Michael Pavitt

At the start of 2021, I identified seven non-Tokyo 2020 areas to keep an eye on throughout the duration of the year: Thomas Bach, Protests and activism, Athlete representation, athlete welfare, the European Olympic Committees, the Commonwealth Games and increased female representation.

To end the year, it seemed prudent to evaluate some of the highlights across these areas.

Thomas Bach

It has been another challenging year for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President to contend with, largely due to the uncertainty surrounding the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the build-up, Bach was a resolute figure in insisting the Games would take place despite the ongoing issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approach was criticised by some who believed it was irresponsible to force the Games on the Japanese population under the circumstances. In truth, Bach was in something of a bind. If he expressed doubt Tokyo 2020 taking place, it would have generated further speculation and doubt for athletes. He later admitted that he had doubts "every day" that the Games would take place.

The fact the Games took place and avoided a doomsday super-spreader scenario some feared has to be ticked off as a success for the IOC, even in the sad circumstance that spectators were largely absent.

Bach’s final four-year term as President was rubber-stamped in March, alongside an updated Agenda 2020+5 roadmap which will guide the tenure. A package of 15 recommendations was passed, centring on solidarity, digitalisation, sustainability, credibility, and economic and financial resilience.

It will be interesting to see how the IOC shapes the global sports calendar, which was one of the areas highlighted. The IOC's relationship with esports, athlete representation, gender equality and human rights were also among the areas highlighted.

Arguably the recommendation to "strengthen the Olympic Movement through good governance" has already seen a step forward. The International Boxing Association and International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) are particular examples as both now need to meet criteria to remain on the programme for Los Angeles 2028.

Bach has received criticism this year over his failure to address human rights concerns in the build-up to Beijing 2022, which will undoubtedly continue in the coming months.

But for all his critics, Bach - and the IOC by extension - has undoubtedly been successful in his main role of preserving the future of the Games, having added Brisbane 2032 to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 for the Summer Olympics, while the organisation looks in a good place for the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympics at this stage.

IOC President Thomas Bach has overseen a challenging year for the organisation ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has overseen a challenging year for the organisation ©Getty Images

Protests and activism

Having been pilloried over its decision to keep Rule 50 in place, the IOC ultimately relaxed restrictions on the eve of Tokyo 2020. Athletes were able to demonstrate at specific times and in certain areas before their competition at the Games

The measure was a sensible one given the precedent set in other sports like football. Women’s football players were the first to take the knee at Tokyo 2020, while the potential for a protest-laden Games was largely avoided.

Women’s shot put silver medallist Raven Saunders was a rare athlete to contravene Rule 50 at the Games, becoming the first athlete to demonstrate on the podium by raising her arms to form an X. The American, who is black and gay, said she made the gesture to represent "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet".

The IOC responded by saying it was "looking into the gesture", with the investigation later suspended after the death of Saunders’ mother. The organisation later wrote to Saunders in October to confirm no action would be taken but advised her not to demonstrate at future Games.

"In all honesty, I truly hope that the IOC hears my message and does understand that it is one and the same with their mission," Saunders wrote on social media.

Demonstrations at Beijing 2022 could post another interesting proposition to consider.

Athlete representation

The composition of the IOC Athletes' Commission changed with elections at Tokyo 2020, with Spain's Pau Gasol, Italy's Federica Pellegrini, Japan's Yuki Ota, Poland's Maja Martyna Włoszczowska, Kenyan Humphrey Kayange and Norway's Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen joining the body. Further elections are planned for winter representatives at Beijing 2022, while double Olympic ice hockey bronze medallist Emma Terho of Finland now chairs the Commission.

The World Anti-Doping Agency Athlete Committee has also been revamped as the Athletes' Council under the changes, with its chair joining the organisation’s Executive Committee. The Council will grow in size from 12 to 20 athletes.

A lack of independence from the IOC has been a criticism of both athlete bodies by independent groups, a claim which will undoubtedly continue.

World Athletics notably granted Athletes' Commission members voting membership of the World Athletics Council, while the International Swimmers' Alliance became the latest "independent athletes body" established this year.

The role of athletes in challenging their governing bodies has been notable again this year, with weightlifters pursuing change at the IWF and athletes opposing the International Modern Pentathlon Union’s leadership over its decision to drop the riding discipline.

Raven Saunders was one of few demonstrations made during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
Raven Saunders was one of few demonstrations made during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

Athlete welfare

"It will be the gold standard for every institution that has a sexual assault problem," said attorney Mick Grewal, who represented dozens of women in the USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee lawsuit.

Grewal was referring to the "restorative justice process", which will see victims of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar have a significant say in how USA Gymnastics deals with sexual abuse allegations in the future. The process was considered an important part of a $380 million (£288 million/€336 million) settlement reached this month.

Scandals have continued to emerge across a variety of sports, including the likes of gymnastics, football and swimming. How sporting organisations respond and deal with the crises when they emerge will continue to be scrutinised.

The packed sporting calendar has also provoked issues throughout the year, with football among the sports criticised for its commitment to pack in matches and tournaments despite a high workload for players. Similar issues were recently seen in badminton, where tournaments have been impacted by a spate of withdrawals through injury.

Federations do have a difficult balance to strike during the pandemic, ensuring enough events can take place, but not overburdening athletes.

European Olympic Committees

Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos succeeded in his European Olympic Committee (EOC) Presidential campaign in June. The IOC member won by 34 votes to 16 against Denmark’s Niels Nygaard, who had been serving as Acting President.

Having been the Coordination Commission chair for the first two European Games, Capralos will now oversee the third edition of the event as President. 

The EOC will hope to end months of uncertainty over when the Kraków-Małopolska 2023 European Games Host City Contract will be signed. 

Poland President Andrzej Duda signed an act of support for the Games this month, which outlined funding commitments. This should pave the way for the contract to be signed, with the EOC then able to turn towards enhancing the prestige of the event.

Katie Sadleir, left, is the first female chief executive of the CGF ©Getty Images
Katie Sadleir, left, is the first female chief executive of the CGF ©Getty Images

Commonwealth Games

Speaking of host city contracts, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) would undoubtedly have wanted to have had one signed for the 2026 Commonwealth Games by this stage.

Hamilton appears to have shifted its focus to hosting the centenary edition in Canada in 2030. A return to Australia could now be on the cards, with New South Wales mooted as a potential destination.

Should Australia host the Games, it would show the CGF’s reliance on the nation and Britain, which would potentially have hosted four consecutive editions. This dependence appears to have led to the new strategic roadmap published in October, aimed at delivering a smaller, easier and less costly event to enhance the pool of potential hosts.

The CGF has expressed confidence a 2026 host will be named in March, which would ensure a handover at the end of the Birmingham 2022 Closing Ceremony. The future host would have a similar timeframe to Birmingham 2022, which were confirmed as the replacement for Durban with a lead-in of just over four years.

Increased female representation

Birmingham 2022 will mark the first Commonwealth Games as chief executive for Katie Sadleir, who started work in November. Sadleir was appointed as the replacement for David Grevemberg in August.

It marks a rare organisation with both a female President and chief executive.

Petra Sörling became the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) first female President last month. She is just the third current female President of a Summer Olympic International Federation, alongside World Triathlon’s Marisol Casado and the International Golf Federation’s Annika Sörenstam.

Sörling told insidethegames earlier this month that she hopes to "open the door" for more women to gain positions of power within sport, admitting she had been "pretty much alone" when climbing the ladder.

Women's representation is improving, but with 2022 on the horizon, like with many other topics among the Olympic movement, there is still a long way to go.