Patrick Burke

It has been a remarkable couple of weeks in the Olympic Movement, which never ceases to amaze in its ability to bend rules. something that came to the fore at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Mumbai.

Firstly, the genie was released from the bottle as far as a potential extension to IOC President Thomas Bach's tenure is concerned. The Olympic Charter as it stands would prevent Bach from running again when he completes his 12th year in office in 2025, but the Session in Mumbai began with calls for an amendment to change that.

These calls came from Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa Mustapha Berraf of Algeria, supported by former Dominican Republic Olympic Committee President Luis Mejía Oviedo and Djibouti's Aïcha Garad Ali.

According to Berraf, he first mentioned the idea of an amendment to Bach at the delayed 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou last month. An amendment could not be voted on until next year's Session, as explained by IOC vice-president and head of the Legal Commission John Coates, who claimed he had heard of the members' planned interventions on the night prior.

Bach's response has done little deter those members' from pursuing an amendment that would be completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. He has stressed he is loyal to the Olympic Charter, but it is "it is a matter of mutual respect and personal relationship that you do not dismiss such a sign of support and friendship out of hand". 

The members' logic, according to Bach, was an election campaign would distract next year's Olympics Games in Paris. 

That begs the question as to when is supposed to be a good time for an election given a Summer or Winter edition occurs every two years?

In many ways, the damage has already been done. Term limits are there for a reason, and provide a crucial check that prevents an individual wielding excessive power and influence. 

Bach himself has claimed he is in favour of term limits. So, he should have quashed this discussion there and then. Instead, the question is now out in the open and likely to dominate the agenda for months.

There have been bigger critics than me on Bach, this being my first in-person Session. I can accept he has been dealt a tough hand as far as leaders go with the Russian doping scandals, COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but he and the IOC deserve every criticism that comes their way on their failure to stand up for a basic principle of good governance.

Discussions over a possible Olympic Charter amendment to allow IOC President Thomas Bach to run again in 2025, and a ratification of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics programme featured at the Session in Mumbai ©Getty Images
Discussions over a possible Olympic Charter amendment to allow IOC President Thomas Bach to run again in 2025, and a ratification of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics programme featured at the Session in Mumbai ©Getty Images

A key decision rubber-stamped at the Session was the addition of cricket, baseball and softball, flag football, lacrosse and squash to the programme for the Los Angeles 2028, and weightlifting and a new-look modern pentathlon saved their places.

It was a highly competitive bidding process for additional places on the Los Angeles 2028 programme, with the Olympic Charter setting an "approximate" limit of 10,500 athletes "unless otherwise agreed" with the Organising Committee.

The prospect of more than two of the team sports making it while keeping within those boundaries seemed highly unlikely. Yet that was completely thrown out the window with the proposal accepted by the IOC Executive Board and Session for five of Los Angeles 2028's nine shortlisted additional sports to make it onto the programme.

"Team sports are an incredibly important and powerful thing in the US," Los Angeles 2028 chair Casey Wasserman claimed.

"They’re also sports that have a great tradition and history, in Los Angeles with American football and baseball, and so we have a great infrastructure to be able to support the team sports and the team sport environment, and the partnership with the professional leagues I think will really elevate the Games in LA."

The IOC has acknowledged Los Angeles 2028 will have to surpass the 10,500 athlete mark, but promised it will limit this as much as possible when the full event programme and decisions on quotas are finalised.

Wasserman insists Los Angeles is ready to host the sports selected for the programme.

"Obviously now is the process of deciding the size of the event and deciding the size of the tournaments," he said. "We feel very comfortable and the Session seems comfortable with us having some flexibility given the infrastructure we have in LA."

The beneficiaries of the biggest Olympics ever are cricket, baseball and softball, flag football, lacrosse and squash. Five sports each with their own remarkable journeys to the Games, and each left ecstatic at the news from the Session.

Cricket is back for the first time since Paris 1900, and for the first time with a full men's and women's tournament in the Twenty20 format. Bach may claim the decision was not driven by commercial interests, but the ability to tap into the South Asian market and symbolic setting of Mumbai for the decision is evident.

"The Olympic Movement sits across most countries in the world, so to have cricket there I think will be a great opportunity to grow the game, particularly in areas that we are perhaps under-represented," International Cricket Council chair Greg Barclay said.

"I think it's a great outcome, and a win-win for the Olympics, it gives them the opportunity access areas they've been maybe under-represented like here in South Asia, but for cricket as well to help growth our profile."

Los Angeles 2028 chairperson Casey Wasserman insisted
Los Angeles 2028 chairperson Casey Wasserman insisted "we have a great infrastructure to be able to support the team sports" ©Getty Images

Baseball and softball is the most frequently appeared Olympic sports of those that made the cut. It is set for its first tournament with spectators at the Games since Beijing 2008, having featured at the behind-closed-doors Tokyo 2020.

