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IOC boss Bach's leadership questioned over Tokyo Games

Thomas Bach has a tough job as IOC president and is used to being criticized from many sides. But his leadership has been seriously questioned after he long hesitated on the Tokyo Games amid the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Keystone via AP/pool

Thomas Bach has a tough job as IOC president and is used to being criticized from many sides. But his leadership has been seriously questioned after he long hesitated on the Tokyo Games amid the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Keystone via AP/pool

Published Mar 28, 2020

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FRANKFURT – Thomas Bach is pretty much used to criticism from

various fronts as president of the International Olympic Committee

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(IOC) but his handling of the coronavirus crisis has added a new

dimension.

No nation or athlete had quit over the IOC's highly controversial

handling of the Russian doping affair at the 2016 Games in Rio and

2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

But this time around Bach's leadership was bluntly questioned as

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famous athletes lambasted the German, Canada and Australia said they

wouldn't send athletes to Tokyo 2020, and German athletes' spokesman

Max Hartung also said he wouldn't compete, by the time the IOC and

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Japanese organizers accepted the inevitable and postponed the Games

till 2021.

It is likely that the criticism from the athletes stung Bach, a 1976

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fencing gold medallist for West Germany who was deeply upset when his

country joined the boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow.

IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time ice hockey gold medallist

from Canada, tweeted that pressing on without considering other

measures was "insensitive and irresponsible." British rowing great

Matthew Pinsent suggested staging the Games was "tone deaf."

Until a week ago the 66-year-old lawyer Bach insisted that Tokyo

would take place as planned. Then on Sunday a four-week decision

period was announced while the US swim and athletics bodies had

already joined the choir calling for postponement, which however was

never explicitly mentioned as an option. But it was too late.

Former American sprint great Michael Johnson had urged Bach to

"communicate the process to the athletes!" And Bach's successor as

German Olympic supremo, Alfons Hoermann, also said that "clear

communication and decisive action" are what it takes during a crisis.

Dagmar Freitag, chair of Germany's parliamentary sports commission,

was blunt.

"Not for the first time in his term Thomas Bach has raised doubts

about his leadership skills," Freitag told Friday's Mittelbayerische

Zeitung.

Freitag said that his hesitation now as well as his lack of harsh

action, a blanket ban, on Russia "will both in retrospect be

inseparably remembered with Bach's term in office."

Bach, an IOC member since 1991, stands for election for a final

four-term next year after the expiration of his first mandate over

eight years, and that IOC ballot will show whether he has also lost

credit within the Olympic organization.

"Next year there are elections at the IOC, then we will see how it

continues," German athletics chief Juergen Kessing said, also

insisting that "leadership has a different look."

Bach, for his part, defended his insistence on staging the Games amid

the growing health crisis - including asking athletes to continue

training when facilities were already closed in locked down countries

- because they were still four months away.

In a conference call Wednesday, he spoke of a quickly deteriorating

situation over the past days, including a "very alarming" declaration

from the World Health Organization, and had no regrets because the

Games weren't cancelled outright.

"No, because this was the commitment and is the commitment to our

Japanese partners. We could have decided on a cancellation our own.

But for a postponement we needed the full commitment of our Japanese

partners," he said.

"This is what we were looking for with our approach and this is what

we achieved yesterday, making it possible that the Olympic Games

Tokyo 2020 are happening and did not have to be cancelled.

"We can give athletes the hope and assurance that their Olympic dream

can still come true, even with a delay," he said.

dpa

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