IOC president focused on gender balance and climate initiatives; doesn’t speculate on coronavirus

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach showed determination on Wednesday to forge ahead with Olympic programs in the short term and long term despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking after an executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, Bach devoted most of his 15-minute opening statement to initiatives on climate and gender, along with positive reports from Tokyo 2020 and other future Olympic hosts, including the 2022 Olympic delegation that traveled from Beijing.

The questions that followed were heavily focused on the coronavirus’ possible impact on this summer’s Olympics. Bach didn’t deviate from the IOC’s stance of moving forward with the games.

“Today in the meeting of the executive board neither the word cancellation nor the word postponement was even mentioned,” Bach said in response to the first question, which asked about contingency plans.

After several more questions about dealing with the coronavirus, Bach teased the assembled reporters.

“You have an agreement among yourselves that you’ll try to get me into speculation?” Bach asked with a smile. “The IOC is fully committed, and we are not engaged in any speculation.”

For the long term, the keywords Bach stressed the IOC’s social responsibility initiatives, starting with progress on combating climate change.

From 2030, Bach said, the Olympics will be “climate-positive,” which he defined as having future organizers create enough carbon savings to exceed any negative impact the games may create. The IOC will also plant an “Olympic Forest” in Africa.

Bach said it is projected that 48.8 percent of the athletes in Tokyo will be women, which would be a new high for an Olympics. The IOC has said its goal is to eventually have a 50-50 split.

Bach also noted two specific efforts:

  • All nations participating in Tokyo must have one female and one male athlete.
  • Nations will be allowed to have two flag bearers, one female and one male, at the Opening Ceremony. (Editor’s note: While rare, there were previously multiple flag bearers at Opening Ceremonies. Most recently in PyeongChang with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and North and South Korean athletes carrying a unified Korea flag.)

The organizers of the next Olympics, Beijing 2022, were able to participate in the meeting despite the spread of coronavirus in China, and Bach was impressed with their progress on an “engagement program” that aims to familiarize 300 million people in the host nation with winter sports. Organizers have reported 670,000 applications for 39,000 volunteer positions, and applications will still be going for another year.

Bach also gave some historical perspective to counter the notion that the last month has been the most difficult in his career as an athlete and IOC official. He cited political tensions that threatened the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, concern over the Zika virus at the 2016 Olympics, the terrorist attack in 1972, and the dueling boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

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