IOC doping fight is Thomas Bach's biggest challenge | Sports | CBC Sports CBC Sports - Sochi 2014

OlympicsIOC doping fight is Thomas Bach's biggest challenge

Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 06:32 PM

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Thomas Bach’s mandate for the IOC to serve as the guardians of sport is clear as he begins his tenure at the helm of the world’s most influential sports franchise. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Thomas Bach’s mandate for the IOC to serve as the guardians of sport is clear as he begins his tenure at the helm of the world’s most influential sports franchise. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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As the newly elected IOC president, Thomas Bach's biggest challenge will be to prove that what happens at the Olympics is real and that it still has meaning and value in the fight against doping.

Thomas Bach got it right on the eve of his election as the 9th president of the International Olympic Committee.

"The raison d'être of the IOC is to be a governing body of sport," said the 59-year-old German lawyer and gold medal fencer.

He nailed it.

The IOC exists not to save the world but to be the guardian of sport.  Bach will face huge issues in the coming weeks and months including the potentially explosive controversy that Russia's legislated intolerance towards homosexuals might cause during the Winter Games in Sochi. But there is a much bigger threat to the long term health of the Olympic movement.

Cheating on the fields of play is once again rampant and Bach must escalate the campaign against doping in sport.  Not only that, he's got to see that the war is won.  At stake is the relevance of the Olympics themselves.

Increasingly people find themselves mistrusting the veracity of what goes on at the Games.  The revelations surrounding cyclist Lance Armstrong and more recently high profile Jamaican and American sprinters have caused the doubters to come out in full force and with good reason.  If the most visible athletes are tainted then the supposition, accurate or not, is that everyone else must be as well.

Taking a stand

Where there's smoke there's fire, or so goes the prevailing sentiment.

Canada's lone athlete on the IOC has been aware of all this from the get go.  "As you know anti-doping is something I am every involved in," said Beckie Scott from Buenos Aires.  "And we are at a critical juncture with this movement."

Scott, after all, should know. 

She's battled long and hard to make sure that the fight against doping isn't pushed to the back burner.  She won cross-country bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City but when it was found that the Russian skiers who finished ahead of her, Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina had used Darbepoetin, a performance enhancing drug, the bronze medal rightfully became gold.

The sadness is it took two-and-a-half years and a Herculean struggle through the International Court of Arbitration for Sport for Scott and her supporters to make it happen.  As her eight-year term on the IOC Athlete's Commission draws to a close, Scott is urging the new president to step up to the plate when it comes to doping.

"It is critical the IOC, led by its president, takes a strong stand and works pro-actively with its partners and stakeholders to continue to gain ground in the fight against doping," Scott argued.

Gold-medal president

There's some reason to believe Thomas Bach may be the right person to lead the charge.

Firstly, he's an athlete and the only IOC president in history to have won a gold medal which he did in team fencing at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.  Presumably he understands that the scourge of an uneven playing field where cheaters prosper is abhorrent to the athlete's sensibility.

Secondly, he's a lawyer, a senior administrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and has been the chairman of the IOC's Sport and Law Commission since 2002 when Beckie Scott first began the fight.  It stands to reason that Bach values playing by the rules and has a disdain for dopers and their accomplices who perpetrate sport's criminal acts.

But, he has to bring the legion of interested parties together.  Bach, as head of the IOC, has the most at stake and it's in his best interest, as well as the Games, to get the many other sports governing bodies to understand the bottom line of Olympic survival.

Even if a significant minority is convinced one high performance sport is dirty then too many people are willing to believe all high performance sport is dirty.

"The efforts cannot be grounded by infighting, conflict and personal agendas," Scott concluded.  "They must continue to be co-operative, united and led by a vision of a better world for sport."

Thomas Bach's mandate is clear as he begins his tenure at the helm of the world's most influential sports franchise and arguably most recognizable brand.  The stark reality is he's got to get it right.

He would do well to focus less on the business aspects of marketing the Olympics as an entertainment property or a platform for political statements.  The Olympics are not, as outgoing president Jacques Rogge has noted on many occasions, "a panacea for the ills of the world."

They are, however, meant to be the pinnacle of sport and human athletic achievement governed by an honourable set of ideals.

Thomas Bach's biggest challenge will be to prove that what happens at the Olympics, and in all of high performance sport, is real and that it still has meaning and value.

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