Liam Morgan

Conflicting messages have again emanated from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in the past 10 days.

At the International Athletes' Forum in Lausanne, Bach essentially told competitors who had called for an increased share of revenue generated by the Olympic Games that they were not going to get their wish. Not yet, anyway.

Just a few days later, in a letter to Paris 2024 counterpart Tony Estanguet, Bach pledged €500,000 (£433,000/$562,000) of the organisation’s money to help the restoration of the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The donation has raised an eyebrow or two on social media and further afield and it is not difficult to see why. The IOC seemingly has enough in its coffers to donate to a building it has a tenuous connection to but not enough to give athletes a greater slice of the pie.

For a start, there are unquestionably better uses of the IOC’s money. Stories of athletes who are forced to crowdfund to pursue their Olympic dreams are worryingly frequent, while other competitors, particularly in developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, are in desperate need of funds to cover the most basic of needs.

The World Anti-Doping Agency could also do with extra cash. Just ask the multitude of officials who have pleaded and pleaded for additional funding to aid the fight against doping, largely to no avail.

Or what about those athletes who must pay their own legal fees when trying to defend themselves against charges they feel they are not guilty of?

A sum of €500,000 would not solve all these challenges but you can bet your bottom dollar that even a fraction of the amount put towards the Notre-Dame repair effort would have been appreciated by athletes and WADA alike.

A number of donations have been made following the fire at Notre-Dame ©Getty Images
A number of donations have been made following the fire at Notre-Dame ©Getty Images 

Of course, this is all relative and there are some who believe the gesture from the IOC is, at its most basic, an admirable one. Notre-Dame is a globally-recognised structure and seeing part of the magnificent structure ablaze provoked shock and despair across the world.

The IOC is free to distribute its money how it pleases but the donation raises several questions regarding its priorities under Bach, which many claim are often misguided.

To quote the IOC’s website, it is an organisation which is "committed to building a better world through sport". Has this mission really been helped by giving money to the restoration of a building, no matter how iconic it might be?

There has not exactly been a dearth of donations either. At the time of writing, almost $1 billion (£770,000/€888,000) has been pledged towards repairing Notre-Dame – an amount which has angered those involved in "yellow vest" protests in Paris – while others have pointed out how the Catholic Church is an incredibly wealthy institution in its own right.

Why give money to a cause which has already attracted significant donations?

The motivation for the IOC seems to be one of vanity. The organisation is clearly trying to ensure athletes competing at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris do so in front of the best landscape the French capital has to offer, which will make for attractive backdrop for broadcasters – the group the IOC aims to please most at the Games.

The IOC is also perhaps hoping it can recoup some of its investment and capitalise on the positive PR which will be generated if the ambitious five-year timeline for Notre-Dame’s restoration is achieved.

The fire prompted an outpouring of sympathy from across the world ©Getty Images
The fire prompted an outpouring of sympathy from across the world ©Getty Images

Ironically, the IOC was probably anticipating an outpour of positivity when the donation was made public in the middle of last week. Instead, the majority of the responses have been negative.

"Is this [an] April fool's??" International Biathlon Union Athlete Committee chairperson Clare Egan said on Twitter.

"Couldn't ask for a more perfect illustration of how out of touch the IOC is with the financial needs of its own athletes. Direct support for Catholic Church but not for Olympians. What a strange precedent to set."

Speaking of precedents, the IOC has in recent years done the right thing with some of its donations by sending money to countries stricken by national disasters, such as Vanuatu and Mexico.

Similar contributions have also been made by the International Paralympic Committee, the International Association of Athletics Federations and FIFA – although the latter governing body’s money designed to help the relief effort after the Haiti earthquake was allegedly diverted into the pocket of corrupt official Jack Warner.

Few can argue with these types of donations as they are examples of sports organisations using their considerable wealth, mainly generated through their staging of some of the planet’s greatest sporting events, to victims of tragedies and disasters.

The Notre-Dame handout fails to fall into this category.

IOC President Thomas Bach made the offer in a letter to Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach made the offer in a letter to Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet ©Getty Images

The donation also raises debate about selection and consistency when it comes to this kind of gesture. How do the IOC, and other sports bodies, choose which causes are worth donating to?

Yes, Notre-Dame is in Paris, a city which is due to stage the Olympics and Paralympics in five years. By that standard, does it mean the IOC would opt against giving money if the Taj Mahal, for example, were to suffer similar damage?

It reminds me of English Premier League clubs on Twitter, who send their condolences to those affected by horrific incidents such as terrorist attacks even if they have next to no connection with the country or people involved, perhaps for fear of retribution from the hyperbolic masses on social media if they fail to do so.

Another question worth asking is where exactly the money has come from. Presumably it will be taken from the 90 per cent which it insists goes "to the world of sport, athletes, the 206 National Olympic Committees, NOCs the Organising Committees and the International Federations” rather than the 10 per cent reserved for the organisation's operations?"

In 2016, the IOC donated $50,000 to a giant panda breeding centre in Sichuan Province in China ©IOC
In 2016, the IOC donated $50,000 to a giant panda breeding centre in Sichuan Province in China ©IOC

Callum Skinner, a former British track cyclist who is lead athlete of the recently-launched Global Athlete group, also questioned the process behind the decision to donate the money.

"This is a nice gesture for a sad occasion but I’m not sure this is necessarily the best use of IOC funds," he said.

"Also curious by what means this is approved? Can Bach just drop 500k as he pleases?"

While the IOC is not at liberty to answer such questions, we cannot be surprised by Bach’s donation gesture. After all, this is an organisation which gave $50,000 (£38,000/€44,000) to a giant panda breeding centre in Sichuan Province in China three years ago.

Not only that but, under Bach, confliction and contradiction are currencies the IOC is rather well-versed in.