Saturday, April 19, 2014
By Stephen Wilson
The Associated Press
Germany’s Thomas Bach, a long-ago fencing medalist, gets to the point and is used to foiling problems.
SOCHI, Russia — Vladimir Putin isn’t the only president with a lot riding on the Sochi Olympics.
Thomas Bach will be presiding over his first games as head of the International Olympic Committee: For the first time in 12 years, someone other than Jacques Rogge will be in charge.
It’s a daunting debut for Bach, a 60-year-old German and former Olympic fencing gold medalist who was elected the IOC’s ninth president in September in Buenos Aires.
Rather than easing into the top job, Bach is being thrown straight into the fire, starting his term with one of the most contentious Olympics in years. If that wasn’t enough, he’ll then face another major challenge: the delay-plagued 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With Sochi, Bach has to tread a fine line of supporting the host country and being attuned to the uproar over the law against gay “propaganda” and allegations of corruption in the $51 billion Olympic project. The threat of terror attacks by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus has added to the volatile mix.
Bach knew what he was getting into when he sought the top job. And, despite all the concerns swirling around Sochi, he says there are no worries keeping him awake at night.
“I’m sorry to tell you I’m sleeping very well,” Bach said. “Fear is a very bad adviser. It is not a category in which I think. I knew about the challenges of this office before I decided to run. I’m really looking forward to this first Winter Games under my presidency and I’m very confident they will be successful.”
Bach checked into his room in the athletes’ village on Sunday, continuing a tradition started by Rogge. The presidents sleep in the village as often as possible, though they also stay in a nearby luxury hotel where the IOC holds meetings.
Bach chairs a one-day IOC executive board meeting in Sochi on Sunday and then convenes a 21/2-day session of the full IOC general assembly beginning Wednesday. A global television audience will get a close look at the diminutive, bespectacled president when he speaks at Friday’s opening ceremony.
While the buildup to the Olympics has been dominated by negative headlines, Bach believes the tone will change once the competitions begin.
“We always have before the games political discussions – we have concerns,” he said. “But the people around the world know that this is, first of all, about sports. I’m really confident that we will have a very good Olympic atmosphere.”
Rogge, an orthopedic surgeon and former Olympic sailor from Belgium, was credited with keeping a steady hand and bringing stability to the IOC after the turmoil of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal. But, in the final stages of his presidency, Rogge looked weary, slow and out of steam.
The contrast has been dramatic with Bach’s arrival. He’s had a whirlwind first few months in office, traveling around the globe to meet world leaders and Olympic officials.
Having served at the top levels of the IOC for many years and holding several high-profile positions, Bach – winner of team foil gold at the 1976 Montreal Games – didn’t require much of a transition period or learning curve. He has quickly taken charge and moved to chart his own course.
Bach has gone to the United Nations to speak to the General Assembly and has met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. He was in Brazil last week, urging the government and Olympic organizers to speed up the troubled 2016 preparations.
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