The International Olympic Committee named Thomas Bach of Germany as its ninth president Tuesday, putting the Games in the hands of a former gold medal-winning fencer who was the presumed favorite among six candidates to succeed the outgoing Jacques Rogge.
Bach, 59, takes over immediately for Belgium’s Rogge with significant challenges afoot. He will be asked to quell controversy already surrounding next February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where President Vladimir Putin’s hardline stance against gays and lesbians already has disturbed some athletes and sponsors. Bach then will turn his attention to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where serious questions remain about organizers’ ability to deliver venues on time and provide a safe environment.
“We have to work on the sustainability and feasibility of the games, take care of the credibility and integrity of the sports organizations and then give IOC members more possibilities to take part in the decision-making,” Bach said in Buenos Aires.
While the election of Bach brought an important end to an active IOC meeting in Buenos Aries — a session in which the committee chose Tokyo as the host of the 2020 Games and voted to retain wrestling as part of the Olympic program — a more significant development for the United States may have come earlier in the day. Larry Probst, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was elected to the IOC in what could be a signal of a thawing of the organization’s relationship with its American members. Probst becomes the fourth American IOC member, joining Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.
The election of Probst, who received 71 votes in favor and 20 against, could be an early signal about the IOC’s willingness to consider an American bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The U.S. hasn’t hosted an Olympics, either winter or summer, since 2002 in Salt Lake City, and the most recent bid, Chicago for 2016, was soundly defeated in what was perceived, at the time, as a strong anti-American sentiment from the group.
Probst, the chairman of the video game maker Electronic Arts Inc., could help boost American influence with the IOC. Washington is one of several U.S. cities that have pledged to be considered to host the 2024 Games, though the USOC has not yet decided if it will pursue them.
Bach, who won gold in team foil for Germany at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, will have a hand in all those decisions. He has both headed the German Olympic committee and sat on the IOC’s executive board. He was elected to an eight-year team after a second round of voting in which he beat out Puerto Rico’s Richard Carrion, 49-29.
“I want to be a president for all of you,” he told the members in Buenos Aires. “This means I will do my very best to balance well all the different interests of the stakeholders of the Olympic movement. This is why I want to listen to you and to enter in an ongoing dialogue with all of you. You should know that my door, my ears and my heart are always open for you.”