MUMBAI: Thomas Bach has been at the helm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for a decade now. The world of sports has seen some bold decisions taken by the IOC during this period, which has been very challenging due to the Covid pandemic, followed by the invasion of Ukraine.
Bach, who is in India for the IOC Session to be held here from October 15-17, interacted with select Indian mediapersons, and spoke at length about various issues concerning Indian sports, the future of boxing and weightlifting in the Olympic programme. He also dwelled on the possible inclusion of cricket in the programme, concerns over staging Winter Olympics due to global warming, the participation of Russian athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics and more.
Excerpts from the interaction:
What do you think India’s chances are of hosting 2036 Olympics, if the country gets to bid for it? The Indian government is very keen.
There is great interest over it here in India over this issue. But it is too early for me to say anything. India will have to work on a strong project, which will have to be approved, only then can a bid be made. We really appreciate that India has improved 50% over its best medal haul in Hangzhou Asian Games. From 70 to 107 is remarkable. I can see that apart from the government, the private sector is also supporting sportspersons in India. India is not winning only in one or two disciplines like shooting, but so many other sports. That is progress.
Will the controversies that plagued the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the country have an impact on India’s chances of hosting the Olympics in the future?
You cannot compare today’s India with India of 2010. It is a much more mature country now if we talk of hosting big sports events.
What are the chances of cricket becoming a permanent discipline in the Olympic programme?
There is news that Los Angeles (venue for 2028 Olympics) has recommended inclusion of cricket in the Games competition. Our Programme Commission had a meeting on Monday. The matter will be brought to the executive board, and it will be put up for voting. I really like the format of T20 cricket and have seen the format’s development. It is expanding. We saw the league in Dallas, USA, which was hugely popular. As for becoming a permanent part of the competition programme, we will see how fast the game grows and develops.
The world boxing body (IBA) has been suspended. What is the future of boxing in the Olympics?
I have always said that we have no problems with the sport nor with the boxers. We want to have boxing in the Olympic programme because boxing is a very global sport. A majority of the boxers are coming from underprivileged families and boxing gives them a great chance to progress in their life. Integrity is important …and you know that we unfortunately did not see it in this federation (IBA). This is why we suspended them in 2019 and gave them the opportunity to make progress, to improve. They have taken some minor steps. They have been announcing a lot but there is not much happening. It is a matter of financial transparency, good governance and proper refereeing. There will be no boxing with IBA in Olympic programme, now or in the future. It is done.
Is there a possibility that IOC will recognise the other body – World Boxing – which has been recently set up?
It is a federation of around 20 member countries. At the moment this is not sufficient global representation. It is up to them to organise themselves.
What about weightlifting?
They have made great progress. They have outsourced the entire doping management. They have released a state-of-the-art anti-doping programme and ensured that there is change in the culture. Some coaches tell their trainees ‘if you don’t take this (supplement), you will never have a chance to win a medal’. They say it’s a vitamin. They play all sorts of tricks. Now, we are seeing a significant reduction in the number of the doping cases.
You are talking about IOC promoting more urban games. What do you mean by that?
There are two criteria which are very important for us. First all, the young sports and secondly urban sports. In our world today, the kids have so many distractions; not only the kids but the potential sports fans also have so many distractions. They are not in touch with sports. This is why we have to go where the people are -in the real world in urban centres, and in the digital world. We have to promote our sports there, build small sports centres in the neighbourhood.
Is there any change in IOC’s stand on Russian and Belarusian athletes vis-a-vis the Paris Olympics?
No. All the Russian and Belarusian sports persons who have qualified for Paris as neutral athletes under the IOC flag, will be allowed to participate in Paris as neutral individuals. They cannot take part in team events. There will be no national flags, no national anthem, no national colours. We know that both Russia and Ukraine are unhappy with us. No one is 100 per cent happy. Diplomatically, we feel that this is a clear indication that we have made a good decision.