The race to become IOC president: Six men in dark suits jostle to become the next lord of the rings

German lawyer favourite, but calls for a non-European are growing ahead of Tuesday's vote

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two days from now one of six rich men – only one of them famous – will be installed as the most important single figure in world sport as the ninth president of the International Olympic Committee.

So who will be the new Lord of the Rings? Around 105 members of the IOC will make the most crucial decision of their 125th session shortly before its conclusion in Buenos Aires on Tuesday. The ballot is secret, the result, according to the nose-tappers, a formality.

Of those jostling to replace the retiring former Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge in a field larger than for any previous presidential election, the firm favourite is his own henchman, senior vice-president Thomas Bach, the German lawyer who is a close friend, confidante and seen as the safest pair of hands.

Bach has been a historically cautious administrator who would be at best an extension of Rogge. He will have Rogge's personal endorsement, as Rogge himself had from his own forerunner. That is the way sport's biggest freemasonry generally operates.

Which offers little comfort to the remaining five contenders, not least the late-running outsider from Ukraine, Sergey Bubka, an Olympic legend since his prodigious spell over two decades as the world's supreme pole-vaulter.

His chances may be slim but Bubka would make a popular and charismatic president. Moreover his name evokes instant recognition. The others do not roll off the tongue quite so readily: Ng Ser Miang, a Singaporean diplomat, Richard Carrion, a Puerto Rican banker, Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and Dr C K Wu, billionaire construction mogul from Taiwan.

All will have been closely vetted, for whoever rules the world's most important sporting empire must be squeaky clean. Memories linger of the near disaster of the 2001 election in Moscow when Rogge came to power. He narrowly beat the Korean Kim Un-yong, who four years later ended up with a two-and-a-half year jail sentence for corruption. He was found guilty by a South Korean court of embezzling more than $3m (£1.9m) from sports organisations he controlled, and accepting $700,000 in bribes.

Rogge himself has endured and weathered several storms in a 12-year tenure markedly different from his predecessor, the Spanish grandee Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was not a team player nor as great an enthusiast for waging war on doping.

The incoming president must recognise that drugs now threaten the entire fabric of the Olympic movement, and the three candidates who recently have used London as a sounding board for their presidential campaigns – Bubka, Ng and Wu – all have in their manifestos more strigent measures, including bans on governing bodies as well as athletes.

The full-time job is unpaid, though there are now murmurs about moves to make it salaried like Sepp Blatter's at Fifa, but the expenses are unlimited. The IOC, with vast reserves of wealth from television deals and sponsorship, is unaffected by the vicissitudes of global economy.

Whoever wins may well be keeping the presidential armchair in Lausanne's Chateau de Vidy warm for Britain's Lord Coe, who would have been the preferred choice of many had he been an IOC member now instead of having to wait until 2015, when his likely stewardship of world athletics will give him an automatic place.

Meantime, we can anticipate a Bach fugue for at least the next eight years, though favourites sometimes peak too soon and he could yet find himself in the 2005 Paris position – when London came from behind to snatch the 2012 Games.

Interestingly in the past few weeks there has been a groundswell of support for Ng, not least because seven of the eight previous presidents have been European – including the last four in the 41 years since American Avery Brundage – and some members, notably from Africa and Asia, clearly feel it is time for another continental seachange.

The dapper Ng has emerged as the best equipped to create a shock wave. A quietly spoken multi- faceted businessman and Olympic yachtsman, he heads the tiny republic of Singapore's largest supermarket chain. A former politician and ambassador, he is well connected and a good communicator.

His portfolio includes making the IOC more of a democracy, giving the members greater say, downsizing the Games and pushing for a future Olympics to be held in Africa.

Significantly, he has been instrumental in transforming Singapore – where as I know from my own time working there in the eighties, sport was virtually a dirty word and education everything under hard-line prime minister Lee Kuan Yew – into the vibrant sporting hub of South East Asia.

Now Singapore sport swings where once it was stifled. It is the home of the superbly organised night Formula One Grand Prix and next year will open a state-of-the art sports complex ideally suited to host a future Commonwealth Games.

Much of this remarkable change of philosophy is down to Ng who initiated the nation's new sports policy. He orchestrated the 2005 IOC Congress when London won the 2012 bid and was the architect of the subsequent Youth Olympics.

Much has also been heard from his Asian rival Wu, the boxing czar who heads governing body AIBA. Wu talks a good fight, as you would expect from, a boxing man. And some of his ideas for reforming the IOC, not least in restoring inspection visits of bidding cities by members, are eminently sensible. "I always deliver," he vows.

If elected, the IOC would certainly know it had a forceful president. But the thought persists that it might become even more of an autocracy than it was under "Slavery Avery".

While boxing's bossman may have much to offer in necessary reform of the IOC, he has seriously harmed his chances by relentlessly pursuing his impossible dream of governing world fisticuffs in all its forms, upsetting many nations, including Britain, by banning them at the drop of a gumshield for technical infringements of AIBA's draconian regulations.

The IOC are also uncomfortable with his notion of allowing fully fledged pros – albeit those having had fewer than 20 pro fights – into the Games.

But why aren't any women involved?

For an organisation that says it is committed to gender equality, it is surprising that none of the six candidates are women.

No woman has ever been a presidential contender since they were first admitted to the Games 113 years ago. So will a female ever head the world's most important sports body? Not in the next decade – or perhaps even longer.

For whoever gets the IOC nod to become the ninth overlord on Tuesday will remain in office, barring misdeed or mishap, for at least eight years – possibly 12, the term Jacques Rogge has served. And the likelihood is that the next in line will be Britain's Lord Coe, who is set to gain IOC membership in 2015.

There are currently three women on the 15-strong Executive Board and it was known that one of them, the wonderfully accomplished Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco's golden hurdling heroine of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, had seriously thought of putting herself forward this time.

The 50-year-old mother-of-two, who became her country's sports minister and the first African, Arab and Muslim woman to win an Olympic title, said earlier this year that she was considering standing. "Maybe it is time for a woman," she said.

But subsequently she changed her mind after Rogge handed her the crucial task of overseeing the progress of Rio 2016 as chair of the Co-ordination Commission.

Coe himself had said during the speculation about her possible candidature: "I am a great admirer. She would make a terrific IOC president." But when the six names were formally announced for Tuesday's election in Buenos Aires hers was not among them.

A pity, for she may well have given the men a run for their money. But whether she could have brought about the end of men's long-standing hegemony in global sport is doubtful, because, for all its attempts at modernisation, the IOC remains largely a preserve of the rich, the venerable – and the male. Essentially an old boys' club.

Alan Hubbard