Opinion | IOC president Thomas Bach’s vision of the Olympic movement has turned it into a traveling money box

BEIJING It’s quite a thing to see a 68-year-old Bavarian lawyer perform as a contortionist, but perhaps that’s just part of the magic of the Olympics. Thomas Bach is the president of the International Olympic Committee, which is a difficult job. It’s a big world. Bringing it together means complications.

So the night before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, Bach did what he so often does when threatened: he tried to retreat into the comforting, imaginary safety of neutrality. The Olympics must exist above politics, he said, and instead float in the soft gauzy fog of perfect human equilibrium. He said it in Beijing, in China, in 2022.

“With this vision, we are all and we must be all equal, irrespective of social background, gender, race, sexual orientation or political belief,” said Bach, in his Games-opening news conference. “In the Games, in the Olympic Village in particular, there is no discrimination … we can only achieve and we can only accomplish this mission to unite everybody in this peaceful competition if the Olympic Games stand above and beyond all the political disputes. This is also only possible if the Olympic Games and the IOC are politically neutral, and do not become a tool to achieve political goals. ”

Fifteen minutes later Bach was asked about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused a high-ranking member of the Beijing organizing committee of sexual assault. She then vanished, and has since resurfaced to deny the allegations in a series of what seemed like state-controlled appearances without making any genuine contact with anybody in tennis.

Bach gave a lengthy answer saying the IOC was most concerned with her physical safety – Bach called it the ultimate human right – and said he would meet with her personally during the Games to check on her physical well-being. He framed it as a legitimate inquiry.

“It’s a necessity to respect her, and then to listen to her and how she sees the situation,” said Bach. “How she wants to live her life. We are step by step and trying to find out if she wants to have their inquiry. Of course we would also want to support her, but it must be her decision. It’s her life. It’s her allegations. ”

He said this as if any of this was plausibly Peng’s choice at all. As if a meeting with the IOC president during an Olympics in which said IOC president has bent over backwards to placate the superpower hosting the Games, inside an Olympic bubble controlled by the Chinese military and presumed to be under heavy Chinese surveillance, would suddenly create a moment for Peng to be honest about what is presumed by more or less everybody to be a cover-up perpetrated by the hosts of the 2022 Olympic Games, which again have been abetted by the IOC.

Were Bach a goldfish, this juxtaposition would have been more plausible.

But the IOC’s positions do not have to be plausible: they have to be like different masks for different situations. Bach laid out his positions on several of the controversies at these Games, and if you presumed he was being sincere, you might be confused. You might ask, how can everyone be equal and yet athletes are not paid or protected while at these Games? How can the Olympics be a place for peace and understanding if the IOC will guarantee that athletes will be protected from repressive Chinese free speech laws while competing?

“These kind of rules exist in many, if not all walks of life,” said Bach. “Take an actor. If the actor is engaging in the theater, playing Hamlet, then nobody ever asked the question whether when playing Hamlet he must or should express them during the play his political opinion. And the same is true there for the athlete.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses journalists during a news conference at the Main Media Center on Thursday ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

“You have individual freedom… but when you join an organization, when you engage in an event, be it the actor in the theater, be it the athlete at the Games, you have to respect the rules which are made in the overall interest of the organization you’re engaging with. The theater can only work if they play the plays. And the Games can only work if it’s about sport and the rules of the game are respected and the vision of the games is respected. ”

You might note that actors are usually paid. It’s been clear for a long time that athletes are mere cogs in the IOC’s bigger play. Peng Shuai, in all likelihood, included. Bach’s vision is not one of equality so much as one in which some animals are more equal than others; his view of political neutrality is that money can be deposited no matter whose currency it might be. You could put human rights into the Olympic host agreement, sure, and that might make you feel good.

But you could also tally up the sheer dollar value of China’s expansion of winter sports, which Bach did both at the IOC session in the morning and the press conference in the evening. Human rights are valuable, but we’d need a dollar figure here.

Part of this is just realpolitik; we may have to revisit this if Los Angeles 2028 comes at the end of another four-year Donald Trump presidency, for instance. No country is without its shame.

But in the meantime, Bach’s vision of the Olympic movement has turned it into a traveling money box, and it will get pretty tiring when Bach tries to limp through the next three weeks by trying to turn every country into an equal partner, while also intimating the discussion of any other country might land you in prison. At this stage of history not picking a side is picking a side, and the more you examine how the IOC works, the clearer everything becomes. The IOC is not neutral: the vast majority of the time, the IOC does not float in between.

No, do not be confused. Neutrality is a lovely idea, in theory, but Thomas Bach always chooses a side, and he is doing it again. His.


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