BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Within minutes of being elected to the top job in the Olympics, Thomas Bach got a phone call from a powerful leader he’ll work with closely in the next few months: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bach, a 59-year-old German lawyer, was elected Tuesday as president of the International Olympic Committee. He succeeds Jacques Rogge, who stepped down after 12 years.
Bach, the longtime favorite, defeated five other candidates in the secret ballot for the most influential job in international sports, keeping the presidency in European hands.
The former Olympic fencer received 49 votes in the second round to secure a winning majority. Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico finished second with 29 votes. One of the first congratulatory phone calls came from Putin, who will play host to the IOC in less than five months at the Winter Olympics in the southern Russian resort of Sochi.
The Sochi Games are one of Putin’s pet projects, with Russia’s prestige on the line.
He congratulated and (said) there would be close cooperation to make the success of Sochi Games sure, Bach told The Associated Press.
The buildup to the Feb. 7-23 games, however, has been overshadowed by concerns with cost overruns, human rights, a budget topping $50 billion, security threats and a Western backlash against a Russian law against gay propaganda.
Bach and the IOC have been told by the Russians there would be no discrimination in Sochi and that Russia would abide by the Olympic Charter.
We have the assurances of the highest authorities in Russia that we trust, Bach said.
It remains unclear what would happen if athletes or spectators demonstrate against the anti-gay law. Rogge said this week that the IOC would soon send a reminder to athletes that, under the Olympic Charter, they are prohibited from making any political gestures.
We will work on our project now and then it will be communicated to the NOCs (national Olympic committees) and then athletes, Bach said. It will be elaborated more in detail.
Earlier, Bach said his first priority would be to celebrate, and his second to get ready for Sochi.
We have to prepare well, he said, and I’m sure the games will be a great success.
A former Olympic fencing gold medalist who heads Germany’s national Olympic committee, Bach is the ninth president in the 119-year history of the IOC. He’s the eighth European to hold the presidency. Of the IOC’s leaders, all have come from Europe except for Avery Brundage, the American who ran the committee from 1952 to 1972.
Bach is also the first gold medalist to become IOC president. He won gold in team fencing for West Germany in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
He received a standing ovation for nearly a full minute after Rogge announced his victory. Bach bowed slightly to the delegates to acknowledge the warm response and thanked the members in several languages.
This is a really overwhelming sign of trust and confidence, Bach said.
Bach was elected to an eight-year term. In 2021, he would be eligible to run for a second and final four-term term.
Bach presented the 71-year-old Rogge with the IOC’s highest award, the Olympic gold order.
After awarding the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo and bringing wrestling back into the games, the IOC completed the last of its three critical votes.