach said. “There would have been none. All of the candidates who you will see now and the others who were in the race or considering in the race, they can confirm this to you. They told us this.”
Bach also said that high-ranking Olympic official Patrick Hickey, who was arrested during the Rio Games on ticket scalping charges, deserves the “presumption of innocence” pending the resolution of his case. Hickey, who is not permitted to leave Brazil, has temporarily stepped down as a member of the IOC executive board and president of the European Olympic Committees.
Bach said Hickey’s arrest shows Olympic officials are “not immune” and must obey the laws and rules in other countries.
“What was in the past something that just concerned us in an organization is now concerning the rules and the laws of a country,” Bach said. “These laws of the country we have to respect, and each and every one of you has to take them into consideration when acting accordingly.”