BEHIND THE SCENES: From the Roman Empire to the fake Peng Shuai: in the midst of the storm, Thomas Bach takes the helm of the Olympic ship with force

The IOC President had to appeal to ancient history to defend his policy and to forcefulness to demolish the idea that China is cheating the olympic body. He praised the “new” sports, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach attends the Executive Board meeting in the lead-up to Beijing 2022 at the Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 9, 2021. Greg Martin/IOC/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach attends the Executive Board meeting in the lead-up to Beijing 2022 at the Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 9, 2021. Greg Martin/IOC/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Wednesday: we must remember that the intervention of the Roman Empire ended up destroying the ancient Olympic Games.

Thursday: no, we are not talking to a fake Peng Shuai, you are the first person to tell me something like that.

The home stretch of the year found Thomas Bach determined to take the helm of the Olympic ship hard in the midst of a major storm. The major Western powers are launching “diplomatic boycotts” against China less than two months before the Beijing Winter Olympics, the threat of FIFA and a World Cup every two years remains on the horizon, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has run out of patience with weightlifting and boxing.

That is why, in two days of consecutive press conferences, Thomas Bach had to appeal to ancient history to defend his policy at the helm of the IOC and to forcefulness to demolish the idea that China is cheating the IOC.

In between, the “new” sports, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing as an oasis of peace. An oasis so pleasant they were rewarded with a strong endorsement from the IOC to be part of the LA28 Games program.

The three sports debuting this year in Japan made a “significant contribution to the overall success of the Tokyo 2020 Games,” Bach said Thursday during a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland at the end of three days of IOC’s executive board meetings.

And, in the midst of many sentences, he left one that serves as a warning for any sport that is or wants to be in the Olympic program: “The concept of the core sports doesn’t exist anymore”.

Quite a message.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Ieda Guimaraes of Brazil falls from her horse during the competition REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "POY SPORTS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2021 PACKAGES
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Ieda Guimaraes of Brazil falls from her horse during the competition REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "POY SPORTS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2021 PACKAGES

The same goes for the International Union of Modern Pentathlon (UIPM). Bach made a point of emphasizing twice that their situation is “very different” from that of weightlifting and boxing, which are closer than ever to being left out of an Olympic Games. But modern pentathlon also has its problems to solve.

How will it replace horses, which it has decided to get rid of, how will it reduce costs and complexity of the event, how will it improve safety and accessibility?

And how will the modern pentathlon, the most modern thing it has is the name, gain “universality” and “appeal” among young people and the general public? This is what surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing achieved in their Olympic debut.

One issue entirely different is that of soccer. If FIFA goes ahead with its plans to play the World Cup every two years instead of every four years, as has been the case since 1930, the LA28 Games will be affected.

The situation is certainly complex, because Bach, without saying so, made it clear that he has no dialogue with Gianni Infantino, FIFA president and IOC member.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) congratulates FIFA president Gianni Infantino after his election as IOC member during the 135th Session in Lausanne, Switzerland, January 10, 2020.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) congratulates FIFA president Gianni Infantino after his election as IOC member during the 135th Session in Lausanne, Switzerland, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“We have had no consultation with the FIFA President or FIFA about this, all that we know is through the media (...). We have not heard from anybody who has been contacted by FIFA. We rely on the media reporting”.

The broken phone connection between Lausanne and Zurich is a situation unprecedented in recent decades. Bach knows he has an advantage, the opposition to Infantino’s plans from Aleksandr Ceferin, president of the European Football Union (UEFA), and Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).

So much is the combined power of Ceferin and Dominguez that it allows Bach to watch everything from a second row without getting into the melee.

Yet. Because if one day he finds that the biennial World Cup is a reality, the IOC “would have to consider the consequences of such a situation,”. Message to Zurich.

At his press conference on Wednesday, Bach was asked persistent questions about Peng Shuai, who is in a bizarre situation after alleging that she was “sexually assaulted” by a senior Chinese Communist Party official.

Peng has been seen in photos and video-conferencing with Bach. But it’s all so bizarre, a Japanese journalist asked the IOC president if he spoke to the real Peng or is there a possibility that the Chinese regime has put in a replacement “who looks very similar to her.”

“Everybody agrees that it was Peng Shuai (...). Nobody has any doubt, you are the first one who comes around with this idea,” settled Bach, who was asked at the two conferences about the sense of the IOC worrying about Peng if the message is that she is fine.

“She’s obviously in a very fragile situation,” acknowledged the IOC president, who insistently defended in recent days the “political neutrality” of the body he heads. And when that was not the case, the Games of antiquity eventually succumbed. Because of the Romans, he explained.

Is Beijing the Rome of these times?

It is too early to say that, but Bach has no doubts when asked about the meaning of the Olympic Games today.

The Games are, the German recalled, “the only event in this world bringing the entire world together under one roof”.

And that is, “in this confrontational time,” something “more needed than before”.

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