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IOC president cautions against profit-driven sports events

June 25, 2019
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International Olympic Committee, IOC, President Thomas Bach from Germany speaks during the 134th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at the SwissTech Convention Centre, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Seeking to protect sports bodies from independently run events, IOC President Thomas Bach asked local governments to resist promoting competitions he believes go against the Olympic ideal.

The organizers of profit-driven sporting ventures are “cherry picking” events without sharing the International Olympic Committee’s duty to use profits to help athletes around the world, Bach told Olympic leaders on Tuesday at their annual meeting.

Citing a global zeitgeist that encouraged “narrow self-interest,” Bach criticized “a purely market-based approach to sport that ignores the values we stand for.”

“This is why we are calling on public authorities to take this distinction into consideration whenever they take decisions that affect sport,” the IOC president said.

In swimming, three elite athletes filed an anti-trust case against governing body FINA in California last year. Dozens more swimmers risked bans by supporting a privately owned league series which had a launch event planned in Turin, Italy.

FINA then withdrew the ban threat, increased prize money and launched its own new top-tier competition series.

Basketball governing body FIBA has been in a long-running dispute with the club-controlled EuroLeague competition.

“Sport without values is just entertainment,” Bach said. “Yes, Olympic sport must be entertaining, but it must not be just entertainment.”

He did acknowledge some businesses “deserve a profit” for presenting sports in innovative ways that engage young people.

“What is not fair at all, is that more and more public authorities are ignoring the differences between these purely commercial companies and us, as values-based organizations,” Bach said.

Bach often defends the authority of Olympic bodies and the IOC business model using games revenues to fund them rather than pay prize money directly to athletes.

The IOC also resists relaxing rules that limit Olympic athletes from promoting personal sponsors during a games period, despite losing a German federal agency ruling.

Bach has argued that top-tier Olympic sponsors, who paid more than $1 billion in the 2013-16 cycle, need protected exclusive rights to maximize IOC revenue for re-investing in sports.

The IOC has allocated more than $500 million that its Solidarity Commission will distribute from 2017-20 to athletes and Olympic teams.

Bach said “legitimate athlete representatives” — elected within Olympic bodies — are the only recognized path for negotiation, and pledged more benefits for competitors.

“We did not always do our best to make the solidarity model transparent and understandable enough to the athletes and the wider public,” he said.

Later in the meeting, the IOC reported $165 million profit in 2018 on income of $2.2 billion in the Pyeongchang Winter Games year. Revenue included $1.436 billion from broadcasting rights and $550 million from marketing income.

IOC spending included $1.153 billion to games organizers, national Olympics committees and sports governing bodies. There was $178 million in IOC operating costs and $133 million spent “promoting the Olympic Movement.” Overall project spending was $187 million on the Olympic House headquarters in Lausanne.

Also Tuesday, breakdancing moved closer to the 2024 Paris Olympic program, with a final decision due in December 2020.

The full IOC membership endorsed requests by Paris organizers and the IOC executive board to provisionally add breaking, and three other sports. Skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing already will be at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

A question was raised about a Senegalese fugitive from France’s investigation of suspected Olympic vote-buying, during a discussion of the 2022 Dakar Youth Olympics.

“This has nothing to do with the Youth Olympic Games,” Bach told IOC member Craig Reedie, the World Anti-Doping Agency president. Reedie asked for an update on Papa Massata Diack who is believed to be in Senegal avoiding questioning.

On Monday, French authorities said Diack and his father, Lamine — a long-time former IOC member when leading track and field’s governing body — should stand trial on money laundering and other corruption charges.

French pursuit of the Diacks was revealed in 2015 during a WADA investigation of extortion of Russian athletes linked to doping cover-ups. Papa Massata Diack is also implicated in suspected vote-buying in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics hosting races.

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