World Baseball Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fraccari insists support from professional leagues will delivering a compelling product at Los Angeles 2028, while hinting the IOC should reassess the 10,500 number to allow easier access for team sports in the future.

"It's emotional. I think it's a nice comeback in Los Angeles, and after the great success in Tokyo, baseball softball can be something that can add to the Los Angeles programme," Fraccari said.

"We showed that we are a global sport, not only an American sport. This time there was the written support of all the professional leagues. Sometimes we say only MLB (Major League Baseball), but don't forget our sport is different from the others. 

"We have many professional organisations - NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball), KBO (Korea Baseball Organization), CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League), and we have the support of all of them, including this time the Players' Association.

"I think the result of the [World Baseball] Classic shows that even the best players love to represent their country. The enthusiasm that we saw during the Classic and the Premier12 shows that it is a global sport."

Flag football, a variant of American football which has run an impressive campaign led by the International Federation of American Football and backed by the National Football League, sealed its Olympic debut.

IFAF President Pierre Trochet, an impressive young leader, believes Los Angeles is "the right place, the right market to start".

"We bring so many opportunities to the wider Olympic movement in terms of audience, generation, something more inclusive, fast-paced, urban, gender equal," he said. "Our growth is driven by the female players who could never be professional NFL players, and tomorrow they can dream about being Olympians. The sport has massive growth at the moment. Very happy to witness and to be a part of that.

"I think it will definitely give way more countries the opportunity to compete at the highest level."

ICC chair Greg Barclay feels cricket's inclusion for Los Angeles 2028 represents a
ICC chair Greg Barclay feels cricket's inclusion for Los Angeles 2028 represents a "win-win" t ©Getty Images

Lacrosse is set for an Olympic return as a medal sport since London 1908, using its sixes discipline. Its inclusion given the stiff competition for team sport places came as something of a surprise, but World Lacrosse President Sue Redfern insisted it holds plenty of appeal for Los Angeles 2028.

"We're North America's first sport and a native American sport by origin," she said.

"Secondly, we have the sixes discipline which everyone has been excited to see. It's really appealing to youth and bringing that in.

"Thirdly, undoubtedly it was a gift to us in our vision that LA was chosen to be the 2028 hosts, because that gave us a really good footing to try and make a bid to become a host city invitation."

The news fulfilled a long-term ambition for the governing body, and was the resulted of years of hard work.

"We have a really youthful group of people and a new discipline which is really exciting the world, we have a massive growth around the world," Redfern added.

"We've grown from 2030 when we had 16 national teams to now 90 members, and so that massive growth and massive youth growth is really the reason for why now, but it has been our dream since 2005 to actually get into the Olympics and we're just so excited to be here."

World Lacrosse chief executive Jim Scherr acknowledged the tough competition, but insisted the governing body believed in the value of the sport.

"It's a very competitive process to have a sport added to the Olympic programme, even for one Games as a host city sport. We were confident in the values of lacrosse, but we were never over-confident," he said.

"We'll keep developing lacrosse sixes as a discipline. We'll continue to grow the game around the world. We're really preparing for the series of qualifying events to qualify the best teams for Los Angeles, and really put lacrosse's best foot forward."

Squash sealed a surprise Olympic debut at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images
Squash sealed a surprise Olympic debut at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images

Squash was the other surprise inclusion, set for its Olympic debut after several near misses, most recently in 2013 for Tokyo 2020. There had been limited speculation squash would make the cut, but World Squash Federation (WSF) President Zena Wooldridge believes the previous Olympic campaigns served it well.

"I think one of the things that's benefitted us is we've been right on the cusp of being Olympic so many times, I think this is our fifth serious attempt," she said.

"That has driven the sport to be collaborative, to be innovative, to use technology. The presentation of the sport, the filming, the broadcast, the technology on the court, the technology of the lighting, the technology of the balls, everything has improved.

"I think being on the edge of being Olympic has driven that innovation and creativity to mean that when we came to our next Olympic bid, not only are we being really collaborative across the sport, between WSF, the Professional Association and US Squash, but also we've been able to bring all of those innovations in to strengthen our bid that really did fit with LA's strategy.

"It's our moment, it's our time. We've worked towards it for many years, and it's just a great moment for squash."

Wooldridge claimed there would be a "mix of new nations and existing nations" enjoying success in the sport.

"As a sport, we're also very cost-effective," she added.

"If we look at LA's mission of diverse, creative, financially responsible, we fit that really well because you can take a glass court that's relatively inexpensive and drop it into an existing and iconic location.

"It's really cost-effective, yet it provides a massive impact not just to the sport but to the iconic facility that it's in."

All five of the sports want to be back at Brisbane 2032. And with the genie out of the bottle in terms of a very generous reading of the 10,500 limit, they could each have a strong case again.

A landmark IOC Session then, which has set the course for the Olympic Movement in the years to come - good and bad.