Thomas Bach: «The IOC Cannot Fix What is Impossible for Diplomats»

President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach told the German newspaper “Der Spiegel» about the Olympic Games in the countries with dictatorial regimes, the chances of Hamburg to hold the Summer Olympic Games in 2024 and the reform of FIFA.
Mr. Bach, when you were at a football match of the district league for the last time?
– It's not that simple for me to watch the district league match.
Firstly, I don't have that much time.  Besides, if I appear at a match of some club it would create the number of problems.  People of the nearby city would start to ask why he came to them?  Why he didn’t choose us?

–  How it is possible that the President of the IOC is not interested in mass sport activities?
– What makes you think that I'm not interested?  In late April, I took part in a 20 kilometres race in Lausanne. I didn't run the entire race. I don't want to give the wrong impression here. In May, I was on the Fiji Islands. Coming out of the presidential residence, I saw a rugby pitch nearby  where a team was training.  I came to them, watched and asked the players how things were going. Then they invited me to play.  
Thomas Bach running across the field with a rugby ball under his arm...
– Not exactly. They did not even let me make a goal, but there is the lineout, a throw-in during which the team lifts up the player so that he can catch the ball from the air. I was supposed to take over this role. I first had to kneel on the ground, stood in that position for a long time, while the players around made commands which I did not understand at all. My thighs were already aching. At some point, they realized that I did not understand any Fiji, and one of them said in English: “Hey, you need to jump too»! Therefore, I jumped, and was lifted up, caught the ball and passed it along. It worked wonderfully.
The first European Games started in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on June 12.  Were those happy days for you?
– Sports and athletes are always celebration days for me.
Some people see things differently. In Azerbaijan, there are activists and civil rights campaigners who are in jail because they criticized the European Games...
– The organization of European Games is done not by the IOC but the European Olympic Committee.  But I do not want to sound a formalist, and use that as an excuse.  When members vote for a host, they're not declaring that they agree with the laws of the sovereign country. It's not a vote for a political system. And the IOC is not a world government.
But it often acts as if it is. Before the start of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the IOC emphasized that it was helping to open China to the world.
– No, we do not seek to make such impression.  We want our games to be an example of an open society that is free of any discrimination.  For us it is important to create an atmosphere in the Olympic Village in which all athletes can meet in an unprejudiced environment.  In addition, if it will lead people in their counties to the relevant ideas and that's entirely a good thing.
Nevertheless, we have to respect the laws of a sovereign country. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia recently made a measured effort towards the possibility to hold the Olympic Games. My reaction was: as long as women cannot have the same access to sports as men in Saudi Arabia, as long as women cannot even enter the stadium there, we won't accept an application.
– You are making it easy for yourself by taking up sports as an issue. Why don't you just say: As long as bloggers are whipped in Saudi Arabia, this country will not be allowed to hold the Games?
– Once again: The IOC is a sports organization. We cannot change what generations of diplomats and a series of UN resolutions have not been able to do.
– Since 2014, paragraph six of the Olympic Charter bans in particular the discrimination based on the sexual orientation. There are two candidates for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty and Beijing. If you were serious about your own Charter, you would need to reject both cities.
– And why is that?
– Kazakhstan politicians have been pushing a Russian-style anti-gay law for years. Moreover, in China there are clinics in which gay men are ‘cured’ with electric shocks.
– The responsibilities as well as the opportunities of the IOC are limited by the Olympic Games and what is directly related to them. We can only provide stimulus for the development of societies and countries, not instructions.
– Then we'll put it differently: Can you give me an example when the IOC had to intervene?
– No problem. In Sochi, there were issues with the payment to the construction workers that were hired to work at sites around the sporting venues. We stepped in on their behalf and spoke with the Russian organization committee. In the end, the workers received a back payment of $7 million. Now, before our selection of the 2022 Games' host, we are negotiating with different organizations like the International Trade Union Confederation and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Two months ago, I visited the Human Rights Watch headquarter in New York. We also commission our own reports on the situations in Almaty and Beijing.
Are we wrong to have the impression that the Olympics are becoming increasingly appealing to dictatorships and pseudo-democracies who are looking to polish their image?
– I often hear the preconceived notion that democratic countries are no longer interested in the Olympic Games. Then let me ask you what the definition of ‘democratic’ is. Look at the list of countries that either have hosted the Summer Games or are scheduled to do it soon: Sydney, Athens, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo...
… and Doha in 2024.
– Where are you getting that from?
Qatar is considering the filing an application.
– We don't have any application from them. At the moment Boston, Hamburg, Paris and Rome have declared their intention to apply. Thus, your thesis is quite questionable.
In the future, the IOC will allow a host country to relocate some sports to another country if it doesn't have the required competition venues. That sounds good, but looks a bit doubtful.
