David Owen

I could not sit through every moment of last week’s three-day videoconferenced 137th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session.

But I watched a great deal of it, and the first time I noticed anybody joshing re-elected IOC President and master of all he surveyed, Thomas Bach, even in the gentlest imaginable way, came about six hours into day three.

In the traditional closing address, IOC doyen Richard Pound - a man whose greatest Olympic days, some of them exceptionally great, are perhaps behind him - observed wryly that the next day was Saturday and "I am sure that none of our colleagues would object to you sleeping in tomorrow morning even as late as 7am."

The Stakhanovite work ethic alluded to half teasingly, half admiringly by Pound has helped his fellow lawyer to assume complete control of world sport’s most prestigious club over the seven-and-a-half years he has so far been in charge. But so have the extraordinary internal powers that come with the IOC President’s job.

Take IOC Commissions.

In the words of the Olympic Charter, the President "establishes permanent or other standing or ad hoc commissions and working groups whenever it appears necessary."

Moreover, "except where expressly provided otherwise", said President "establishes their terms of reference, designates all their members and decides their dissolution once he considers that they have fulfilled their mandates."

What is more, "no meeting of any commission or working group may be held without the prior agreement of the President except where expressly provided otherwise."

Oh and this same President is "a member ex officio" of all commissions and shall have "precedence" whenever he attends one of their meetings.

The Future Host Commission which has installed Brisbane in pole position for the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics after an opaque and confusing selection process, is among those Commissions, although it is subject to specific terms of reference.

IOC President Thomas Bach was re-elected unopposed at the organisation's 137th Session, held virtually, last week ©IOC
IOC President Thomas Bach was re-elected unopposed at the organisation's 137th Session, held virtually, last week ©IOC

I am not quite clear whether the requirement that members of this particular Commission not be on the IOC Executive Board overrides the President’s normal ex-officio membership of Commissions or "precedence" when he attends.

The Charter does, though, clearly state that the President appoints the Commission.

The point I wanted to make was that we should bear these immense internal powers in mind as we watch member after member heap praise on Bach during meetings like last week’s.

Many of the extra postings and responsibilities that IOC membership may offer are granted by an IOC President who can remove as well as appoint.

The 67-year-old German has bared his teeth enough times since 2013 for members to be aware that this is precisely what might happen should they displease him in some significant way.

It is unsurprising in such circumstances if many of them mind their Ps and Qs.

Unsurprising, but not, I would suggest, very good for the organisation.

Bach has devoted his life to the Olympic Movement - he knows his onions.

But a) he is not infallible and b) as far more eminent commentators than me have observed down the centuries, power does strange things to people.

The IOC President, in short, like any leader, needs people who are prepared to tell him when he has got something wrong.

Pound, I believe, still would.

Thomas Bach participated in the 137th IOC Session from Olympic House in Lausanne, while other members joined in virtually ©IOC
Thomas Bach participated in the 137th IOC Session from Olympic House in Lausanne, while other members joined in virtually ©IOC

There was a somewhat obscure interlude on day two when first Future Host Commission chair Kristin Kloster Aasen then Pound started advising against a double award of both the 2032 and 2036 Games.

This encapsulated perfectly how secretive the host selection process has very rapidly become: did anyone have an inkling that a possible double award had been brought up? Not me.

Heck, the passage of Brisbane to "targeted dialogue" in the new jargon had been confirmed barely two weeks earlier.

But it also showed how cogently Pound, 79 next week, still marshals an argument when the spirit moves him.

"I must say even 11 years is a long time in a world that is changing as quickly as it does today," he said, going on to express his concern that "today’s IOC should not act in a way that will tie the hands of the next generation of IOC members."

Alas, the Canadian heavy-hitter is scheduled to depart upstairs - to honorary member status - at the end of next year.

I might have picked up the wrong end of the stick, but I was also taken aback earlier in the Session when Indian IOC member Nita Ambani thanked Bach gushingly for his "support and guidance in bringing the Olympic Movement to India", adding "this will be a great beginning for 1.38 billion Indians."

I presume this was a reference to Mumbai, which is expected to host the 2023 IOC Session, but her comments came on the same day as it was reported that India had shifted focus to hosting the 2048 Games.

I make that 27 years from now! That really would be tying the hands of future generations - not that I can imagine any confirmation of India as 2048 host would come, in reality, for the better part of a couple of decades.

Whatever the course of India’s Olympic future, I noticed that Bach responded by telling the woman who, according to the IOC website has owned the Mumbai Indians cricket team since 2008 that "a couple of years ago we were saying in India there were only three sports: cricket, cricket and cricket," but now "we see other sports coming up."

Neither Pound nor anyone else that I detected was ready to caution Bach against another proposal he launched on us in the heady moments after his re-election - by 93 votes to one: changing the Olympic motto.

Our columnist argues that Richard Pound is one of the IOC members most likely to challenge President Thomas Bach's views ©Getty Images
Our columnist argues that Richard Pound is one of the IOC members most likely to challenge President Thomas Bach's views ©Getty Images

This struck me as he said it as stupendously wrong-headed for a sports movement whose profound historical roots are such a key part of its USP.

I mean, what next? Lop a few miles off the marathon to cater for today’s short attention spans?

Initially I held my tongue: I am conscious that these days I am very much in Sebastian Coe’s "old guard". Perhaps my instinctive first reaction was short-sighted.

Then I read Thursday’s blog by my colleague Mike Rowbottom, a man whose judgement on Olympic matters I trust implicitly; this was even more scathing.

I mean, with our combined three millennia or so of covering sport, can we really be that wrong-headed?

Perhaps that experience is where our problem lies.

At any rate, such is Bach’s habitual determination that I imagine we are going to have to get used to an Olympic motto reading "Faster, higher, stronger - together" sooner rather than later, possibly in time for the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony.

An organisation with better-balanced governance ought to have been able to talk the boss out of running this hare in the manner that he did, warning him that reaction outside his IOC echo-chamber was likely to be, well, polarised.

The Latin rendition of Bach’s proposed "slogan" was "citius, altius, fortius - communis."

After three days glued intermittently to the IOC’s YouTube channel, I could not help feeling that if they must change the motto, "citius, altius, fortius - hubris" might currently be more appropriate.