What was supposed to be a stress-free meeting of the International Olympic Committee turned into something quite different, when IOC president Thomas Bach was forced to spend nearly an hour defending the handling of a mushrooming bid scandal and insisting the IOC is doing its best to fight corruption.
Bach was on defense throughout a news conference held after a meeting of the IOC executive board, which earlier in the day said it was asking Brazilian authorities for details involving IOC member Carlos Nuzman.
Nuzman, the organizer of the Rio Games, is accused of funneling USD 2 million to another former IOC member, Lamine Diack, to secure votes to bring the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro.
Last week, Brazilian police brought Nuzman in for questioning, setting up the awkwardness this week in Peru, where the IOC will award the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 Games to Los Angeles tomorrow.
"We have taken action in the case of Mr. Diack," Bach said, in reference to the former head of track and field whose IOC membership has been stripped. "When evidence is provided (in the Nuzman case), we will act. But in order to take action, you need evidence."
Less than two years ago, Bach was critical of FIFA, which was embroiled in a bidding scandal of its own. He urged soccer's governing body to get its house in order because it could "continue to overshadow the credibility of FIFA and affect all sports organizations for such a long time."
At that time, Bach started reforming the IOC's own auditing and ethics operations, and on Monday, he insisted those changes are well under way. But he couldn't avoid questions about how he could be critical of others when the IOC clearly still has its own issues, some two decades after reforms in the wake of a bid scandal that sullied the Salt Lake City Games.
"Nobody wants to have credibility issues," Bach said. "But we have to be realistic. No organization in the world is immune to credibility issues. We have to face this reality and we have undertaken the reforms and provided ourselves with the instruments to tackle these challenges. I hope these will also be respected."
Also in the news this week was IOC member Patrick Hickey's resignation from the executive board, a year after being arrested in Brazil in a ticket-scalping investigation. And not attending this week's meetings is IOC member Frankie Fredericks, who was previously removed from the committee's inspection team for Paris and Los Angeles in wake of allegations he was caught up in the vote scandal.
Fredericks has denied wrongdoing, saying a USD 300,000 payment he received from Diack's son on the day Rio won the vote for 2016 was for legitimate consultancy work.
Bach also parried questions about doping. The IOC is still awaiting conclusions from a pair of committees before determining the fate of Russian athletes for next year's Winter Games. The committees are studying evidence from the McLaren report , which documented widespread doping fraud inside the country at the Sochi Games and beforehand.
Both committees are submitting interim reports this week "and it will be up to them to define the right time to submit the final report," Bach said. He's hoping for more clarity before the World Cup ski season begins later this year.
And yet, the IOC's handling of the doping issue was a mere subplot to the issue of whether the organization's bidding process is irreversibly broken.
Because neither 2024 nor 2028 will be subject to a competitive vote, Bach likely has avoided that issue for the time being. He called getting Paris and Los Angeles on the Olympic calendar a "golden opportunity" that the IOC simply couldn't pass up. And yet, that led to questions about whether the change in strategy was nothing more than a quick fix to remove the voting power from the 94 IOC members' hands.
No, he said. "Just today, we adopted even stricter rules for 2026," Bach said of the only remaining Olympics left to be awarded this decade.
But all the questions Monday circled back to one simple theme: Does the IOC have an image problem?
"This is not my call to speak of the IOC's image, because it's in the eyes of everybody," Bach said. "Everybody should make their own judgment. The only hope I have is that the judgment is made on facts and actions, and not so much by perceptions.
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