Russia and China have done it for their heads of state. Now some International Olympic Committee members want to change term-limit rules and norms to keep their long-time leader in office.
IOC president Thomas Bach was urged by several members Sunday to change Olympic statutes on term limits and seek four more years as president through 2029.
Bach’s presidency is due to end in 2025 – a 12-year maximum agreed in anti-corruption reforms passed after the Salt Lake City bid scandal broke in the 1990s.
However, citing the recent years of global crises, several of the 99 International Olympic Committee members opened their annual meeting Sunday suggesting they needed more of Bach’s leadership that started in 2013.
The Olympic movement needed “to go through this period of torment with a president who has proved his mettle,” said the Algerian leader of African Olympic bodies, Mustapha Berraf.
“We really need to be able to rely on the leadership you have shown,” said IOC member Luis Mejia Oviedo of the Dominican Republic, in praise echoed by colleagues from Paraguay and Djibouti.
Though Bach has never publicly sought a term limit-busting third mandate, the option has been spoken of in international sports circles since he was re-elected in 2021 at a meeting held remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IOC gives its president a first term of eight years.
“I cannot hide how that went straight to my heart,” Bach told IOC members of their support at its meeting being held in Mumbai, India.
Bach neither encouraged nor dismissed the proposal though noted the presidential term limit is enshrined in the IOC’s book of rules and principles.
“I’m very loyal to the Olympic Charter,” the German lawyer said. “Being a co-author of this Olympic Charter drives me to be even more loyal.”
Extending Bach’s term would need a proposal submitted ahead of an annual meeting, known as the Session. The next is scheduled in July in Paris on the eve of the 2024 Summer Games.
Only one IOC member has publicly spoken about a possible leadership bid: World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500 meters, head of the 2012 London Olympics organizing committee and a former elected lawmaker in the British parliament.
Coe turns 70 in September 2026, the year his IOC membership should expire, and a 2025 election should be his only option.
The IOC meeting ended Sunday with an apparent caution to Coe that the Olympic Charter as currently written limits his presidential ambition. Members turning 70 can get a one-time addition of four years but then must leave when that year ends. That would be just five years into a theoretical Coe presidency.
The final speaker of the day on behalf of the IOC Ethics Commission, Kenyan diplomat Amina Mohamed, said the Charter made no exceptions for a sitting president. The ethics panel, she said, would “ensure that the IOC adheres to the highest possible ethical standards.”
Bach turns 70 in December, though as an IOC member since before the Salt Lake City reforms — he was elected in 1991, 32 years ago — he can stay until he turns 80.
A diplomatically expressed counter to extending Bach’s presidential term was suggested by gymnastics federation president Morinari Watanabe, who has been speculated as a possible IOC leadership candidate.
“You guided us all that sports organizations must follow rules and have high integrity under good governance,” Watanabe suggested. “Sports demonstrate discipline and the spirit of fairness to society.”
“I love you, Mr President Thomas Bach,” the Japanese official said, “because I believe you are a correct person.”
Bach replied: “Thank you for your love.”
Bach won a six-candidate contest in 2013 to be elected by his fellow IOC members in a second round of voting. He was unopposed for re-election in 2021.
The IOC contest in 2013 saw little public campaigning and a vote behind closed doors.
Speculation on other candidates to succeed Bach has included two of the IOC’s four vice presidents, Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain, plus Zimbabwe sports minister Kirsty Coventry, who is widely seen as a favored protege of Bach.
Samaranch’s father was IOC president for 21 years from 1980 until 2001. He was succeeded by Jacques Rogge of Belgium, who had the maximum 12 years allowed under the post-Salt Lake City reforms.
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