Philip Barker

The deadline for the International Olympic Committee Presidential election passed this week, with incumbent Thomas Bach the only candidate and set to be confirmed for a further four-year term at the IOC Session in Athens next March.

This came as little surprise, but had the rules in force in 1896 for the first modern Olympics still been in force, the President this year would have been Japanese and succeeded by a Frenchman.

The initial term of office for the IOC President was a maximum of four years, the length of an Olympiad, but Bach is now coming to the end of his first eight years in charge.

He was elected in 2013 after the most competitive Presidential election there had ever been. His decisive victory came despite challenges from influential figures such as Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, Ser Miang Ng of SIngapore and International Federation Presidents Denis Oswald of rowing and C.K Wu from boxing.

Bach’s tenure will now end in 2025, exactly 100 years since Baron Pierre de Coubertin left office.

"I favoured the idea of a mobile Presidency belonging by right to the nationality of the next Olympiad,” Coubertin had said.

Dimitrios Vikelas of Greece was initially "reluctant" to accept the post but took the role when it was clear that the leadership would change hands when the 1896 Games were over.

As Paris was to host the 1900 Games: "I would then take over for the next four year period," said Coubertin.

By 1901, it had been decided that the 1904 Games would be in the United States of America. The Presidency was offered to Professor William Milligan Sloane, but he proved more reluctant even than Vikelas had been and proposed Coubertin as President for life.

"Professor Sloane energetically opposed replacing me.

"He said that the International Committee should continue to be presided over by its founder for otherwise the whole undertaking might be compromised.

"He went so far as to make acceptance of this proposal a ‘sine qua non’ of his subsequent support."

Thomas Bach is the sole candidate for the next IOC Presidential election ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach is the sole candidate for the next IOC Presidential election ©Getty Images

Coubertin insisted: "I did not want a Presidency for life at any cost," so a term of ten years was agreed.

When war broke out, Coubertin asked Baron Godefroy de Blonay of Switzerland to act as Interim President.

Even so, in 1917 De Blonay circulated the members asking them to give Coubertin another ten year term in a role "so perfectly fulfilled that each of us can only be convinced of the urgent need for him to continue."

Coubertin did indeed continue after the war but signalled his intention to retire and even put in place an Executive Committee "to arrange matters for the near future so that the ensuing stability might help my successor."

The next leadership election came at the 1925 Session in Prague. Some of the members did not want Coubertin to go.

"In the first ballot some votes were still wasted on my name against my wish," he complained.

De Blonay and the two French members Comte Justinien de Clary and the Marquis Melchior de Polignac both stood, but it was the Belgian Comte Henri Baillet-Latour who won.

When he sought an extension in 1933, vice-president De Blonay stood against him at the Session in Vienna.

Twenty absent members had already voted in a postal ballot and those attending the Session did so in person.

It was an overwhelming victory for Baillet Latour who polled 48 of 49 votes.

De Blonay congratulated him for "his brilliant re-election."

Comte Albert Gautier Vignal of Monaco then praised Baillet-Latour for insisting on a ballot.

"This modest action on the part of the President rebounded to his credit."

When American Avery Brundage (standing) was elected as IOC President, it was the first time the holder of the post had been from outside Europe ©Getty Images
When American Avery Brundage (standing) was elected as IOC President, it was the first time the holder of the post had been from outside Europe ©Getty Images

Baillet-Latour promised "to continue to devote himself in collaboration with his colleagues to maintain and strengthen the Olympic spirit."

It fell to him to navigate 1936, the most controversial year to date in modern Olympic history.

By 1941, when the next election was due, war had come. Baillet-Latour died the following January. His homeland was occupied by the Nazis and even Hitler sent condolences.

Sweden’s Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom kept the momentum going during the war but was not confirmed as President until 1946. He served only six years.

By 1952 he was already nearly 82. He intended to retire but made it clear he wanted American Avery Brundage as successor.

Brundage, a multi-millionaire businessman, was already IOC vice-president.

The Executive Committee endorsed him and Edstrom sent a circular to members highlighting "the wealth and amount of time which should be at the new President’s disposal."

This was interpreted as a clear signal to elect Brundage, although Edstrom insisted his message was couched in general terms.

