Michael Pavitt

The one-day International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session here in Lausanne was short on decisions, but firmly showed the direction of travel for the organisation on several issues set to dominate the headlines in the coming year.

Headlines have largely focused on the IOC "Athletes’ Commission" issuing specific guidelines on Rule 50, which states that "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas" for competitors at the Olympic Games.

The guidelines or rules, depending on your reading, prohibits protests and demonstrations at "all Olympic venues", including medal ceremonies, the field of play and the Olympic Village.

Protests were defined as being "displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands", "gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling" and "refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol".

As I wrote shortly after insidethegames reported on fencer Race Imboden’s "taking the knee" at the Pan American Games, the protest posed a clear problem for the IOC heading towards Tokyo 2020.

Athletes could protest on a multitude of issues at the Games. Whether it is American athletes protesting during their Presidential election campaign, female athletes taking a stand for greater gender equality and feasibly competitors making their voices known about whatever decision is ultimately taken over Russian participation.

The iron fist approach is the wrong way to go, with the threat of disciplinary action only serving to create the conditions to embolden athletes considering a protest. After all, the best protests are delivered when retribution is possible, rather than by abiding with guidelines.

The IOC have also perversely proved how powerful a protest can be by reacting so strongly to the actions of two athletes at the Pan American Games.

This is without even delving into the fact that the IOC are both dissuading protests, yet use historical protests at the Games as proof of the power of the Olympic brand in helping to force change.

The IOC's guidelines on political protests at the Olympic Games seem more likely to provoke demonstrations ©Getty Images
The IOC's guidelines on political protests at the Olympic Games seem more likely to provoke demonstrations ©Getty Images

Hypocrisy and the IOC go hand-in-hand, particularly on matters of politics.

Look no further than the IOC’s unwillingness to act on the Iranian Government’s continuing efforts to force its athletes not to face Israelis at sports events - a clear violation of the Olympic Charter.

Compare that to the IOC initially barring Tunisia from bidding for the 2022 Youth Olympics until the country took steps to end discrimination against Israeli athletes.

Those Youth Olympics were ultimately awarded to Senegal’s capital city Dakar. This followed a targeted process as the IOC sought to take one of their events to the African continent for the first time.

Arguably this process could be viewed as the prototype for the IOC’s new bidding system, where the Future Host City Commissions explore potential opportunities.

While the lack of transparency in the process is already apparent, I wonder whether Dakar 2022 also raises concerns over how watertight bids will have to be.

When Dakar were awarded the Games at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires in 2018, members were told that a detailed budget had not been required at that stage. The Senegalese Government had reportedly provided guarantees and were prepared to subside most of the Games, with IOC assistance.

Fast forward nearly a year-and-a-half and Dakar 2022 Coordination Commission chair Kirsty Coventry gave a somewhat understatement - yet concerning comment - that funding needed to be released for the Games by the Government, as well as the establishment of an Organising Committee.

Dakar 2022 were awarded the Summer Youth Olympic Games in 2018, but Government funding is yet to be released ©Getty Images
Dakar 2022 were awarded the Summer Youth Olympic Games in 2018, but Government funding is yet to be released ©Getty Images

Rather than the backslapping of the "This Time For Africa" comments of the IOC members in Buenos Aires, Israel’s Alex Gilady posed the question here as to whether they were convinced that all Government's promises were being kept and delivered on time.

Organisers claim to still be on track for the Games, which potentially is aided by the decision to shift the Games from May or June back to October. While the change is claimed to be due to ensuring the Games does not clash with the school curriculum, it should be noted that it gives an additional five months of leeway for the project.

Funding may well be released in the coming weeks and even if it is not, the IOC are likely to bend over backwards to ensure their African endeavour is a success. But it potentially raises the question of how much scrutiny is being paid to these projects.

Gangwon 2024 was similarly waved through by the IOC membership this week by a margin of 79-2, with multiple comments about the possibility of the event being another opportunity to encourage peace in the Korean peninsula.

There was no real scrutiny of what potential North Korean involvement might involve, whether it be merely as a supportive partner or co-hosting the Games. Even the proposed skiing venue the High1 resort is uncertain, with suggestions the location potentially could involve even longer travel times than experienced at Pyeongchang 2018.

The worry is that the process could see Games awarded first and problems fixed later. Albeit you could say this is not too dissimilar to what happens already, with the Tokyo 2020 venues being vastly different to the masterplan initially outlined.

I wonder whether this could be exacerbated by the speed of the process, with Sapporo bid for the 2030 already in the dialogue phase and a Brisbane-based effort the evident frontrunner for 2032.

Following the quick awarding of the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics to Gangwon and Bach’s comments about Sapporo’s "excellent" bid, I wouldn’t put it past the IOC to award the 2030 Winter Olympics to the Japanese city at the IOC Session later this year in Tokyo.

UCI President David Lappartient has been seen as a potential IOC member in the future ©IOC
UCI President David Lappartient has been seen as a potential IOC member in the future ©IOC

The IOC Session here also spent time praising itself for taking the action to intervene with the long-term issues at the International Boxing Association (AIBA), yet made little interjection over the long-term issues coming again to the surface with the International Weightlifting Federation.

AIBA’s ongoing issues led to the IOC Session having the strange sight of the President of United World Wrestling Nenad Lalovic explain the lack of progress made by AIBA, while the head of the International Gymnastics Federation Morinari Watanabe gave details on the boxing competitions at Tokyo 2020.

A third International Federation President also took to the stage during the Session to discuss a topic not directly connected to the sport they lead.

International Cycling Union (UCI) President David Lappartient spoke in his capacity as chair of the IOC’s esports liaison group. It was perhaps another sign of progress for the Frenchman, who attended the 2017 Session in Lima days shortly being elected UCI President, before being prevented from speaking a year later in Buenos Aires due to not being an IOC member.

It would not come as a surprise to see the Frenchman join the likes of FIFA President Gianni Infantino and International Tennis Federation President David Haggerty in joining the IOC club. French media reports recently suggested the UCI’s push to move its anti-doping operations from the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation to the International Testing Agency (ITA) have partly been influenced by this.

A final decision is due to be taken next month on whether the UCI will partner with the ITA. Should it do so, it which would provide a big boost to the body established by the IOC in 2017, as the cycling’s governing body would be the largest to throw its hat in with the ITA.

Coupled with the departure of fellow Frenchman Tony Estanguet as an IOC member in Tokyo, a door may open for Lappartient.

While the quick one-day IOC Session in Lausanne was short on ground-breaking decisions, it may have given clues on areas to watch this year.