David Owen

It is four years since a relieved Germanic "Ouffff!" confirmed that Thomas Bach had been elected International Olympic Committee (IOC) President. 

This was in Buenos Aires, about 4,000 kilometres south-east across the Andes from the city of Lima where he finds himself today.

That makes it halfway through his first term, a fairly obvious juncture at which to assess his record. How might his half-term report card read?

Managing impact of host city selection process on IOC image - D minus

That 2013 Buenos Aires Session had seen three contrasting cities - Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo - slugging it out wholeheartedly and single-mindedly in the last round of their battle for the IOC's flagship product: the 2020 Summer Games.

Four years on, the race for the 2024 Games became something of a fiasco, with Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest successively dropping out. After the last of these withdrawals, only two candidates, albeit strong ones, remained: Los Angeles (Boston’s replacement) and Paris.

In these circumstances it was decided to make the best of the situation by awarding two Summer Games at once.

In between times, there were also difficulties with the 2022 Winter Games race, with only two cities - Beijing and Almaty - reaching the finishing-line and problems with the "integrity" of the electronic voting system which led Bach to request that a written ballot be used instead.

One of the priorities for the remainder of Bach's first term must be to make the Olympics, Summer and Winter, an event that more of the world's great cities strive to stage.

This is just what they did throughout Bach's straight-batting predecessor Jacques Rogge's 12 years in office. Indeed, while on the campaign trail, Bach himself said: "We must ensure that organising the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible".

It is all very well blaming the destructive power of social media for the current situation, but an organisation of the IOC's scope and influence really ought to be able to work out how to channel that power more effectively to its own ends.

Thomas Bach has reached the halfway stage of his first term ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach has reached the halfway stage of his first term ©Getty Images

Managing business interests of IOC and wider Olympic Movement - B plus

The early deal with NBC, locking the US network into broadcasting the Games until 2032, could come to be seen as a stroke of pragmatic genius if the traditional media rights model, which has enriched sport, is severely disrupted by new media.

Bach and his team have also responded to the inevitable slowing of spectacular growth in broadcasting rights income by moving to lift the value of the global sponsorship programme that is the IOC's other main source of revenue.

Strong sales of domestic sponsorship for Sochi 2014 and Tokyo 2020 illustrate the continuing allure of the five rings logo for business when circumstances are right.

For all that, the rate of growth of cash distributions to National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations has now slowed dramatically.

This may lead to tensions in the second half of Bach’s mandate, if hard-pressed Olympic and sports bodies, which have grown heavily dependent on IOC handouts, take a critical view of other IOC spending priorities, such as central staffing and administrative costs, the new HQ and the Olympic Channel.

Conduct of Games that have taken place under Presidency – C (on review for possible downgrade depending on events in Korean peninsula in coming months).

Notwithstanding the troublesome and unwanted legacy of the $51 billion (£38 billion/€43 billion) figure that lodged so firmly in so many people's minds, Sochi 2014 appeared at first a considerable success. Then came the McLaren report.

Rio 2016 - awarded when optimism regarding the Olympics and the emergent so-called BRIC economies was in full spate, but staged in a recession - looks like going down as, at best, a wasted opportunity.

Pyeongchang 2018 still faces numerous challenges, not least the unsettling backdrop of the North Korea crisis.

Ethical matters and transparency – C minus

There have been bits and bobs, but corruption allegations affecting IOC members have actually caused Bach relatively few headaches - so far. The (limited) news agenda to date from Lima, however, suggests this might well be about to change.

The question in my mind is whether, with a hiatus in Summer Games bidding on the horizon, Bach has plans to use the risk of corruption built into the traditional bidding process to press for permanent reform of host-city selection.

The IOC is far from the least transparent sports body on the planet, but for me the snail's pace of progress on this elsewhere in the Movement has been surprising and disappointing. I would expect more headway to be made in the next four years, providing that more urgent matters, such as corruption and doping, do not monopolise attention.

Should Rio 2016 be viewed as a missed opportunity? ©Getty Images
Should Rio 2016 be viewed as a missed opportunity? ©Getty Images

Doping – D minus

This would have been a straight E, except that I happen to agree, unlike many, that individual doping cases should be evaluated individually and that blanket bans should, hence, be avoided.

This problem has been crying out for years for a unified, well-resourced response from an industry which, to borrow a phrase, has benefited in recent times from the magic money tree of spiralling broadcast right valuations.