– What don't you like about that?
In South Korea, where the next Winter Games will take place, there is no ice track. The IOC suggested hosting the bobsled and luge sports in Japan. The South Koreans said that they would rather build their own track.
– Our concept of reforms, ‘the Agenda 2020’, doesn't yet apply to PyeongChang, because we are limited by our contracts. But you are right; we made such offer to the Koreans. However, it wasn't about Japan as such, they could select any country of their choosing. The Koreans turned it down and we could not force them. Still, I find that decision disappointing.
Why haven't you decide to minimize the programme of the Olympic Games? Who has any idea about what sports will be included into the modern pentathlon?
– Putting together the Olympic program is like trying to square a circle. You'll never come up with a program that works for everyone, even for Germans. I feel there are two key issues: universality and striking the balance between the tradition and progress. People have such deeply rooted feelings about certain sports, some of which are so linked with the history of the games that you can't just simply dispense with them for commercial reasons. However, ‘The Agenda 2020’ will make the programme more flexible. The host country can now propose for an inclusion a sport of their choice into the programme.
The Japanese like baseball, thus there'll be baseball in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Baseball was included into the Olympic Games from 1992 to 2008 but it had not a resounding success.
– Hold on. The Japanese are working on 25 projects. At the 2014 Summer Youth Games in Nanjing last year, there was a Sports Lab where we displayed inline skating, skateboarding, wushu and climbing.
– Do you think skateboarding belongs in the Olympics?
– Yes.
Golf will be included in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Not exactly a fashionable sport among young people.
– The decision was made in 2009. In fact, I do think that golf is popular among young people. Perhaps not on every continent, but that applies to a number of sports.
Do you know how much the golf course in Rio is costing?
– I don't know. However, it will be the first public golf course in Rio. So far, all the golf courses are private there.
It would cost €20 million to tax payers. A nature conservation area would be destroyed to make way for it. Did the IOC draw any conclusions about it?
– I talked to the mayor of Rio de Janeiro and he told me that a new area that is 17 times bigger would be afforested to compensate for the use of the nature conservation area. Moreover, 625,000 seedlings of the local plants will be set. The city's clean water reserves will not be used for the irrigation. Instead it will be the revolving system. I'm not a technician but I know that the golf course doesn't have any adverse effects on the quantity or the quality of water reserves.
60,000 trees have been felled to make way for slopes for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
– Firstly, we proposed to the organizing committee to use another slope, but those responsible for such decisions didn’t agree to that. Secondly, the South Koreans told us that everything was being done in accordance with the national laws and regulations.
– But the law is one thing and the common sense is another thing entirely.
– Let me remind you of the first and the last parts of my previous answer.
The IOC boosted transparency in the wake of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games bribery bid scandal. What did the IOC succeed to make better than the FIFA?
– The IOC really implemented great reforms. For example, it limited the terms of office of the executive committee members and the president and reduced the maximum age to 70 years. The IOC members are also barred from visiting countries that are bidding.
– FIFA President Joseph Blatter announced his resignation. What does FIFA need to do to regain its lost credibility?
– FIFA needs to do two things. First, the launching an extensive investigation into the allegations and establish exactly what happened, and second, it needs to introduce major structural reform.
– Do you understand that the IOC also has the reputational problems?
– I would not say so. I have met over 120 heads of state and governments since taking office. Everywhere I go, I encounter the enormous interest and sometimes the considerable sympathy. The IOC is an official United Nations General assembly observer. Moreover, not a single company or television station would sign contracts valid until 2031 with us if they did not trust the IOC. Such long-term and financially valuable ties with us are is the best evidence of trust ever.
The bids to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Graubünden, Cracow, Stockholm and Munich failed because of public opposition. In the autumn, the referendum will be held in Hamburg to determine whether the city will bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Are you worried that the Hamburg citizens may reject it?
– I'm not an opinion pollster but based on everything I've heard, there is broad support for Olympics in Hamburg. There were serious advertising problems in Graubünden and Munich, which is why the local referendums failed. For example, it was not made clear that the IOC earmarks $880 million for the organizers.
– The Euro 2024 is probably set to be held in Germany. Could this pose a problem?
– No. Germany, the economically robust and enthusiastic about sport country, will be able to cope.
– You have been a sports official for over 30 years. You were the Vice President of the IOC when Leipzig's bid to host the 2012 Olympics failed. As the head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, you tried in vain to bring the Olympic Games to Munich. Now you are the President of the IOC and Hamburg will possibly be the running to bid. Will your career only be complete if Germany gets to host the Olympics?
– (pauses)
Would you say anything?
– Despite the fact that my position demands that I remain neutral, I would be delighted if Germany hosts the Olympic Games.