Bach to the future, for the Olympic Movement

17 December 2013 Comments 0

I heard news this week which gives me genuine cause for optimism in 2014 and beyond.

The IOC released details of an initiative inspired by its new President which promises the sort of pro-active stance the movement hasn’t seen for years. This stance reinforces our messaging in our Pure Sport campaign that WADA needs better funding and autonomy.

Just a couple of months into his new role, Thomas Bach has announced new proposals to tackle doping and match fixing in sport. It’s a move that could radically change the IOC’s historic approach to the problems that continually eat away at the integrity of sporting competition.

At last, someone it seems, is prepared to actually DO something. Many of Herr Bach’s predecessors have ended their terms of office with glowing reputations that have largely been bestowed upon them by career-minded sycophants. You may recall that I recently criticised Jacques Rogge’s tenure for its lack of action despite the smiles and mutual backslapping that suggested otherwise. Credit where it’s due and President Bach should be applauded for taking the initiative and raising his head above the parapet so quickly after being awarded his Presidential stripes.

At the heart of this plan is the IOC’s commitment to invest 20 million dollars after what was described as an “unprecedented four-day brainstorming session” on the future of the Olympics.

The IOC board has agreed a 10 million dollar fund to research new and improved methods to catch dopers and a further 10 million dollars to “protect the clean athlete from any kind of manipulation or corruption.” As I see it, this could mean anything from peer pressure to take Performance Enhancing Drugs or incitement to fix the outcome of a game or match. So bravo, Mr. President, there’s still a long way to go, but after just three months in the chair, it’s a bloody good start!

This of course, is not a guarantee of success and right now, my delight at the news and the congratulatory tone here, remain conditional on something actually happening. All the same, it’s refreshing to know that problems are being acknowledged and finally being confronted.

There will, of course, be the question of whether it’s enough. Is twenty million really going to make a difference? As I said, it’s a start and the proof of the pudding will be how the money is spent plus it hopefully will give rise to further investment, greater research and better competition. In short, it’s the thin end of the wedge and a wedge that may just help save the Olympic movement (and sport in general) from falling into the abyss.

Yes, it will take time. The President’s vision surrounds; “the Olympic Agenda 2020” – no doubt a reference to the timescale he anticipates, but wouldn’t it be great if it also illustrates the all-round vision and commitment he has for the Olympic movement and world sport?

The IOC has also asked national governments to contribute an additional 10 million dollars to World Anti-Doping Agency funds so WADA can conduct its own research projects. Again, it’s great news, but I trust this will be an improvement that allows WADA to maintain – and strengthen its own independence and not the first move in the IOC using the power of the purse to take WADA under its wing and direct their activities. It’s crucial that WADA remains independent and isn’t compromised because the IOC has given them extra funding. Independence for WADA is one of the fundamental principles we advocated around the world during the recent Pure Sport tour I did with Ben Johnson, along with greater funding. However pro-active the new President wants the IOC to be, it must be so with an independent WADA at its side. Otherwise, WADA simply becomes an IOC lap dog – and that simply won’t work.

We all own sport. Sports federations and administrators are the custodians of sport on behalf of the people of the world. They have a responsibility to each and every one of us and history tells that they let us down on so many occasions with their incestuous, self-preservation and inactivity.

There is still a long way to go, but the news that the new President is seemingly prepared to grasp the nettle and get on with it is a two-fold message. Firstly, it begs the question of why it was so apparently beyond his predecessors and secondly, it proves that where there’s a will there might just be a way. Fingers crossed.

Herr Bach, you taken the first steps on a long and probably difficult journey, but I do so hope you succeed.