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New Head Of Olympic Committee Faces A Number Of Challenges


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The International Olympic Committee has elected a new president. It's Thomas Bach of Germany, and he's the first Olympic gold medalist to hold the position. He won gold in fencing at the 1976 Montreal games. NPR's Mike Pesca is at an IOC press center in Buenos Aires where the vote took place, and he joins us now. Mike, Thomas Bach beat out five other candidates. Why do you think he was the choice?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, if you look at the big votes that took place during this session, Tokyo is named the host city for 2020. Wrestling was the sport to get back in the Olympics. And now, Bach. And in each case, all three were front-runners. And in the case of Tokyo, just like in the case of Bach, they were seen as the safe choice. Now, it wasn't just safe. Bach is very credentialed. He worked with athletes. He has a good background in finance. He certainly was an athlete. So you add all that up, and that's why he won it. It was a pretty convincing victory. This could have gone many ballots, but he won on the second ballot and led from the first.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the legacy of the most recent IOC president, Jacques Rogge?

PESCA: Well, I mean, he's being hailed. He's being given laurels. He certainly put the IOC on excellent financial footing. One of the reports out this week showed that the IOC has now $900 million in its coffers. When he started, it was $100 million. He also oversaw the reforms in the wake of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. So that's to his credit. But he was, if not charismatic - and by the way, not charismatic - he was a steady hand. The IOC appreciated that. They are a corps of diplomats, and he's always played the diplomat, didn't make too many big missteps. I think they're hoping and expecting for much of the same out of Bach.

SIEGEL: Well, Mike, the Sochi Winter Olympics are just five months away, and there's some concern about how the Olympics will deal with the Russian anti-gay propaganda law. It's already caused protests at the World Track Championships. Has Thomas Bach discussed that?

PESCA: He discussed it in roughly the same tones as Jacques Rogge did, which is to say the Russians have given us assurances, and we believe them, that no athletes will be subject to this law. But there is also a rule number 50 of the Olympics rules that says no athlete can engage in a protest. So the question is what if you wear a tiny rainbow lapel pin somewhere on your uniform or during opening ceremonies - not even your uniform - as you're walking into the stadium, will you be punished then? And I think, you know, hearing, even talking to some Olympic members who I'd consider to be progressive, the answer is yes. They consider themselves guests in this country.

As we were interviewing Thomas Bach, he got a call from Vladimir Putin, came back and said, we did not discuss the issue that we were just talking about.

SIEGEL: Well, what are the other challenges on the Olympic agenda that will face Mr. Bach and others?

PESCA: Well, certainly, there's doping, there's match fixing, there's corruption. But that's like saying, you know, a new mayor is getting elected. He has to look out for crime. We know all of that. I would say a big challenge off the usual list is just what sports are going to be in the program. I mean, we saw these travails with wrestling, which was out, and now it's in. But the sports are not necessarily the youngest. They're not necessarily the most exciting. You have a lot of sports - I don't know - synchronized swimming, race walking, sports like that that don't exactly capture the imaginations of the public. So really looking at the sporting agenda will be, Bach says there's going to be a working group to study that.

SIEGEL: Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in Buenos Aires, who has been covering the meeting of the International Olympic Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Robert Siegel is senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel is still at it hosting the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reporting on stories and happenings all over the globe. As a host, Siegel has reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.