BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Amidst allegations in a German television documentary that he had cheated as a fencer, been a fixer and influence-peddler in Olympic affairs and had a questionable business relationship with a Kuwaiti sheikh, Thomas Bach of Germany was elected Tuesday as the ninth president in the 119-year history of the International Olympic Committee.
Bach, 59, is the ninth white male, eighth European and first gold medalist in an Olympic sports event to become IOC president, a position much of the world considers the most important in sports.
Succeeding Jacques Rogge of Belgium, president since 2001, Bach has an eight-year term with the possibility of a four-year renewal.
Bach, an attorney and IOC member since 1991, won the gold medal in team foil fencing for West Germany at the 1976 Olympics.
The first IOC president and founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, won a 1912 gold in the arts category, where he competed under pseudonyms and was both the only entrant and the judge, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.
Avery Brundage of Chicago, a University of Illinois graduate who served from 1952 through 1972, was the only non-European IOC president.
In Tuesday's election. Bach got a majority in the second round to defeat Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, Denis Oswald of Switzerland, Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, Ching-Kuo Wu of Chinese Taipei and another Olympic gold medalist, pole vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine.
Wu went out after a first-round runoff with Ng. In the decisive round, Bach had 49 votes to 29 for Carrion, six for Ng, five for Oswald and four for Bubka.
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst, 63, was elected 70-21 as an IOC member for a term that lasts as long as he holds the USOC post or turns 75. The last two USOC officials to be IOC members, Sandra Baldwin and Robert Helmick, both were forced to resign because of improprieties.
The U.S. now has four of the 112 IOC members. And the U.S. had more success when Anita DeFrantz won a place on the 15-member IOC executive board, beating Canada's Dick Pound 41-40 in the second round after Prince Imram of Malaysia went out in the first round. DeFrantz had been on the executive board from 1992 through 2001,
Oswald had accused Bach of using his Olympic connections for financial gain in a Monday interview with Swiss radio, according to wire service reports.
"There have been lots of rumors in the last few days, but I’m not following them,” Bach told the Associated Press. “I talk with my colleagues, and the rest doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t bother me if people want to create rumors.”
Christian Klaue, a spokesman for Bach, labeled the allegations in the documentary as “nonsense.” Bach said last week he had “nothing to add” to Klaue’s statement.
Bach’s election concluded four days during which favorites prevailed in the three major IOC decisions. Tokyo was chosen 2020 Summer Games host, and wrestling retained its place on the Summer Games program.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, the IOC member from Kuwait and head of the Association of National Olympic Committees, was said to be a Tokyo backer. The sheikh told a German interviewer in May that he also backed Bach, which violated IOC rules against public statements of support.
“There is no kingmaker,” Bach said Friday. "IOC members have their individual personalities; they are individuals. It is not working anymore as it used to work many years ago, where you had maybe a group of opinion leaders.’’
“I think he (Bach)will bring a level of experience that arguably no IOC president has ever had,” said Michael Payne, former IOC marketing director. Payne added that Bach also gained unique perspective in working closely with two IOC presidents who had very different governance styles, Rogge and Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Bach has been an IOC vice-president, part of an Olympic Games bid committee and a board member of both the men’s (2006) and women’s (2011) soccer World Cup organizing committees in Germany. He is head of the German Olympic Committee.
"I am not upset for what people say about me," Al-Sabah said after Bach's victory. "I am upset that this decreases the reality of Bach. Don't give me more power and (diminish) this gentleman."
Among the first issues the new president faces is making it clear what the penalty will be for any athlete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics who makes a gesture of support for Russia’s LGBT community on in protest of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation.
Olympic Charter rule prohibits any form of protest or demonstration by athletes, but it does not specify whether that could mean something as small as a lapel pin or what would lead the IOC to insist an athlete be sent home.
“It’s a disgusting law, but when you are there, you are there as a guest,” Pound said Tuesday. “If I were the IOC, I would say, `You know the rule, there is to be nothing. If you violate it, you risk being disciplined.’ You (national Olympic committees) should say to your kids, `If you screw around with this, we will send you home.’’’
Pound said even a small pin could be seen as a violation.
“If there are lots of warnings, there is no excuse for it,” Pound said. “Then it becomes a provocation.”
Bach’s other immediate challenges will be to make sure Rio accelerates its preparations, lagging in many areas, for the 2016 Summer Games and to deal with questions about the Summer Games sports program left unanswered by the IOC’s Saturday vote that kept wrestling in the Olympics.
There are discussions about trimming events in some sports to make room for other sports, like losing finalists baseball / softball and squash, in time for the 2020 Olympics awarded Saturday to Tokyo.
"This is one of the issues we should deal with pretty quickly to see whether it can or will still affect Tokyo," Bach said after the election.
The Rio problems could be exacerbated by a downturn in Brazil’s economy, which current IOC marketing chief Gerhard Heiberg of Norway said has made it harder to sell local sponsorships.
The CEO of Rio’s organizing committee said last month that $700 million in government money could be needed to balance the Games operating budget if sales did not pick up.
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