David Owen

As we learnt on Sunday, some International Olympic Committee (IOC) members are keen for Thomas Bach to stay on as IOC President until 2029, even though this would require an amendment to the Olympic Charter.

Not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

I was struck, for example, by the reaction on X/Twitter of Jens Sejer Andersen, a fellow journalist and founder of Play The Game, which aims to promote democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in world sport - a goal that I am sure we can all get behind.

Andersen posted that "eight-to-12-year term limits for Presidents to prevent accumulation of power" are "the single most important principle of governance reforms across Olympic sports".

He went on: "If Thomas Bach’s term is extended, hundreds of sports Presidents at the national and international sports leaders will be inspired to follow suit."

I am afraid I have some disappointing news for Andersen: the way has already been cleared for Presidents of sports bodies to stay on for more than 12 years, whether or not Bach ends up serving a third term.

There is a document called catchily Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance Within the Olympic Movement.

It is an extract of the IOC’s Code of Ethics and the copy I have accessed is dated September 2022.

Will Thomas Bach continue as IOC President until 2029? ©Getty Images
Will Thomas Bach continue as IOC President until 2029? ©Getty Images

This is what it has to say on renewal of officials:

"In order to allow a periodic renewal of elected and appointed officials, and to promote access for new candidates, the following limitations should be considered:

– Term limit (e.g. no more than 3 or 4 consecutive terms or 12 or 16 consecutive years in the same role); and/or

– Age limit (e.g. not older than 70 or 75)."

I am of course kicking myself for not spotting this before, since it seems to me to drop a fairly heavy hint that someone within the IOC wanted to leave Bach - who turns 70 in a couple of months' time and was elected President in 2013 - the scope to stay on for an additional term should he and his fellow IOC members want that.

Would four more years of Bach, stretching his overall stint in the President’s chair to a potential 16 years, be good for the Movement?

I suppose your view on this may well depend on whether you think his skills are so outstanding and so hard to replace that the benefits of keeping them for a further four years outweigh the "accumulation of power" problem alluded to by Andersen.

You might also feel that the exclusive, 129-year-old IOC Presidents’ club is long overdue for an injection of diversity, consisting as it does to date of nine white men, eight of them European.

Of course, it would be the worst of all worlds, with a supremely challenging period for the IOC on a number of fronts lying ahead, to change for change’s sake only to find that the new man or woman was not up to what is a massively demanding job.

But, frankly, if there were no-one in the ranks of the 107 current IOC members who had it in them to be a good 10th President starting in 2025, it would amount to a pretty stinging indictment of the organisation’s recent recruitment record.

All Presidents of the IOC so far have been men, with eight of the nine hailing from Europe ©Getty Images
All Presidents of the IOC so far have been men, with eight of the nine hailing from Europe ©Getty Images

As for the accumulation of power, there is no doubt that Bach has used the various pulleys and levers at any IOC President's disposal to centralise power in the offices of himself and the IOC’s squad of full-time, largely Lausanne-based senior administrators, at the expense of the volunteer, but vote-wielding members.

Of course, even if the Charter gets changed, enabling Bach to seek a third term, there would be nothing to stop another IOC member from standing against him.

It is a race that would be incredibly tough for any challenger to win, though: sports-body Presidents are notoriously difficult to unseat - though arguably less so than a few years ago; and if I understood the first IOC member to suggest a third Bach term, Algeria’s Mustapha Berraf, correctly, he was already speaking on behalf of the African National Olympic Committees, African IOC members and the Executive Board of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

We do not yet know whether Bach will respond positively to this week’s calls for him to remain at the IOC helm until 2029.

If he decides against it, then I would expect any move to amend the Charter to be quietly dropped, paving the way eventually for a contest between would-be successors for an eight-year Presidential term.

Far more likely, I suspect, the German will consent to stay on and a proposed amendment will be tabled, presumably ahead of next year’s Summit in Paris.

Charter amendments require a two-thirds majority of votes cast to be accepted, so an opportunity could exist for opponents of a third Bach term to turn this into a de facto leadership referendum.

The high threshold suggests that such a ploy would have a better prospect of success than launching a direct challenge the following year.

I would still view it at present as an extreme long shot.