The Sports Examiner: IOC excited about Paris, but is fine-tuning costs and emphasizing human rights (with no apology for Beijing ‘22)

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The drumbeat for Paris 2024 has already started, as evidenced by the comments from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) at Friday’s news conference following two days of Executive Board meetings:

“We are very much looking forward to this, hopefully, first post-pandemic Olympic Games, which will be more urban, younger, inclusive, sustainable Olympic Games, and the first gender-balanced Olympic Games in history, and they will be the first Olympic Games which are planned, ready and organized and in the best sense of the word, celebrated, in full alignment with Olympic Agenda 2020.”

He was especially enthused by the revolutionary idea of the Opening Ceremony to take place on the Seine River:

The Olympic Games are already, now, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but having this Olympic experience, this will really be unique and a moment, I think, nobody of them will ever being on this boat and being welcomed and cheered on by up to 600,000 people on the river.”

And no worries about security? “We can really say we have full confidence in the French security authorities.”

However, excitement for 2024 has hardly tempered Bach’s continuing reform program of the IOC and the Games. Building off of the difficult re-programming of the Tokyo Games for a year’s delay, the economic issues plaguing Paris and Milan Cortina 2026 and Bach’s view of the future of the Olympics, the new “Games Optimization Working Group” was formally announced:

It was about the organization of the Olympic Games, the optimization of the organization, meaning to adapt the organization of the Olympic Games to modern times, to our challenges … in particular on the financial and economical side, but also to make them even younger, to make them more digital, and on this behalf, we have created a Games Optimization Working Group.

“This Working Group consists of the major stakeholders: you have there executives from the different organizing committees, you have the presidents of the associations of the winter sports federations and the summer sports federations, you have the representatives from the National Olympic Committees and from the Paralympic Committee. There are media partners, press, TOP Partners, and, of course, our Olympic Games Department. And this extremely important working group is chaired by Kirsty Coventry [ZIM], who also chairs the Coordination Commission for the Olympic Games Brisbane 2032.”

Bach noted that the group had already had its first meeting, and he was clear about its direction: “we want to make the Games more feasible, more sustainable and more modern, for the best athletes of the world to shine.”

He then introduced an even broader project, dealing with the IOC’s embrace of human rights as outlined by the United Nations. Bach is a clear admirer of the U.N. and especially its goal-setting programs, and has now tethered the IOC and the Olympic Movement to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, introduced in 2011.

The 50-page IOC Strategic Framework on Human Rights, introduced on Friday, is considered by Bach to be a central element in the future of the Olympic Movement:

● “This Framework will fundamentally shape the working practices of the IOC, the Olympic Games, and the entire Olympic Movement, ensuring that human rights are respected within our own respective remit.”

● “The overarching mission of the Olympic Movement, as you know, is for sport to contribute to a better world … It will address selection of future Olympic Games hosts and the delivery of the Olympic Games.”

● “What is clear … is the [host city selection] procedure, and there, you can see from this Human Rights Framework that the Future Host Commission, which is leading this process, will be guided by the U.N. [Guiding Principles].”

So what does this mean? The Framework sets out three limited “spheres of responsibility” for the IOC: for its own organization, for the organization of the Olympic Games and as leader of the Olympic Movement, with influence over the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees. The Framework is careful to set out these limits on the IOC’s view of its own purview, but within it are five priorities:

● Equality and non-discrimination
● Safety and well-being
● Livelihood and decent work
● Voice
● Privacy

And these areas will be applied to four target audiences:

● Athletes
● IOC/IF/NOC and organizing committee workforce
● Workers in supply and value chains
● Olympic-related communities

The IOC’s immediate goals for 2024 include 16 objectives, including internal actions such as amending the Olympic Charter and applying social and environmental standards to the IOC’s own supply chain. For future Olympic Games, the IOC plans to ask more questions and impose more oversight on bid cities and host cities, including prevention, mitigation and remediation measures.

(This is not new; FIFA is already doing this, and has asked each venue city for the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. about this topic in detail.)

Issues of safeguarding – especially of very young athletes – and of freedom of the press to report at the Games without constraint are mentioned specifically.

With the broader Olympic Movement, the objectives focus on best-practice sharing, encouragement and monitoring, especially regarding athlete involvement and safeguarding from abuse at the IF and NOC levels.

So with all of this attention to human rights, what does Bach and the IOC have to say about February’s Winter Games in Beijing, especially in view of the 31 August human rights assessment by the U.N. Human Rights Office of China’s actions in Xinjiang regarding the Uyghur population? The report found “Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the [Chinese] Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies.”

Said Bach:

“We have, of course, taken note of this report. With regards to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, which fall within our remit, the IOC worked together with the organizing committee to ensure that all the obligations in the Host City Contract were met, and if you read the report by the U.N. High Commissioner and you look into the recommendations which are directed to the wider society, there is the call, therefore, for respect of the U.N. [Guiding Principles], and this is what we are doing.”

Observed: The key here is Bach’s view of the limits of the IOC’s authority, which extends to the Olympic Games and no further. His repetition of the position that the Chinese organizers met the requirements of the Host City Contract is itself an admission that there was more than could have been done, but that was impossible in dealing with a world power on an event staged within its country.

Whether the IOC’s new human-rights program becomes meaningful, influential or worthwhile will very much depend on the credibility of the choices of the future host cities. For 2024, 2026, 2028, 2030 and 2032, a significant challenge is not expected. What happens beyond is unknown and will be up to Bach’s successor.

~ Rich Perelman

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