Following his election at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Germany’s Thomas Bach has become the first Olympic gold medallist to be elected President of the International Olympic Committee. While growing up in the small Franconian town of Tauberbischofsheim, he had originally wanted to be a foot- baller, but instead went on to become a first-rate fencer, specialising in foil.
At the age of 22, he helped West Germany secure gold in the team foil event at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. He and his teammates were also crowned world champions in both 1976 and 1977.
Bach first made an impression on the IOC stage at the 1981 Olympic Congress in the West German spa town of Baden-Baden. Alongside British middle-distance runner and future London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe, he led a group of Olympic athletes who believed that they should have their own voice within the IOC, while also calling for more support for athletes and a more resolute stance in the fight against doping.
In response to these calls, the then-IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, subsequently created the IOC Athletes’ Commission to provide a link between athletes and the IOC, with Bach becoming a founding member of the pioneering new Commission.
With his background and passion for athletes’ rights, Bach now looks set to continue the work of his predecessor, President Rogge, to ensure that athletes remain at the heart of the Olympic Movement.
“The athletes are the lifeblood of the Games and their interests and needs need to be at the forefront of our work,” explains Bach.
“They deserve our trust, our encouragement and of course our protection. In return we can expect their full commitment and enthusiasm, and acceptance of the rules.”
President Bach has also expressed his desire to ensure that Organising Committees also keep athletes at the forefront of their minds when planning every aspect of the Games.
“Their interests need to be more strongly considered, even well before the beginning of the Olympic Games, during the application procedures, when they need documentation, at their evaluation and so on,” he says. “Throughout all of this we need to be asking the question: ‘How will this affect the competitors?’ No decision should ever be taken without taking the needs of the athletes into consideration.”
President Bach has also promised to enhance the fight against doping – an issue that has been at the forefront of his work since the IOC Congress in Baden-Baden in 1981 – and has made it clear that he intends to follow the zero-tolerance policy in order to protect the clean and fair athletes.
“It’s about fairness and respect,” he says. “The rules are set out clearly and are in fact being made even tougher. The objective of the fight against doping and every other form of manipulation is to protect the vast majority of athletes who compete fairly.”
Throughout his campaign for the IOC presidency, Bach’s motto was “unity in diversity”, which he said reflected his thinking about the Olympic Movement.
“Above all, it means respect for different cultures, religions, social relationships, perceptions and attitudes,” he says. “The secret to the magic of the Olympic Games is their diversity and universality, both of which have been growing for over 119 years now. They need to be protected and, where possible, extended even more. It’s about our structure and, obviously, the Olympic Games themselves, but also education, culture and social projects. And first and foremost it’s about the athletes.”
As Bach begins his term of office as the ninth President of the IOC, the athletes can be confident that he remains the spearhead of their interests within the Olympic Movement.