BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Thomas Bach is the man to beat as the IOC elects a leader to take the Olympic body into the next decade.
After awarding the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo and bringing wrestling back into the games, the International Olympic Committee votes for a new president on Tuesday.
Bach, a 59-year-old German lawyer and IOC vice president, is the clear front-runner to succeed Jacques Rogge, the 71-year-old Belgian who is stepping down after 12 years in office.
Bach, who also heads Germany’s national Olympic committee, is among six candidates vying for the most powerful job in international sports.
Richard Carrion, a Puerto Rican banking executive who heads the IOC’s finance commission, and vice president Ng Ser Miang of Singapore are viewed as the top challengers.
Also on the ballot are executive board members Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and C.K. Wu of Taiwan and former board member Denis Oswald of Switzerland.
Going into the final hours of the campaign, all signs pointed to a large bloc of support lined up behind Bach.
If Bach is elected, he would continue Europe’s hold on the presidency. Of the IOC’s eight leaders, all have come from Europe except for Avery Brundage, the American who ran the committee from 1952-72.
Bach would also be the first Olympic gold medalist to become IOC president. He won gold in team fencing for West Germany in 1976.
“This is like I’m an athlete and I’m just in front of a great final,” Bach said Monday. “You feel you have done all your training, the test events have been going pretty well, so you can go with confidence in the competition. But you have to know that, at the grand final, everybody is on the same starting line.”
Bach has long been viewed as the favorite because of his resume: former Olympic athlete, long-serving member on the policy-making IOC executive board, chairman of the legal commission, head of anti-doping investigations and negotiator of European TV rights.
As with most IOC votes, nothing is ever certain. The election is done by secret ballot, so promises made to candidates are never a sure thing.
With more than 90 members eligible to vote, a simple majority is required for victory. If there is no winner in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes goes out. The system continues for each round until one man secures a majority. The president is elected to an eight-year term, with the possibility of a second four-year mandate.
Bach’s supporters believe he has enough support to win in the first round. If not, his rivals believe they could chip away at his lead through subsequent rounds.
The campaign, which had been relatively civil, took a nasty turn in recent days, with Oswald attacking Bach in a Swiss radio interview, accusing him of using his business connections and links with Kuwait to help his candidacy.
None of the six candidates has made any dramatic proposals for change, promising to continue the line pursued by Rogge, particularly in the fight against doping.
The election follows Saturday’s IOC decision to send the 2020 Games to Tokyo and Sunday’s vote to reinstate wrestling for the 2020 and 2024 Games. The presidential vote is what most of the 100-plus IOC members have been focusing on.
“It’s absolutely the most important decision we make — to find the right person tomorrow,” senior Norwegian member Gerhard Heiberg said Monday.
Much of the pre-election talk among the members has been about the power of Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti who heads the Association of National Olympic Committees.
The sheik is a key backer of Bach. With his influence in Asia and among the national Olympic committees, the Kuwaiti can deliver a large number of votes. He was seen as playing a key role in Tokyo’s victory, even helping Istanbul get to the second round of voting to keep Madrid out of the final.
“Of course, he has influence through his position in ANOC,” Heiberg said. “How much that would mean in practice tomorrow, I have no idea. This is a secret ballot.”
Carrion, the 60-year-old head of Puerto Rico’s Banco Popular, has earned respect as the IOC’s money man. He negotiated the record $4.38 billion deal with NBC for U.S. TV rights through 2020 and has overseen the steady growth in the IOC’s financial reserves.
“I think it is very important that the potential president has a clean sheet and more importantly, that has independence in terms of decisions that need to be made,” Carrion said Monday.
Ng, a 64-year-old businessman and diplomat, is a popular member who organized the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and represents an Asian continent that is growing in world influence.
However, Tokyo’s victory would seem to have dented Ng’s chances, making it difficult for the IOC to give Asia two major prizes back to back.
“I think Asia has been having a good run, rightly so, with two-thirds of the world’s population, growing influence politically, economically, in sports as well,” Ng said Monday. “I think we can look forward to exciting times.”
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