Bach warns against Olympic boycotts, seeks re-election

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks at the Australian Olympic Committee annual general meeting on May 4, 2019, in Sydney, Australia. - Photo by Rick Rycroft of The Associated Press
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks at the Australian Olympic Committee annual general meeting on May 4, 2019, in Sydney, Australia. - Photo by Rick Rycroft of The Associated Press

GENEVA -- IOC president Thomas Bach warned against Olympic boycotts on Friday while also confirming he will seek re-election next year.

Bach seems certain to get four more years in 2021 after almost half of the 100 International Olympic Committee members from around the world praised him in an online version of their annual meeting.

"As you can imagine, I could hear this forever," Bach quipped during nearly a full hour of tributes to his leadership since his eight-year first term started in 2013, and from members welcoming his candidacy for the second term.

Bach's first term was marred by the Russian doping scandal but it has been a financially stable period for the IOC. American broadcaster NBC signed a long-term rights deal and new top-tier sponsors were added, including Chinese retail giant Alibaba.

The Beijing Winter Olympics, currently scheduled for February 2022, will be an early highlight and a potential test of Bach's second and, according to current IOC rules, final term in office.

Although serious talk of a boycott has not begun, China's human rights record is an expected target ahead of the Olympics. Some lawmakers and diplomats have criticized China for its detention and treatment of its Muslim minority Uighur people and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

"Boycotts and discrimination because of political background or nationality are once again a real danger," Bach warned in his keynote speech in Lausanne, Switzerland. "A sporting boycott only punishes the athletes of the boycotting country and deprives their people of sharing in the success, pride and joy of their Olympic team."

Asked at a later news conference if the IOC recently discussed the Uighur issue with Chinese authorities, Bach limited the focus of its role -- to "whatever is related to the Olympic Games" rather than society as a whole.

"This is our remit. And we are fully confident that, there, China will deliver on this commitment," he said.

The boycott issue is personal for Bach, who won a gold medal in team fencing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics but could not defend the title when West Germany joined the United States and others in refusing to send teams to the 1980 Moscow Games.

"The Soviet army stayed nine long more years in Afghanistan after the boycott," said Bach, who as an athlete spokesman in 1980 failed to change the minds of German political leaders. "It appears that today, some just do not want to learn anything from history.

"The only political effect the boycott of 1980 had, was to trigger the revenge boycott of the following (Los Angeles) Olympic Games," he said.

If Bach is re-elected unopposed as expected, a big challenge of his next term is likely to be the economic and social recovery of sports from the global health crisis.

In March, the IOC postponed this year's Tokyo Olympics for one year. Organizers confirmed Friday they had secured all the venues and the Athletes Village for next year. IOC members on Friday also ratified postponing the 2022 Dakar Youth Olympics in Senegal to 2026.

"Unfortunately, we are already seeing clear signs in some parts of the world that ... society and nations are driven by even more egoism and self-interest," Bach said. "This leads to more confrontation and to the politicization of all aspects of life: Culture, economy, health, science, humanitarian aid. Even the fight against doping is already being targeted."

That comment appeared to criticize the United States after a government-funded study last month raised the possibility of withholding money from the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The IOC said its presidential election will be in "spring 2021," possibly in Athens, as members agreed to have two full meetings next year. The second is due to be in Tokyo on the sidelines of the Olympics.

Also on Friday, the IOC elected five new members, including two-time Olympic champion Sebastian Coe of Britain, the president of World Athletics. The others are: Former Olympic champion Maria Colon of Cuba; Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States; Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the former president of Croatia; and Battushig Batbold of Mongolia.

Two members, John Coates of Australia and Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, were elevated to IOC vice president status, with seats on the executive board.

Two vacant seats on the 15-member board were won in elections by Mikaela Cojuangco Jaworski of the Philippines and Gerardo Werthein of Argentina, one of Bach's main allies.

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