After announcing that the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, and that wrestling is back on the program, the International Olympic Committee will handle one more piece of pressing business at its annual meeting: naming a new president. Jacques Rogge, who was elected to the post in 2001, is leaving because of term limits, and six current IOC members are jockeying to take his place. The vote is on Tuesday: candidates include prohibitive front-runner Thomas Bach, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation since 2006, Sergei Bubka, the gold-medal winning pole vaulter from Ukraine, Richard Carrión, a banker from Puerto Rico, and Ng Ser Miang, a businessman and diplomat from Singapore.
The actual winner isn’t of much consequence for most sports fans. How he — and yes, all six candidates are men — tackles the challenges facing the Olympics is much more important. Here are three that the new IOC president will face:
1. Scandal in Sochi. Congratulations on winning the presidency, sir. Your first task: taming a global controversy. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, passed in June, has spurred worldwide protest. And it directly conflicts with one of the “seven fundamental principles of Olympism,” outlined in the Olympic charter: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Vladimir Putin has signed an executive order banning all forms of political protest during the games. If Russia’s authorities crack down on any rallies, with the new IOC president side with the host country, or stand up for fundamental freedom?
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2. Losing the youth. According to Bubka, the average age of Olympic viewers is 50, and rising. This is a disturbing datapoint, as the Olympics have added many youth-friendly extreme sports events, like BMX racing and snowboard cross, over the past decade. With all the technological distractions available in today’s world, are younger people willing to invest in the Olympics?
3. Host city expansion. The 2016 Olympics, in Rio, will be the first in South America. But is the IOC ready to take the Games to new frontiers, like Africa? Istanbul just bid on the Olympics for the fifth time, but lost to Tokyo; Turkey would have been the first Muslim-majority country to host the Olympics. Nairobi, Casablanca, Doha, Baku, Azerbaijan and Durban, South Africa are possible bidders on the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. If the Olympics are all about inclusiveness, the Games need to go to new places.