David Owen

Mumbai 2023, which we now know will take place in October, could well be the most interesting - and perhaps tense - International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session for some time.

Regardless of what is on the actual agenda, it seems inevitable that the Russia/Ukraine situation will cast a long, potentially divisive, shadow. 

For this reason, as they strive to put conditions in place to facilitate as full as possible a turnout of the world's best athletes at next year's Summer Games in Paris, IOC President Thomas Bach and his Lausanne-based colleagues may have reason to be thankful that this 140th Session was not earmarked for Europe or North America, the two chief centres of pro-Ukraine sentiment.

Asian nations have by and large adopted a more detached attitude towards the invasion, with India itself remaining neutral, while calling for a peaceful resolution.

Bach may need all the help he can get if he is to prevent Paris 2024 being marred by either a) a Ukraine-led boycott, b) a Russia-led boycott or c) repeated shows of public hostility directed at athletes emanating from Russia, irrespective of what colour of vest they happen to be wearing, with sport relegated to a sideshow.

The German's stint in the hottest seat in sport is, after all, entering its final stages, with his departure due in 2025, barring the unexpected.

This may make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain the iron grip he has exercised over the body he heads for a good few years now.

Indeed, Mumbai could be the forum at which manoeuvring by his would-be successors begins to break out into the open.

The Olympic Movement will gather in India for what could be a pivotal and tense IOC Session ©Getty Images
The Olympic Movement will gather in India for what could be a pivotal and tense IOC Session ©Getty Images

India will welcome Bach like a head of state and may be expected to do all in its power to make the meeting a glittering success.

Mumbai, on India's western coast, is the base of Mukesh Ambani, probably the richest man in Asia, and his wife Nita, who has been an IOC member since 2016.

The later-than-expected timing of the Session, which was originally to have been held in May, provides India with a month-long window in which to bask as a pre-eminent hub of global diplomacy, with New Delhi set to host the 18th G20 Summit in September.

One imagines this is very much in keeping with the status that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes is warranted in world affairs for the vibrant, fast-modernising yet astonishingly diverse nation he leads.

He has spoken about India's G20 Presidency as "trying to provide a voice to the global south".

The country of 1.4 billion people now boasts the world's fifth-biggest national economy, with growth still thought to be motoring away at somewhere around six or seven per cent.

But, as is often the case with places that host IOC meetings, India seemingly has its own aims for what it hopes the Session might achieve.

Last December, Indian Sports Minister Anurag Thakur detailed plans to present a bid for the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Mumbai Session.

He underlined Gujarat's interest in staging the Games, and said he was hopeful that the meeting would provide an opportunity to advance its plans.

He was quoted as describing 2036 - 140 years after the first modern Games in Athens - as "the right time to host the Games", while asking, "If India is making news in every sector from manufacturing to services, then why not in sports?"

Nita Ambani has been an IOC member since 2016 ©Getty Images
Nita Ambani has been an IOC member since 2016 ©Getty Images

An Indian Olympics, if successfully executed, would amount to a powerful symbol of the country's rising standing in the world, much as Beijing 2008 was for China.

And, while Lausanne would be anxious to get the timing right, an Indian Games also has much to commend it from an IOC viewpoint, in terms of expanding its global footprint and unlocking the sub-continent's considerable income-generation potential for the Olympic Movement.

It is 40 years since India hosted the 86th IOC Session in 1983.

That was in New Delhi, so we will have moved from the city of politics to the city of finance.

It could be argued that the IOC had experienced a similar trajectory over exactly the same stretch of time; but then came the Russian invasion of February 2022, and politics - all too abruptly - returned.