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Bach touts further cost-cutting, reduced events calendar to tackle Covid-19 crisis

IOC president Thomas Bach speaks after the historic decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (by DENIS BALIBOUSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has stated the Olympic Movement’s response to Covid-19 is likely to result in further cost-cutting measures and flagged up Olympic postponement costs amounting to “several hundred million US dollars” that the IOC will need to meet.

In a lengthy open letter to the Olympic Movement, Bach highlighted the challenges, and opportunities, awaiting sport amidst the pandemic. He suggested that now is the time to drive through reforms under Agenda 2020, the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, adding that not all sports events may survive the current crisis.

Bach said: “At this moment, nobody knows what the realities of the post-coronavirus world will look like. What is clear, however, is that probably none of us will be able to sustain every single initiative or event that we were planning before this crisis hit.

“We will all need to take a close look at the scope of some of our activities and make the necessary adjustments to the new realities. In this context, the IOC administration is reviewing the IOC’s budget and priorities. This review will shortly be presented to the IOC Executive Board for discussion and approval.

“The motto when we launched Olympic Agenda 2020, and which is written on the wall at Olympic House: ‘Change or be changed’, is in this crisis-time more relevant than ever. As challenging and difficult as the circumstances may appear right now, if we draw the right lessons from the current situation, we can shape our future to even strengthen the relevance of our Olympic Movement in the world.

“Therefore we should drive further the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020, in particular with regard to sustainability, in order to address this crisis.”

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 last month announced that the Olympic Games will now take place in July and August of 2021, with a ‘joint steering committee’ formed earlier this month to ensure the delivery of the postponed event.

Tokyo 2020 and the IOC have also recently been at odds over the issue of who will be responsible for the added costs caused by the postponement, which Japanese media have speculated may add a further JPY300bn (€2.58bn/$2.81bn) to the $12.6bn budget before the postponement.

Commenting on additional costs, Bach said: “For our part, we have made it clear that the IOC will continue to be responsible for its share of the operational burden and its share of the costs for these postponed Games, under the terms of the existing agreement for 2020 that we have with our Japanese partners and friends.

“Although it is too early to give an exact figure, we already know that we have to shoulder several hundred million US dollars of postponement costs. This is why we also need to look into and review all the services that we provide for these postponed Games.”

On the future of the Olympic Games, and sports events in general, he added: “For most sports events, as for all sectors of society, things will not be as they were before. This is why the IOC should further strengthen the sustainability and feasibility reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 with a new phase of the ‘New Norm’ to make even more savings possible for the Organising Committees of the Olympic Games. These new measures should lead to an even more restricted footprint for all the stakeholders at the Olympic Games.

“For the Olympic Movement as a whole, we may also have to look more closely into the proliferation of sports events, as we already discussed at previous Olympic Summits. The financial pressure on all the stakeholders, including NOCs (National Olympic Committees), IFs (International Federations) and Organising Committees, may require more consolidation in this respect.”

In December, the IOC agreed on a “two-speed approach” regarding its esports strategy, reiterating its stance that it will only consider games simulating sports. Esports was on the agenda as the IOC concluded its eighth Olympic Summit. The Summit forms part of the ongoing consultation process on important issues of significance for the future of the Olympic Movement.

Bach added in his letter: “We shall also have to consider what social distancing may mean for our relations with esports. Whilst maintaining our principles by respecting the ‘red line’ with regard to the Olympic values, we encourage all our stakeholders even more urgently to ‘consider how to govern electronic and virtual forms of their sport and explore opportunities with game publishers’ (Declaration of the 8th Olympic Summit, 7 December 2019).

“Some IFs have already been very creative by organising remote competitions. We should further strengthen these moves and encourage our joint working group to address this new challenge and opportunity.”