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Tradition, change, and acting before it’s too late

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on driving change

June 25, 2015

While Lausanne is the home of IMD, it's also home to many other top organizations including the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 1914, the founder of the Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, moved the organization from France to neutral Switzerland just before World War I.

"We're not just neighbors, we're friends," were IOC President Thomas Bach's opening words. The prestigious keynote speaker, who has met more than 100 heads of states and governments since his election a year and a half ago continued on a light note: "Next time you need a plumber, we'll be happy to help out."

Taking time out from a phenomenally busy schedule, which includes the IOC centenary celebrations in Lausanne, Thomas Bach addressed the Orchestrating Winning Performance audience before a guided visit of the newly renovated Olympic Museum.

He came to share the ideas that served as his electoral platform to become President of the organization and that have already entered into a phase of implementation.


Introducing change before it is too late

"You have to introduce change when things are going well. Otherwise it might already be too late." Bach was constantly being challenged: why change anything when everything is going so well and the ratings are so high.

The IOC, he explained, has been around for 121 years, and has had to adapt to its times. "If we still followed the original ideas of its founder, maybe we wouldn't be here. One thing for sure is that the games would still take place without women."

Pierre de Coubertin was a traditionalist, but he was also a great reformer because he understood very early on the link between sports and business, as well as politics. Bach said that he kept this in mind when thinking of a plan to adapt the Olympics to society's needs today.

"Imagine the IOC, leader of the Olympic movement, that must deal with strong and autonomous stakeholders, 35 international sports organizations and 205 national agencies. They all have different needs and interests."

He realized that he would be going against the tide of tradition, and decided that changes could only be made by bringing all partners on board.

A culture of dialogue

The first thing he did was to come up with the theme: Unity in diversity. "Diversity is an enrichment that produces more creativity, more ideas and shows us what the world really looks like."

Without making the organization too nervous, he started to talk to the stakeholders to collect their ideas.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, he used as his campaign motto: "To change, or to be changed, that is the question." He reminded OWP participants that this is also true in the business world and that many traditional companies have disappeared because they did not anticipate changes and were not prepared on time.

When he won the election, Thomas Bach immediately instituted a culture of dialogue. He invited the five candidates who had not been retained to expose their priorities for change, went on a retreat of three days with the IOC Board and then convened a full IOC Session for an open discussion on the future.

"This was the first time it had happened in 121 years," said Bach.

And finally, the public at large was invited to send comments via a dedicated e-mail address. There were more than 43,000 submissions.

The multiple results have been filtered into a roadmap that is referred to as Olympic Agenda 2020, which in reality stands for two times 20 objectives.

Olympic Agenda 2020

The world is more fragile that ever, said Bach, with crises and conflicts wherever you look. It is no surprise that many societies and their governments have sidelined sports in recent years, but the CIO has been working at top political level to bring it back: "We want sports in the middle of the sea of society, not as an isolated island," he said.

To materialize that ambition, three top priorities will permeate the action plans of the IOC over the coming years:


The first is to establish the credibility of competition and of sports organizations through compliance, transparency and good governance. The CIO is showing the lead by having its accounts audited to IFRS standards and made public, as are the allowances for the members.

"People will discover that we really are a not-for-profit organization and that only 10% of our revenues are used for administration. 90% goes directly into the development of sport."

The CIO also helps host countries finance the Games, as in the case of Brazil that will be receiving $1.5 billion from the Olympic organization.

Furthermore, in an effort to eradicate doping, corruption and manipulation, a $20 million fund has been set up.


The CIO has changed its the entire philosophy behind the tender process. Instead of imposing pre-established requirements, the host country is now asked to consider how the Games fit best into their environment and how they can contribute in the long term to their social, economic and ecological development.

"We want the candidate cities to think about the legacy before, not after."


This priority is condensed into a single sentence, said Bach: "How to get couch potatoes off the couch." There has been a disastrous decline in physical activity among the young, which will inevitably have a serious impact on health and education in the coming years.

Bach has been told by heads of state, including the President of China, that in our society, not only the teachers, but even the parents consider sports to be a distraction from education.

The CIO is working in collaboration with UNESCO and governments to get physical education back on the obligatory curriculum of schools. It is also using social media via the national Olympic committees to motivate young people to start moving again.

A recurring theme in the 2015 edition of OWP has been digital disruption, which even sports must take into consideration.

"Sports are an important part of society. A healthy spirit needs a healthy body and children learn better when they oxygenate their brains. They are more successful," hammers Bach.

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