The Sports Examiner: IOC members ask to change rules to extend Bach

Algerian IOC member Mustapha Berraf at the IOC Session in India, asking for IOC President Thomas Bach to be extended to an extra term. (Photo: IOC video screenshot)

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It had been whispered for a while. Who can possibly replace International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) in 2025? No one. So let’s change the rules and let him serve longer.

The idea is now out in the open. Near the beginning of Sunday’s first day of the 141st IOC Session, Algerian member Mustapha Berraf, the fourth to speak in an open-forum segment, and the President of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) was recognized and read from lengthy prepared remarks, which included (quoting the simultaneous interpreter):

“I also listened to your speech yesterday with great attention and I must say I was very concerned listening to you about the future and particularly with regard with the measures that we need to take to ensure that our Movement will be able to maintain its solidarity [and] credibility. …

“The Covid-19 period and the dysfunction between certain parties at war are being the perfect illustration and thanks to our mobilization and thanks to our solidarity organized by you, our President, Thomas Bach, that we were able to save the Olympic and sports movement, and to allow all the athletes of the world to continue to allow them to divert their sports and their abilities.

“I want to bring to your attention the fact that questions which I asked to speak about have been the subject of a large discussion with the Executive Board in ANOCA, of which I am the representative and the majority of African members of the IOC, which approved them in a large majority.

“A number of the Olympic Charter provisions that were adopted in 2021 and which deal with the fact that there should be a secret ballot to elect our President for eight years, a period of office which could be renewed for a period of four years. You were elected on the 10th of September 1993 [actually 2013] and on 10th of March 2021, you were re-elected for a period of four years.

“There have been a number of changes and crises that you have had to deal with, which you have dealt with very well, thanks to the support of us all. The changes that you have to face, we have to face in the IOC, takes place at a time of great divisions in the world, and I think it is necessary, really, that we have this exceptional leadership which you have shown.

“Therefore, on behalf of the African National Olympic Committees, and the African members of the IOC, suggest that we make the necessary arrangements so that President Thomas Bach should be allowed to carry out an additional term of office, which would allow the IOC to go through this period of torment with a President who has proved his mettle, and which will allow the IOC to prepare a transition in a very much more serene manner. …

“Dear friends, in conclusion, let me just say that our demand to extend the term of office is being done on behalf of the entire Executive Board of ANOCA, and which takes into account the general interest of our Movement.

“On this occasion, I would like to extend to you the thank-you on behalf of the Executive Board and also I’d like to congratulate the illustrious members of the IOC. And I’d like to say that under your leadership, we have been able to deal with all the changes on the planet, and also having given to our continent, Africa, the possibility for the first time in its history to be able to organize an Olympic Games. Senegal and Africa will do their best to be up to the task which brings with it this exceptional responsibility.”

Africa has 16 members in the IOC, out of 99 in total. But among the next five speakers, three directly supported the added-term idea:

● Luis Mejia Oviedo (DOM; elected in 2017)
● Camilo Perez Lopez (PAR; elected in 2018)
● Aicha Garad Ali (DJI, elected in 2012)

In addition, Japan’s Morinari Watanabe, elected in 2018 and the head of the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique expressed warm appreciation for Bach, saying at the end of his remark “I love you,” but also mentioned the importance of good governance. Bach smiled back and replied, “Thank you for your love.”

Last to speak in the open forum was Australian John Coates, head of the IOC’s Legal Commission, who spoke while leafing through the Olympic Charter and noted:

“It is not an easy matter to change the Charter. It requires that the proposed modifications to the Charter are included on an agenda, our agenda, that is circulated 30 days in advance of the meeting. And there is also a requirement that in respect of any proposed change of rule or by-laws, the IOC Executive Board considers them and presents a report to the Session, the same Session where it will be proposed to consider them.”

So, any change would require approval of the IOC Executive Board and a ballot measure presented to the members by the middle of next June. Plenty of time.

Bach did reply, but was non-committal, saying in part:

“I think I can summarize these interventions and first of all, say thank you very, very much for your kind words of support, because I think these words of support are not only directed to me, there are directed to all of us, of what made us to overcome the challenges we had was exactly this unity, this support which you expressed with regard to many items over all the time. And we can only be credible if we are appealing to all these divisive forces in the world, if we are appealing to respect the unifying power of sport, if we ourselves are unified. Otherwise, we have no credibility. If we are divided, how can we teach others about unity and our unifying power.

“And I think I can interpret your words there also in this direction. And I will not hide that they went straight to my heart, because you know how much I always emphasize this unity, and how much I always appreciate this support, this friendship and even the love expressed by Mr. Watanabe.

“Having said this, you also know that I am very loyal to the Olympic Charter. Being a co-author of this Olympic Charter, it drives me to be even more loyal to the Olympic Charter. …

“So thank you very, very much again, and I am really touched by your support and your friendship, and in this spirit of support and friendship and unity, I hope we can also have this Session and take the decisions in this Session which we can take.”

There was no applause or cheering in the room during the statements; of the 99 IOC members eligible to come to Mumbai, 12 were absent, notably including the Russian members Shamil Tarpishchev and Yelena Isinbayeva.

Observed: This is a new – and not totally unexpected – development and the accusations will immediately begin that this was all planned in advance, with Berraf reading from a lengthy prepared script in French. But the real question is whether Bach will agree to serve and whether the IOC membership will go along with this. As Berraf said, Africa is already pledged. But it will take more votes than they have to make this work.

The only sure thing that can be said is that any of the members who have been touted as possible IOC President material for 2025 are sidelined until Bach – now 69 – announces whether he will accept an extra four-year term.

The current rules require that IOC members can serve through the end of the year in which they turn 70, but the Session can extend the age limit by four years by a majority vote. Bach, however, was elected in 1991 and members elected prior to 1999 may serve to age 80. The Presidential term is fixed at a first term of eight years and a second term of four years.

~ Rich Perelman

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