“Boycotts and discrimination because of political background or nationality are once again a real danger,” Bach said. “A sporting boycott only punishes the athletes of the boycotting country and deprives their people of sharing in the success, pride and joy of their Olympic team.”
In a news conference following the session, Bach said he was not alluding to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics but instead to instances over the past 18 months of countries not granting visas to allow athletes from other countries to compete. But the oppressive treatment of the Uighur population by China’s government and its crackdown on Hong Kong may lead to international tensions that spill over into sports.
Bach, a fencer who failed to convince West Germany not to boycott the Moscow Games along with the United States, said the 1980 boycott “accomplished nothing” and proved they do more harm than good.
The political climate across the world, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, has made athletes and activists take a fresh look at Rule 50, the item in the Olympic charter that bans political demonstration at the Games.
Late last month, in a letter co-signed by famed former sprinter and activist John Carlos, the advisory council representing U.S. athletes called on the IOC to permit protests at the Olympics. Bach said the IOC’s athletes’ commission had “initiated a dialogue” on athletes’ expression, but he pushed back on abolishing Rule 50 by insisting athletes already have ample platforms to broadcast their political views.
“It is important to emphasize that the athletes have already multiple opportunities to express their views also during the Olympic Games — press conferences, mixed zones, social media, interviews, team meetings and others,” Bach said. “Rule 50 addresses only the field of play and the ceremonies.”
In an email to The Post, USOPC Athletes Advisory Council Chair Han Xiao responded to Bach.
“As we engage our own athlete population on the subject, we also believe that it is imperative for athletes around the world to engage each other to have honest conversations about their experiences, opinions, and the problematic history of Rule 50 so that we land on a solution that we all find acceptable,” Xiao said. “We are continuing to work with the IOC athletes’ commission and have encouraged them to facilitate the kind of organic conversation that will bring athletes together through this process rather than making a recommendation based on isolated discussions within each individual nation.”
Bach warned about the global political climate and its effect on other issues related to the Olympics. He did not mention the United States by name, but he seemed to target the country’s pronouncement that it would consider pulling its funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency if it does not make reforms.
“Unfortunately, we are already seeing clear signs in some parts of the world that society and nations are driven by even more egoism and self-interest,” Bach said during the session. “This leads to more confrontation and to the politicization of all aspects of life: culture, economy, health, science, humanitarian aid. Even the fight against doping is already being targeted.”
For the next Olympics, health is a larger issue than politics. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in the United States and many places in the developing world, the state of the Tokyo Olympics remains uncertain, even as organizers finalized a schedule and a list of venues. Bach punted on specifics, noting that Tokyo’s organizing committee had too many variables and too much uncertainty with the Games scheduled to start July 23, 2021. But he acknowledged holding the Games with limited or no spectators is possible.
“This is one of the scenarios we have to look into,” Bach said. “This depends on travel restrictions, with quarantine, with everything. It’s too early to tell.”
One certainty is Bach presiding over the next several Olympics. Bach, elected in 2013, is expected to win a second term without opposition. An odd scene during the video conference reinforced his strong standing among members: For nearly an hour, IOC members took turns offering Bach praise, often fawning and sometimes apparently reading from notes.
“As you can imagine,” Bach said, “I could hear this forever.”