Unanimous and relentless: Thomas Bach drives through Agenda 2020 reforms

Prepare for a new, slightly more flexible Olympic Games, sculpted with the modern world in mind.

Unanimous and relentless: Thomas Bach drives through Agenda 2020 reforms

Prepare for a new, slightly more flexible Olympic Games, sculpted with the modern world in mind. That was the message, delivered unanimously and swiftly, by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) here in Monaco on Monday, as changes to the way Games are awarded, staged and formatted were ratified.

The only thing missing, as the IOC Session delivered a ringing endorsement of president Thomas Bach, was some of the precise detail of how that will happen and what the full implications of some of the changes might be. That, it appears, is for another day.

Bach has spearheaded the Agenda 2020 strategic roadmap for the Olympic movement’s future throughout his first year in the top job in world sport. He has instilled a pace and urgency into his reforms process and never was that more evident than on Monday. The IOC was scheduled to spend a day and half working through the extensive list of changes. Pushed by Bach, a man seemingly on a mission, every single one of the 40 recommendations was pushed through unanimously by 6.30pm local time; the only mild dissent came from half a dozen members when Bach suggested cancelling a coffee break to try and get everything concluded before Tuesday. Like everything else on Monday’s agenda, he got his wish.

Bach’s rush to conclude was no doubt partly to ensure no momentum was lost, a trend of his presidency thus far; a more cynical mind might suggest it was also a way to swiftly drive through proposals that still require a little more polish and fine-tuning. They may have been shaped by 14 working groups and developed from a much larger set of initial submissions, but these were undoubtedly Bach’s reforms, his vision for the future of the movement.

Amongst a wide-ranging series of proposals, covering everything from the increased role of culture in Olympism to good governance, the most notable changes were, as ever, those made to the Olympic Games itself.

From now on, the Olympic programme will be shaped by events rather than sports, a subtle but important distinction, which means, for example, that dressage could be eliminated from the Games without the entire sport of equestrian falling out.

In theory, the large number of events that make up the athletics and swimming programmes at Olympic Games could be pared back, allowing room for events from other sports to join the party.

Host cities will now have the ability to develop an organisational and financial plan to include additional events on the programme, although the IOC will continue to cap the number of athletes at a Games to 10,500 for the summer version and 2,900 for the winter Olympics and retain ‘approximately’ 310 events.

That change, which neatly avoids the need for the IOC to go through the painful and political process of voting off an entire international sports federation, opens the way for a number of sports, amongst them surfing, squash, baseball/softball and karate, who have come close before and have been desperate for the Olympic door to inch open.

Squash, which mounted a strong campaign last year for inclusion in the 2020 Games only for wrestling to be re-admitted by the IOC, was quickest off the blocks in its response. World Squash president, N. Ramachandran, said: “Now that I can see the light is coming through at the edges I am delighted of course.” He checked himself by insisting, “we cannot get ahead of ourselves”.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation was next, its president, Ricardo Fraccari, in optimistic mood. “It’s like when the manager calls you off the bench to pick up the bat and warm up, and the bases are loaded,” Fraccari said. “All you want to do is swing for the fences!”

In the short-term, with the baseball/softball lobby particularly vocal in recent times, the organisers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo may find themselves the focus of an unofficial bidding race in the coming months, as several sports make their pitch for late inclusion.

Tokyo is not obliged to change its plans but the pressure to admit new events is likely to prove tempting, especially if there is particularly local interest – baseball/softball and karate would appear to be the frontrunners if that is the case.

Before that, further detail will likely be required on the process by which events organised by existing Olympic federations will be removed from the Games and the impact on revenue distribution.  There is also the potential for new events to be introduced in existing Olympic sports; Bach is known to be a particular fan of mixed-gender team events.

On a day of unanimity, there were also no apparent objections – the IOC chose to pass the Agenda 2020 reforms by a show of hands, with each vote described as ‘unanimous’ although television coverage tended not to show the IOC members during the process – to the much-talked of reforms to the bidding procedure.

The IOC will now push ahead with its plan to shape future bidding processes as more of an ‘invitation’. It has also rubberstamped a proposal which would allow, in ‘exceptional circumstances’, events to be staged outside the host city or country for reasons of sustainability. Like the composition of the sports programme, the new guidelines may be put into action sooner rather them later. Rumours continuing to swirl that the sliding events due to be staged in PyeongChang at the 2018 winter Olympics could be moved to another country where existing facilities are already in place.

Strategists and consultants working on bids, meanwhile, will now have to sign a register, tying them to the IOC’s ethics guidelines. Stalking the Grimaldi Forum, the established forces in a market that has grown up around protracted and increasingly expensive bidding races, appeared - that word again - unanimous in their approval. Again, though, the devil, in particular how it will be policed, will be in the detail.

In his opening address at Sunday’s opening ceremony, effectively his final pitch to IOC members, Bach urged the Olympic movement to be proactive, not reactive at this week’s meeting when it comes to modernisation and adapting to better suit a changing world. “If we do not address these challenges here and now we will be hit by them very soon,” he suggested. “If we do not drive these changes ourselves others will drive us to them. We want to be the leaders of change in sport not the object”.

Throughout a day which also saw the IOC ratify detailed plans for an Olympic channel, which is expected to launch in late 2015 initially as an OTT service, Bach led from the top table, keeping up a fairly relentless pace. There were plenty of questions, but little outright disagreement on any of the recommendations.

The groundwork had been laid, approvals sought long before the Olympic movement descended on Monaco, its smallest member nation, for this week’s IOC Session. The votes were never in doubt. Unanimously, all the Olympic momentum is with Thomas Bach.