We are at the start of a great Olympic Year 2018. When the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 begin in just a few weeks, it will be the first time that the magic of Olympic sport on snow and ice will come to the Republic of Korea. It will showcase a modern Korea and connect its passion to the world.
Thanks to the excellent work of the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee, the stage is set for the best winter sport athletes of the world to amaze us all with their sporting performances.
At the same time, we know about the political tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The IOC has addressed them already since 2015. This happened through close contact with the leaders of governments and National Olympic Committees concerned.
In all these discussions, the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 were never put in doubt. On the contrary, we feel support for our position that the Olympic Games must always be beyond all political division. The Olympic Games are about dialogue. They are a symbol of hope and peace. In our troubled times, they are the only event that brings the whole world together in peaceful competition. To ensure this for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, we keep monitoring the situation very closely.
It was not an easy road to get to this point. In the last few weeks, the IOC had to address an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport. Based on the findings of the Schmid Commission looking into the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, the IOC Executive Board had to suspend the Russian National Olympic Committee, while creating a path for clean individual athletes to compete in PyeongChang.
After 17 months of painstaking work, we can confidently say that due process was followed throughout. The decision sanctions those responsible for the past violations while creating a path forward for the future. This proportional sanction could draw a line under this damaging episode. It was a difficult decision but it was a necessary one to ensure the integrity of the Olympic Games. If everyone draws the right conclusions, it could serve as a catalyst for a more robust anti-doping system under the leadership of WADA.
Despite all these challenges, the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 promise to be very successful and this will just be the beginning of an exciting Olympic year 2018. There are many other events to look forward to, both on and off the field of play, where we will see more reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 come to fruition.
One of these reforms is the new format for the Youth Olympic Games. The first to showcase our new approach will be the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, which will be more youthful, more urban, and more female. It will be the first Olympic program with complete gender equality, a 50-50 balance, with the same number of girls and boys taking part in the same number of sport events. This will be another milestone in our continued efforts under Olympic Agenda 2020 to promote gender equality.
With an exciting new format and new sports and disciplines, the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 promise to be a festival of sport, youth and culture. The opening ceremony in the center of this passionate sports city and the new “parks concept” will bring a new dimension to the YOG, engaging the local population in many activities beyond the actual sport events themselves. In this way, the YOG will be an exciting testing ground for new ideas of engaging young people through sport.
Another direct result of Olympic Agenda 2020 will be the very first “Olympism in Action” Forum, taking place in Buenos Aires just ahead of the YOG. It will bring together a community of around 2,000 stakeholders from the Olympic Movement, business, politics and civil society. In this new format, we will discuss the most important topics on the agenda of sport and society in the modern world, covering a wide range of subjects including education and health, the future of the Olympic Games, good governance, digitalization, e-Games/sport among others. The “Olympism in Action” Forum will also benefit from the contribution of many young athletes taking part in the YOG.
One of the major projects of Olympic Agenda 2020 is the Olympic Channel. Now in its second year of existence, the Olympic Channel will provide more live sporting events and engage the audience with new interactive programs. In this Olympic year, the focus will also be on enhancing the broadcast of PyeongChang 2018 and providing live coverage from YOG to bring the performances of the young athletes to every corner of the globe.
In doing so, the Olympic Channel can build on a strong foundation of having already reached over one billion video views across all platforms so far. Creating content for a new generation of sports fans in engaging ways is another key priority as the Olympic Channel continues to attract a young audience. 82 percent of those engaging with Olympic Channel content on social media are below the age of 35, showing that we are moving in the right direction.
Olympic Agenda 2020 has a strong focus on reforming the candidature procedure for the Olympic Games, reducing costs for cities and providing greater flexibility to tailor the Games to local, regional and national development goals. In this context, the new candidature procedure for the Olympic Winter Games 2026 is already underway, with a dialogue phase that puts the focus on a deeper partnership between the IOC and candidate cities from the outset. The IOC has already entered into a preliminary dialogue with a number of cities and NOCs on three continents.
Another pillar of Olympic Agenda 2020 is to make the organization of the Games more feasible and sustainable. In this respect, the new Games Management 2020 program, which will be made public at beginning of 2018, will play a key role to control costs and will allow for savings of several hundreds of millions of US dollars for the Organizing Committees of Olympic Games. Already now, these reforms for more feasible and sustainable Games resonate positively with future organizing committees and is showing positive results for their budgets. In 2018, the IOC will have to make sure that these benefits are communicated to the wider public as well.
Guided by Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC will be a partner in the establishment of the independent Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018, together with a coalition consisting of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labor Organization, sport organizations, NGOs and many others. It is the latest illustration of the relevance of sport in our modern world.
The same holds true for the IOC’s leadership role to combat corruption in sport. In this regard, the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), a multi-stakeholder platform founded by IOC in 2017, will play an even more important role in cooperation with our partners, which include other international sports organizations, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe and many governments. IPACS will develop tools and practical solutions to help improve governance and ensure the integrity of sport across all levels.
With all these and more activities we will address the challenges that society and sport are facing in our fragile world. Stability is perhaps the most valuable currency of our times.
As we have demonstrated in 2017 through our many long-term partnerships with sponsors and broadcasters, and with the double-allocation of the Olympic Games 2024 and 2028 to Paris and Los Angeles respectively, the Olympic Movement continues to be an anchor of stability in our fast-changing world.
This is why we can start this new year 2018 with confidence – but not complacency. What better time than the beginning of an Olympic year to remind ourselves that sport is always about the joy of life and confidence in the future.
In this spirit of optimism and confidence, I wish you a happy and prosperous Olympic Year 2018.
* Thomas Bach is the President of the International Olympic Committee.