IOC meeting rife with intrigue

Besides picking host for 2020 Games, president will be picked and fate of wrestling decided

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —

In the Byzantine world of Olympic politics, where rumor and scheming are common currency, there never has been an International Olympic Committee annual meeting with richer webs of interlocking intrigue than the one beginning here Saturday.

Over four days, the IOC's members will make three decisions of substantial importance, but the one that would seem the most significant — Saturday's choice of the 2020 Summer Games host, with Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo the finalists — actually may have the least long-term impact.

Also on the agenda are the successor to Jacques Rogge as IOC president, for which there are six candidates, and the future of wrestling as an Olympic sport.

Never before have IOC members voted on three such matters at essentially the same time.

"Most people are talking about the presidential election," said IOC member Rene Fasel of Switzerland, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. "The city choice doesn't seem as important."

Because the city choice is first, followed by the sport vote Sunday and presidential election Tuesday, there is rampant speculation about deal-making and the bearing of one outcome on another.

"I don't think the impact of which city wins will be significant on the election of the president," said Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, one of the presidential candidates. "You are electing cities every two years and a president every eight or 12 years. The impact of a president is much greater than the impact of the election of a city."

Although the sport decision carries the most emotional baggage for U.S. audiences because wrestling is fighting for the one remaining spot on the 2020 Olympic program against a combined baseball/softball bid and squash, the city election likely will have the biggest impact on Olympic matters in the United States.

"After we see (which city wins), that will enter into (what) we think about a bid for 2024," said U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst, set to be elected as an IOC member Tuesday. "We will look at how the winner affects our thoughts and our plans and our strategy."

Some argue a victory for Tokyo, which is favored, will clear the way for a European city to win in 2024. Others contend a triumph for Madrid means another Asian bid gets a favored position the next time. No one can gauge the effect of a victory for Istanbul, bidding as the bridge between Europe and Asia.

The tricky part of the city vote is the crystal ball issue. Each of the three candidates has current problems that may prove irrelevant or have been replaced by different problems when the Games open in 2020.

Madrid is caught in Spain's severe economic crisis. Tokyo faces fears related to radiation leaks at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima power plant. Istanbul is part of a country whose future course is uncertain, with some thinking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ertogun's autocratic leadership may be pushing Turkey toward a form of theocracy.

"I am not sad that these questions are raised, because the Games are organized in something that is not a vacuum," Rogge said Wednesday. "It is absolutely legitimate that the (IOC) members look forward, not just what is the situation today but what could be the situation in seven years time. Other aspects — financial, social or whatever — have to be taken into account."

There is a feeling a Tokyo victory might help the case for baseball/softball, both of which are very popular in Japan, each of which individually was voted off the Olympic island in 2005. After each failed four years ago in an individual effort to get back, the bat-and-ball sports were encouraged to combine forces.

But no official from Major League Baseball is in Buenos Aires to assure IOC members MLB will change its schedule and satisfy the IOC's desire to have the game's best players at the Olympics.

Wrestling apparently is going to hold the Olympic place it gained in antiquity but lost when the IOC executive board recommended in February it be dropped. Since then, it has remade its rules and federation leadership.

"I'm happy to hear everyone is expecting wrestling, but the race is not over," said Nenad Lalovic of Serbia, the new international federation president.

Of course. Here in Byzantium on the River Plate, the intrigues never end.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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