Michael Pavitt

It was pointed out by our editor Duncan Mackay that yesterday marked the anniversary that I joined insidethegames back in 2015, alongside my colleague Liam Morgan.

Rather than dwelling on this milestone, I have opted to look forward to seven potential areas of interest in my seventh year of service. Understandably Tokyo 2020 and the ongoing impact of coronavirus will be the key priorities for the Olympic Movement in the year ahead, but I have tried to steer clear as far as possible from these two obvious areas.

Bach rebooted

We already know that Thomas Bach will secure a second term as International Olympic Committee President in March, having been confirmed as the sole candidate for the post last year. With his Agenda 2020 programme now out of date, it will be interesting to see what the German official produces when an updated roadmap for the Olympic Movement is produced this year. Bach spent much of 2020 outlining the need for more solidarity, but it has felt at times a renewed vision is required for the IOC and Olympic Movement during this troubled period.

While Bach has had the Olympic Movement eating out of the palm of his hand in recent years, the same cannot be said for events. Bach has certainly been unlucky in recent years with every year seemingly bringing a major crisis, including difficult preparations for Rio 2016, North Korea firing missiles prior to Pyeongchang 2018, the worst doping scandal in Olympic sport, and the forced postponement of Tokyo 2020 for starters.

The phrase it is better to be lucky than good springs to mind. Bach could certainly feel he is owed some luck this year and you sense it will be necessary for Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 to go ahead as planned.

Protests and activism

One area Bach seems destined to face opposition is regarding protests at the Olympic Games. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee's decision not to punish athletes for protests feels destined to be at odds with the eventual Rule 50 recommendations of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which are due in the early part of this year.

Should Tokyo 2020 go ahead the IOC would surely hope the political climate has eased to the extent that vast numbers of athletes are dissuaded from protesting at the Games. Similarly, the controversy and politics over Beijing 2022 seems likely to increase throughout the year.

It will also be interesting to note what actions, if any, sports organisations have made in boosting racial equality after many of them made statements last year when the Black Lives Matter Movement was at the forefront of people’s thoughts.

Athlete representation

There has been much discussion about how increased athlete involvement in decision making will help solve the ills of sporting bodies and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Hopefully this year marks a step forward in devising a structure on how this would work in practice, both in determining how athletes would be selected for such roles and how they could guarantee to represent a wide cross section of athletes from across sports/disciplines.

The delayed IOC Athletes’ Commission elections are also due at Tokyo 2020. Given athletes appear to have become increasingly mobilised in recent years, the outcome of these elections could be worth watching.

IOC President Thomas Bach will be re-elected this year but faces several challenging issues ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach will be re-elected this year but faces several challenging issues ©Getty Images

Athlete welfare

Recent years have seen a growing trend of scandals in governing bodies regarding athlete welfare, with USA Gymnastics and British Cycling among the notable examples. This year should see a series of independent reports issue their findings following investigations of national governing bodies in gymnastics, while an inquiry is currently ongoing into the culture within Hockey Australia.

The findings will be another insight into the culture of elite level Olympic sport. It is impossible not to wonder whether other welfare issues could emerge this year and whether organisations could pro-actively investigate their existing culture rather than wait for a crisis to emerge.

With coronavirus still present and a backlog of sporting events squeezed into a short period, the health of athletes also has to be an area to consider this year.

European Olympic Committees

Panam Sports and the EOC seem to have reversed roles since I joined insidethegames. Heading into 2015, the EOC was preparing for a brand-new event in the European Games while PASO – as it was then known – was entering an election process that lasted two-years following the death of long-serving President Mario Vázquez Raña.

This year should see Panam Sports hold its inaugural Junior Pan American Games in Cali, with Neven Ilic leading an organisation which has been revitalised during his first term in office.

The EOC will decide upon its new President in April following the death of Janez Kocijančič in June last year. Last month’s EOC General Assembly saw Acting President Niels Nygaard of Denmark and Greece's Spyros Capralos confirm their candidacies for the post. It is possible more contenders may emerge.

It will be interesting to see whether the winner can replicate the impact Ilic has had on his continental body and inject impetus into the European Games project, which has now had two editions but has yet to really be taken into people’s hearts.

Athlete welfare will be a key issue in the year ahead with the spotlight largely on gymnastics ©Getty Images
Athlete welfare will be a key issue in the year ahead with the spotlight largely on gymnastics ©Getty Images

Commonwealth Games

Most multi-sport event organisers will be thankful to have had host cities tied down for upcoming events, with the IOC for one able to delay their bid process until the current gloomy outlook improves.

The same cannot be said for the Commonwealth Games Federation, who spent much of last year talking with potential host cities for the 2026 Commonwealth Games with the Canadian city Hamilton heading the queue.

Hamilton and Commonwealth Sport Canada had been "working exclusively" with the CGF on staging the Games in 2026, but failed to secure Government support. The Ontario Government said it would only back a bid to stage the Games in 2027 or later.

The lack of progress last year was not disastrous given the circumstances and the previous reallocation of the 2022 Games to Birmingham, but the pressure certainly feels on this year for the CGF. The organisation said in November it remains in discussions with Australia, Canada and Sri Lanka over hosting the Games in 2026.

It will be interesting to see whether the CGF may have to adapt its hosting model in some form or potentially go a step further and find a window in 2027 to stage the event in Hamilton.

Increased female representation

Last year ended with former England footballer turned pundit Karen Carney being forced to delete her Twitter account after a tweet by Leeds United led to her receiving online abuse. The unpleasant incident comes with Carney being one of only a handful of female pundits on television.

In more progressive news, Becky Hammon began the year by becoming the first woman to coach a major American professional men’s team, leading the San Antonio Spurs after head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from their NBA match.

Popovich later said “we didn’t hire Becky to make history, she earned it”. “She happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant but its not in our world, as we’ve seen as it’s been so difficult for women to obtain certain positions”.

Hopefully we see an increased number of Carneys and Hammons serving as pundits and coaches, while an increase in the number of female officials in high powered positions in governing bodies would also be welcomed.

The number of female presidents of International Federations rose to a paltry three last year with Annika Sörenstam leading the International Golf Federation, while Marisol Casado and Kate Caithness head World Triathlon and the World Curling Federation respectively.

In non-Olympic sport, Zena Wooldridge was elected World Squash Federation President last month, defeating incumbent Jacques Fontaine.

Progress is happening in some organisations, with the likes of Sarah Keane spearheading an amendment which was passed last month by the EOC to ensure a minimum five of the 16 Executive Committee members be of each gender.

Similar measures would be welcome in the year ahead.