Nick Butler ©ITG

In the absence of a genuine contest to determine host cities for either the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Games, it is hard to get too excited about the agenda for next month’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Lima.

As ever, though, the most interesting conversations will happen in private away from prying journalists and minutes-takers. Alongside the topics of Russian doping and French corruption investigations, it will be interesting to see if the long-term structure of the IOC and its leadership is also discussed.

This was something expertly tackled last week by my colleague David Owen when he explored whether the IOC and its members are being reduced to the level of a “superior PR agency” for the Olympics.

I found myself wondering when reading this who, out of the current flock, could potentially be positioning themselves to replace Thomas Bach as President in four or - more likely - eight years’ time.

This is a subject that has been raised to us by several people in recent weeks. But, to my knowledge, it is certainly not something which is so far being discussed at any great length in the wider Olympic world.

And why would it be, you may ask? Lima will mark the four-year anniversary of Bach’s triumphant ascent to the power a few thousand miles to the south-east in Buenos Aires. A lot has happened in that time and an awful lot more will happen over the next four years before his first eight-year term is over.

"It must be a very slow news day for you to be bothered about this now," grumbled one IOC figure when I raised the issue today.

Past and present IOC Presidents Jacques Rogge, right, and Thomas Bach, watch the World Athletics Championships in London ©Getty Images
Past and present IOC Presidents Jacques Rogge, right, and Thomas Bach, watch the World Athletics Championships in London ©Getty Images

When speaking following the Extraordinary Session in Lausanne last month at which his joint-awarding plans were approved, Bach repeatedly suggested it will not be his responsibility to choose the 2032 host, in 2025, because his term in office would have ended. His implied point appeared to be that we should not assume that he will automatically stand for a second four-year term to take him to the maximum tenure of 12 years. It is more likely, though, that Bach was being his usual wily self and that he does intend to continue until the end of another summer bidding contest in 2025. 

But, be it in four or eight years time, there is certainly no obvious successor at this stage. At a similar point in his predecessor Jacques Rogge’s Presidency, I am told that Bach and others were already circling and plotting and making their ambitions clear.

So, for no better reason than stirring up some intrigue pre-Lima, who could the next IOC President be?

The most obvious figure, if you had to pick one, would still be Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and Association of National Olympic Committees President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah. “The Sheikh”, as he likes to be known, was labelled the “kingmaker” when helping engineer a triple whammy of a Bach Presidency, a Tokyo 2020 Olympics and wrestling’s return to the programme in 2013. 

A close, probably the closest, ally of Bach, it was thought then that seeds were already being sown towards his eventual rise onto the Executive Board with a view to becoming vice-president in 2021. He would therefore have been in pole position to succeed four years later.

With hindsight, Buenos Aires now appears the high watermark of the 54-year-old’s influence. He fell out of favour in his native Kuwait the following year and, after backing the wrong horse in the 2016 FIFA Presidential Election, is now at the centre of a US Department of Justice probe into alleged bribery, which he denies, connected to the world football body.

He did not even attend last month’s meeting in Lausanne and played a minimal role supporting Bach in the 2024 and 2028 joint awarding process.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, right, was the key backer of Thomas Bach at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, right, was the key backer of Thomas Bach at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images

I am reluctant to discount him completely, however. 

He certainly did not seem low-profile or struggling for confidence when working the room with customary panache at an International Swimming Federation Gala in Budapest later in July. I doubt that Bach and other top IOC brass would want to see him fall and, if he can survive the next year, he could still re-emerge in the long-term. 

It would be very hard to convince much of the western press and public of his credibility but, as we know well, it is not they who determine the outcome of sporting elections.

Who else? 

Other key allies of Bach or current members of the “ruling” Executive Board mostly seem either too old, too distracted or too lacking in sufficient political clout or support.

Australia’s John Coates would seemingly occupy the first category, Taiwan’s C K Wu the second and Turkey's Uğur Erdener the third. Ireland’s Patrick Hickey is handicapped by the first and second. Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, while certainly young enough, probably fails the second and third. Talk will inevitably turn to a first female IOC President, but I cannot see the likes of United States’ Anita DeFrantz or Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel proving successful.

And, while it would certainly make for more interesting press conferences, there is more chance of Thomas Bach appointing Richard Pound as his new communications director than him becoming a serious Presidential threat.