Belgian Rodolphe Seeldrayers objected.

"The IOC must not take notice of these materialistic questions but it must adhere strictly to the sports outlook, while choosing for the Presidency the person it judges best qualified for the task."

Prince Axel of Denmark then proposed Lord Burghley for his "outstanding athletic qualities."

The Prince insisted "devoid of any unfriendly feeling towards his American friends, the President should be domiciled in Europe."

Albert Mayer of Switzerland countered "it is unnecessary to take into account the nationality of the President. USA have as much right to the Presidency as Europe."

In the election, Brundage polled 30 votes and Burghley 17, so for the only time, the IOC leadership left Europe.

Lord Killanin served as IOC President from 1972 to 1980 - a tenure beset by political problems and major boycotts ©Getty Images
Lord Killanin served as IOC President from 1972 to 1980 - a tenure beset by political problems and major boycotts ©Getty Images

By 1960, Lord Burghley had taken the title Marquess of Exeter and stepped forward at the Rome Session to "pay homage to the magnificent activity the President displayed in the discharge of his function since 1952."

At his insistence, Brundage was re-elected to "loud cheers."

Yet by 1964, their relationship had soured to the extent that Exeter contested the leadership. Fellow IOC member Sir Arthur Porritt had once said "both possess an equally strong  personality."

Although the vote was thought to be close, it was described in the official Olympic Review as unanimous.

Brundage’s biographer Allen Guttman concluded that his style of leadership "verged frequently upon the dictatorial," but suggests he would have been prepared to relinquish the leadership to anyone but Exeter.

Brundage remained unwilling to allow National Olympic Committees and International Federations a meaningful role and by 1968, a further challenge came from Count Jean de Beaumont of France, IOC member since 1951 and leader of the European Olympic Committees.

At the time of this election, Brundage had turned 81.

The French newspaper Le Monde suggested Beaumont’s candidacy "expressed the desire, shared by some revolutionaries, to no longer entrust the youth of the sporting world to the decisions of an old man, at precisely the time when the youth of the world quite simply demands greater responsibility."

The IOC minutes only state that "Mr Brundage was proclaimed unanimously re-elected."

He finally stood aside in 1972.

De Beaumont ran again, only to be defeated by the Irish peer Lord Killanin.

The next eight years were beset by political problems and major boycotts. Killanin suffered serious health problems and did not seek a further term after 1980.

It was the last time that the leadership changed hands in an Olympic year until now.

Statues of three former IOC Presidents in Beijing - from left Jacques Rogge, Pierre de Coubertin and Juan Antonio Samaranch ©Philip Barker
Statues of three former IOC Presidents in Beijing - from left Jacques Rogge, Pierre de Coubertin and Juan Antonio Samaranch ©Philip Barker

Juan Antonio Samaranch, Spanish ambassador in Moscow won after the first round of voting to see off the largest field since the 1920s.

This included International Skiing Federation President Marc Holder, Munich 1972 organising President Willi Daume and the Canadian James Worrall.

Samaranch took up residence at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne as the first effectively full-time President of the IOC.

His first term lasted to 1989 because of the change in the election cycle, but he was the only candidate at the IOC Session held in Puerto Rico and re-elected by "acclamation."

His position was as secure if not even stronger in 1993 after the highly praised Barcelona Olympics and the successful opening of the Olympic Museum.

Another re-election by acclamation.

In 1997 he was elected unopposed for his final term of office at the age of 77. 

The minutes record that he "promised that if at any time in the next four years, he felt he was physically or mentally unable to remain as President he would resign."

When Samaranch stood down in 2001, he had become the longest serving President since Coubertin.

In the election which followed, American Anita de Frantz was the first woman to run for President but she was eliminated in the first round of voting.

The second round was a convincing victory for Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge. He beat Korea’s Un Yong Kim, Canada’s Dick Pound and Pal Schmitt of Hungary.

There was no opposition when the time came for his re-election at the 2009 Session in Copenhagen.

The formal re-election of Bach will now take place in an Olympic year, though this is by circumstance rather than design. 

His new term will technically not begin until after the scheduled finish of the Tokyo Games.