As Olympic Year 2016 came to a close, we see that sport is one of the few things with the power to unite all people in an increasingly fragile world. Sport is an anchor of stability for so many people, regardless of background, nationality or belief. For me, this is the underlying reason that explains the success of the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Like no other event in 2016, it brought the entire international community together in celebration, with athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees as well as the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. It was a rare moment of unity and solidarity for all humankind.
We saw new records, great emotions, fair-play and sportsmanship. The participation of the Refugee Olympic Team sent a strong signal of hope to the millions of refugees in the world. The world’s best athletes set a powerful example that it is possible to engage in peaceful competition. For all these reasons, the Olympic Games Rio 2016 will be remembered as the marvelous Games in the Marvelous City.
This unique power of sport to unite all of humanity is one of the most important things that the Olympic Games can give us in our troubled times. In a world where mistrust and uncertainty are on the rise, sport is a source of joy and inspiration for so many people, giving us hope that our shared humanity is stronger than the forces that want to divide us.
Half the world’s population tuned into Games coverage, making Rio 2016 the most-consumed Olympic Games in history, when one takes into account broadcast and social media. The explosion of social media platforms in recent years meant that more people than ever followed these Olympic Games via social media, with 7.2 billion views of official video content. An international survey has found that these Olympic Games are strongly associated with positive attributes such as “excellence”, “friendship” and “respect”, among many others.
With this global visibility comes responsibility for the world of sport. Because of the unifying power of sport, there are high hopes and even higher expectations for sports organizations from the general public – and rightly so. The role of sport in society is more relevant today than ever before. Consequently, sports organizations everywhere, need to justify the trust that people have placed in sport.
Outside of Rio 2016, we saw the growing relevance of sport in society in a number of different areas during this landmark Olympic year. It began with the very successful Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016, where the spirit and energy of the next generation of young athletes set the tone for the rest of the year.
There was unanimous support for the Refugee Olympic Team from the UN Secretary-General, the UN General Assembly and from many heads of state and government. In a further expression of the close cooperation between the IOC and the UN, a resolution with consensus from all the Member States reaffirmed the UN’s recognition of the autonomy of the IOC and the role of sport as an important enabler of sustainable development.
The first global conference on faith and sport held at the Vatican at the initiative of Pope Francis brought together the UN Secretary-General and the IOC with faith leaders to discuss the promotion of common values.
The launch of the Olympic Channel gave the sports movement a digital platform to spread our messages and values to young people everywhere. Making the magic of the Olympic Games available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, we already have more than 382 million video views of Olympic Channel content across all of its social media pages.
So as 2016 came to an end, we have many reasons to celebrate a successful Olympic Year. At the same time, there are no reasons to be complacent.
In sport, the success of today means nothing for tomorrow. As an athlete, I learned that your performance will ultimately be judged by how you rise to the occasion. The success of today only gives you the strength to address the challenges of tomorrow.
This is the same approach that the Olympic Movement will take to tackle the challenges that lie ahead this year. There are many challenges on our agenda, so we cannot afford to stand still. We need to rise to the occasion in the new year.
The most immediate challenge is the shocking findings of the recent McLaren report on doping and manipulation in Russia that have caused damage to the credibility and integrity of sport. Two IOC commissions have been set up to coordinate our response. They will respect the due process and give all sides a fair chance to be heard. Following this, the IOC will take all appropriate measures and sanctions.
We will continue and extend the work of Professor McLaren. Since his mandate did not include a full re-analysis of all samples, we will re-examine all 254 urine samples collected from Russian athletes at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. We will do the same with all the Russian athletes’ samples from the Olympic Games London 2012. It is only fair for the credibility of the Olympic Games and for peace of mind of the athletes that we take these extra measures.
The latest developments underscore the urgent need for a strengthened, centralized anti-doping system under the leadership of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that is independent of sports organizations and governments alike. This is why the IOC will continue to call for a more efficient, more transparent and more robust anti-doping system, as unanimously supported by all stakeholders at the most recent Olympic Summit.
Another priority on our agenda is the preparation for the Olympic Winter Games Pyeong Chang 2018, which will be the first of three consecutive Olympic Games to be held in Asia. The many test events in Pyeong Chang this winter will be an important milestone on the road to what will be exceptional Olympic Winter Games in 2018.
The implementation of Olympic Agenda 2020 remains an ongoing priority, with more than 90 per cent of the expected deliverables completed or ongoing. The IOC has already implemented all good governance measures that were called for under Olympic Agenda 2020 and we expect other sport organizations to follow this lead.
Another major step towards the realization of Olympic Agenda 2020 will come in 2017 at our Olympism in Action Forum in Lima, Peru, where the role of sport in society will be addressed under the key themes of credibility, sustainability and youth.
Even though Tokyo was selected as Host City for the Olympic Games 2020 before the adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020, it is one of the first organizers to benefit from the new focus on flexibility, feasibility and sustainability. Following these principles has already helped Tokyo 2020 to realize significant overall savings, which we will continue to pursue with the local partners. In fact, the budget of the Organizing Committee is privately funded, which means zero cost to the public purse.
With the excellent candidatures of Los Angeles, Budapest and Paris, we can already say with confidence that the world can look forward to outstanding Olympic Games 2024, whichever city is chosen as host. All three cities submitted projects fully in line with Olympic Agenda 2020 of how the Olympic Games can best fit into the long-term vision for the sustainable development of their cities. It is also clear that without the new flexibility under Olympic Agenda 2020, there would be no Candidates Cities at all for the Olympic Games 2024.
On a more long-term perspective, we need to recognize that the current candidature process produces too many losers. Therefore, we need to study ways to reform the candidature process beyond 2024, to ensure that the best host city is selected for the Olympic Games while minimizing the losers.
Following the successful launch of the Olympic Channel, our focus must now lie on growing the audience and our reach. In 2017, efforts will concentrate on developing localized versions of the Olympic Channel, offering region- and language-specific content on linear and digital platforms. A significant milestone in this process was just recently announced with the new linear Olympic Channel in the US, set to launch during the second half of 2017.
The success of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 has shown us what it is possible when the world comes together in peace and solidarity as it did at the Olympic Games. So it is with this firmly in mind that we look toward 2017 with a renewed sense of purpose.
Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous New Year.
* Thomas Bach is the president of the International Olympic Committee.