In fact, it is hard to see anybody who has stood unsuccessfully against either Rogge or Bach before having much of a chance. Bach's closest challenger Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico has played an increasingly low key and disinterested role over the last four years and will thus presumably have little influence among the newest influx of members.

Could a Samaranch era mark II be a possibility? Juan Antonio junior has appeared the most capable of the four IOC vice-presidents or, indeed, any Executive Board member in recent months and could consider an attempt at the same time as a Spanish Olympic bidding tilt. He is young enough, at 57, and sufficiently savvy to have regained favour despite backing Carrion in the 2013 contest.

Does Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, standing, have the best chance of succeeding Thomas Bach of any member of the current Executive Board? ©Getty Images
Does Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, standing, have the best chance of succeeding Thomas Bach of any member of the current Executive Board? ©Getty Images

International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe will inevitably also be mooted as a possibility. 

He certainly has more political ability than some of the above names but probably fails to meet all three criteria. He would celebrate his 69th birthday in September 2025, so is almost certainly too old. He is currently lacking experience within the specific IOC constituency and, because of his IAAF commitments, unlikely to gain much over the next few years.

Should the next generation also be considered? Conventional wisdom suggests that somebody with a serious ambition of becoming the next IOC President should already be on the Executive Board by this stage. In the age of Donald Trump and jointly awarded Olympics, however, political conventional wisdom has gone out of the window.

One name mentioned already is Tony Estanguet, the suave Frenchman who is the chief-in-waiting of both Paris 2024 and the IOC Athletes’ Commission? The former three-time Olympic slalom canoeing champion would have plenty of rapids to paddle past first. First of all, he would need to be elected as a full IOC member when his athletes term ends in 2020.

This is certainly not guaranteed. Germany’s Claudia Bokel did not get this luxury when her term ended last year and there appears little sign that American Angela Ruggiero will either next year. It will certainly not be lost on Bach that the last person to receive this treatment was Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks, who is now “temporarily self-suspended” as he attempts to deny corruption allegations surrounding Rio de Janeiro’s successful bid in 2009.

Estanguet would therefore have to convince the German that he is someone worth investing in. Regardless of this, he would probably be too busy with his Paris 2024 commitments to have time or motivation to campaign. His objectives, if he has them, are probably even longer term.

There are other young athlete turned administrators such as France’s World Rowing boss Jean-Christophe Rolland and Denmark’s Badminton World Federation head Poul-Erik Høyer who cannot be written off. Chile’s new Pan American Sports Organization head Neven Ilic is somebody else to keep an eye on while other people have mentioned a third Frenchman in the ambitious International Cycling Union Presidential contender David Lappartient. 

Somebody who merits more serious consideration, though, is Switzerland’s Patrick Baumann. The International Basketball Federation secretary general is also head of the Global Association of International Sports Federations - formerly SportAccord - as well as the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics, SportAccord Convention and the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2024 and 2028 bid races.

Patrick Baumann is often underestimated but cannot be ruled out ©Getty Images
Patrick Baumann is often underestimated but cannot be ruled out ©Getty Images

As William Shakespeare wrote, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them". Baumann is somebody who is easily underestimated and, while still seen by some as an administrator more than politician, is already one of the safest pairs of hands in sport.

If asked, he would certainly claim he has no interest, but, as ever with these people, it is hard to tell. One point raised to me today is that the job of IOC President has changed under Bach to becoming a more overtly political role. It is now as much about hobnobbing with political leaders and sending out statements condemning terrorist attacks than organising the administration of sport. Could this put some people off and encourage a different clientele? 

Another option if no viable contender emerges, of course, is that Bach could stay on for another term after 2025. 

This would be against the rules but, as we have seen this year, the German is not immune to liberal adaptations of the Olympic Charter if it suits him. Or could he even change the structure somehow and shift power from the President to a permanent chief executive type figure of his choosing? This latter point is very unlikely given the overtly Presidential structure of almost all sporting bodies but would be an interesting idea.

On the other hand, the goalposts could change completely and some yet-to-be-seen factor could force Bach out of office far earlier. The German does seems to have re-cemented his grip on IOC power following the joint awarding success, but the horizon is still far from a clean one.

This will certainly be an interesting, if non-urgent, topic to observe in Lima and beyond.