IOC president Bach cautions against profit-driven sports events

Citing a global zeitgeist that encouraged “narrow self-interest,” Thomas Bach criticized “a purely market-based approach to sport that ignores the values we stand for.”

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach speaks during the 134th Session of the IOC at the SwissTech Convention Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland.   -  AP

IOC President Thomas Bach wants local governments to resist promoting independently run sports events that, he believes, go against the Olympic ideal.

The organizers of profit-driven sporting ventures are “cherry picking” events without sharing the International Olympic Committee’s duty to use profits to help athletes around the world, Bach told Olympic leaders on Tuesday at their annual meeting.

Citing a global zeitgeist that encouraged “narrow self-interest,” Bach criticized “a purely market-based approach to sport that ignores the values we stand for.”

“This is why we are calling on public authorities to take this distinction into consideration whenever they take decisions that affect sport,” the IOC president said.

In swimming, three elite athletes filed an anti-trust case against governing body FINA and others risked bans by supporting a privately owned league which had a launch event planned in Turin, Italy. FINA then withdrew the ban threat, increased prize money and launched its own new top-tier competition series.

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Basketball governing body FIBA has also been in a long-running dispute with the club-controlled EuroLeague competition.

“Sport without values is just entertainment,” Bach said. “Yes, Olympic sport must be entertaining, but it must not be just entertainment.” He did acknowledge that some businesses “deserve a profit” for presenting sports in innovative ways that engaged young people.

“What is not fair at all, is that more and more public authorities are ignoring the differences between these purely commercial companies and us, as values-based organizations,” Bach said.

Bach has consistently defended the authority of Olympic bodies and a business model that uses games revenues to fund them rather than pay prize money directly to athletes.

The IOC has resisted relaxing rules that limits Olympic athletes from promoting personal sponsors during a games period, despite German athletes winning a federal agency ruling.

Bach has argued that exclusive rights for top-tier Olympic sponsors, who paid more than $1 billion in the 2013-16 cycle, maximized revenue for the IOC to re-invest in sports. He cited “legitimate athlete representatives” — those elected from within Olympic bodies — as the only recognized path for negotiation, and pledged more benefits for competitors.

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“We did not always do our best to make the solidarity model transparent and understandable enough to the athletes and the wider public,” he said.

The IOC has allocated more than $500 million that its Solidarity Commission will distribute from 2017-20 to athletes and Olympic teams.

Later in the meeting, the IOC reported a $165 million profit in 2018 on income of $2.2 billion in the Pyeongchang Winter Games year. The revenue included $1.436 billion from broadcasting rights and $550 million from marketing income. IOC finance commission chairman Ser Miang Ng reported spending that including $1.153 billion to games organizers, national Olympics committees and sports governing bodies. There was $178 million in IOC operating costs and $133 million spent on “promoting the Olympic Movement.” Overall project spending was $187 million on the Olympic House headquarters in Lausanne.