THE OLYMPIC powerbase could change significantly over the next four days with the possibility of a double coup for Asia ending more than a century of European control.
Today, Beijing could win the right to stage the 2008 Games against a challenge from Istanbul, Osaka, Paris and Toronto. And on Monday Dr Un Yong Kim, a 70-year-old South Korean politician, could succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch to become the eight president of the International Olympic Committee and assume the mantle of the most powerful man in world sport.
In Moscow last night, where the members of the IOC met Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and attended a reception at the Bolshoi, the talk of an Asian double fascinated many and frightened others, particularly the Europeans.
What makes this all the more remarkable is the contrast in the way the world and the IOC members are viewing the elections.
While the outside world is much concerned that the IOC may take the Games to China, despite the country’s appalling human rights record, members are more concerned about who their next president might be. In the last few days, as members have gathered at the Mezdunarodnaya Hotel, where the voting will take place, all the talk I have heard is about the presidential election. If Beijing and the other bid cities have featured, it has been as an afterthought.
One IOC source put it: “The world’s media may worry about the IOC voting for Beijing. For IOC members it is no big deal, they select a host city for winter or summer Games every two years and every selection causes controversy.
But only 12 members have voted in a previous presidential election [the last one, to elect Samaranch, was in Moscow in 1980] and who their president is affects them much more than the city hosting a Games. Games last two weeks, a president reigns for eight years.”
The IOC, despite the reforms following the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, remain the most curious private club. Members range from the Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange to the man who was in charge of Idi Amin’s army and another who was associated with the Indonesian dictator General Suharto. He will not be in Moscow because he has been convicted of defrauding the Indonesian people and is one of two IOC members currently in jail.
IOC members have indicated that they do not see human rights in China in quite the same fashion as Amnesty International, whose most recent report highlighted at least 1,511 death sentences and 1,000 executions carried out in 2000 (a fraction of the real figure, they claim) and untold illegal detentions and torture.
Kevan Gosper, an Australian vice-president of the IOC, said: “Every member has a concern for human rights. But there is also concern for the Olympic movement. Within the movement China ranks very high. They send big teams to the Olympics, they score high on the medal table, they have people in executive positions in international federations and the IOC and they have successfully organised world championships and international events. In Olympics they are a respected nation.
“So what do we say when they bid for the Games? You cannot have them. On what grounds?”
© Mihir Bose