Instead, what did we get post-McLaren? A near civil war between the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency following the two bodies' difference of opinion over Russian participation at Rio.

If there has been progress, through techniques such as the Athlete Biological Passport, and retrospective testing, and improved cooperation with Government agencies, the impact has been largely to demonstrate how far we appear to remain from the ideal world in which, in Travis Tygart's words, athletes can have confidence that they can "win clean".

In this, as on other pressing issues, Bach is duty-bound to protect IOC interests; but, as on other issues, he has appeared to me to harbour a hankering for control.

The problem with this is that the IOC is not some infallible, disinterested presence, but an event owner, whose views and behaviour can therefore be expected to be influenced by a similar range of vested interests as other event owners.

Unless and until Bach demonstrates that he understands and accepts this, I will remain sceptical about the likelihood of making sustained progress in this critical area for the credibility of sport. I may remain so even then.

New initiatives – D plus

Bach has been unlucky in that he took over just before public attitudes towards the Games and the Movement took a pronounced turn for the worse.

Olympic Agenda 2020 would have been better suited to this earlier era when all pretty much was rosy in the IOC rose garden. It has proved inadequate to reassure inhabitants of prospective bidding cities, or to counter the torrent of criticism directed at the body, during the past two or three years.

It did serve the useful subsidiary function of securing unanimous buy-in from IOC members for a package of reforms in some cases so vague as to cover almost anything.

The Olympic Channel has stood out from day one as a sensible initiative to help the Movement stay in the public eye outside the immediate Games period, even if the jury is still out on its ability consistently to generate content compelling enough to achieve this aim.

The refugee team too was a sweet idea, though one should not overstate its significance in a world with so many millions of displaced individuals.

The IOC and WADA, led by President Sir Craig Reedie, right, have endured tensions ©Getty Images
The IOC and WADA, led by President Sir Craig Reedie, right, have endured tensions ©Getty Images

Relationship with IOC members – C minus

There appears to be little affection in this relationship in either direction, although Bach does benefit from a certain amount of respect. Also, of course, as in any Presidency, a higher and higher proportion of members will have been appointed under his leadership as time passes.

The German seems slowly but surely to be intent on reining in the membership's powers, notably in the matter of host selection. With his brisk chairmanship style, he is also noticeably impatient with dissent or blather.

It is difficult, though, to have much sympathy with a grouping that has so far shown so little resistance to its own emasculation.

Devotion to duty – A

I have little doubt that Bach had been preparing for the day when he would win the IOC Presidency for the better part of 20 years. Having achieved the office, I do not know of anyone who would question his diligence. Some probably wish he would take things a bit easier.

Public demeanour – D

Bach has to some extent mastered his tendency to bang on about pet issues at inordinate length. But he too rarely resists the cheesy joke or smug accompanying chuckle.

As with other contemporary leaders, the stubbornness and self-belief which helped to propel them to high places is less obviously an asset once they have got there.

He must by now have realised that the missionary zeal with which he continues to proselytise over Agenda 2020 has become a joke among specialist media and is politely ignored by most others, save those with cause to be in his good books. Yet he is indefatigable in proclaiming its merits.

I am struggling to think of an occasion when he has admitted being wrong about something.

Thomas Bach acted ruthlessly when Marius Vizer, left, criticised him while leading SportAccord ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach acted ruthlessly when Marius Vizer, left, criticised him while leading SportAccord ©Getty Images

Instinct for self-preservation – A plus

It is not just his ruthless reaction to former SportAccord boss Marius Vizer's admittedly pretty extraordinary outburst; there is not, as far as I can discern, the faintest scintilla of a potential successor on the radar.

I would already take it as read that, barring illness or mishap, he will serve the full 12 years as President, even though he can hardly claim to have led the IOC to any sunlit uplands in his first four. Indeed, I would not be in the least surprised to see him attempt to stay longer than 12 years.

An adroit politician, he has shown evidence of pragmatism: Juan Antonio Samaranch, believed to be a supporter of Richard Carrión in 2013, is now a member of his inner circle; only this month Bach showed up at the International Judo Federation World Championships in Budapest. (Vizer is IJF President and judo is set to be a big deal at Tokyo 2020).

He has also expanded the already extensive range of potential patronage tools at the IOC President’s disposal, presiding over the introduction of a small number of maximum age-limit exemptions for IOC members and taking steps to make the Olympic sports programme noticeably more fluid.