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Rarely can the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have received as much criticism as it did across Western media this morning.
“There have been some shameful episodes in the IOC’s long history, but none more cowardly than its decision to allow Russia to send a team to next month’s Games in Rio de Janeiro,” began The Times in a bruising back page lead.
“Putin’s Poodle,” roared Bild, a leading tabloid in the IOC President Thomas Bach’s native Germany. “All Bach but no bite,” quipped several others. Even Chilean newspaper El Gráfico got in on the act, chirping “Para Rusia Con Amor” in full James Bond film tribute mode aside pictures of celebrating Russian athletes.
Far more damaging for Bach and the IOC’s reputation, perhaps, was the jubilant reactions in Russia after a decision against a blanket-ban following evidence of state-sponsored doping; billed as a tough response but presented more like a slap on the wrist.
It is interesting seeing how times have changed since Bach was elected President almost three years ago in Buenos Aires; eagerly receiving his now infamous congratulatory phone call from Vladimir Putin afterwards.
After much-needed consolidation in the early 2000s, the latter years of Jacques Rogge’s Presidency had been a period of stagnation, and the arrival of the affable fencer-turned-lawyer was seen as a way to reinvigorate the Games. Success followed, with new broadcasting deals negotiated and the 40 Agenda 2020 recommendations passed unanimously within a year. Bach also impressed with his easy going manner and quip-laden public appearances.
But the honeymoon bubble began to burst as four European cities pulled out of the 2022 Winter Olympic race until only autocratic Asian candidates Almaty and Beijing were left. Problems were also mounting with the 2016 host of Rio de Janeiro as the Brazilian optimism of 2009 collapsed in a mire of corruption and inequality. In 2015, Bach easily survived his first serious challenge from International Judo Federation and SportAccord President Marius Vizer, but a more ruthless, scheming and political side to his leadership style was emerging.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Iranian judoka Arash Miresmaeili was disqualified for weighing in at nearly four pounds above the limit for his weight class of his under-66 kilograms match against an Israeli opponent Ehud Vaks in the first round. It was claimed Miresmaeili had gone on an eating binge to protest the International Olympic Committee's recognition of the state of Israel. Iran does not recognise the state of Israel, and Miresmaeili's actions won praise from high-ranking Iranian officials. Mohammad Khatami, the country's President at the time, was quoted as saying Miresmaili's actions would be "recorded in the history of Iranian glories". He was later awarded $125,000 by the Government - the same amount given to Olympic gold medallists.
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