Bach rules out lifting of ban on IOC member visits to Olympic bid cities



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FILE - In this Wednesday, July 9, 2014 file photo, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach speaks during a press conference after an executive board meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. IOC leaders gather in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux this week to put the finishing touches on a package of reforms, including changes to the bidding process and sports program and creation of an Olympic television channel. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott, File)


LONDON — The IOC pushed forward Thursday with plans to revamp the troubled Olympic bidding process by making it more of an "invitation" rather than an "application" — but upheld the ban on member visits to candidate cities.

The International Olympic Committee executive board also pressed ahead with proposals to make the sports program more flexible — including the possibility of adding baseball and softball to the 2020 Tokyo Games — and backed plans to set up an Olympic television channel.

The issues were debated at a two-day meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, where the board finalized proposals that will be put to a vote by the full IOC membership in Monaco from Dec. 8-9.

The package of reforms form the core of IOC President Thomas Bach's "Olympic Agenda 2020," his blueprint for the future of the Olympic movement.

Member visits to bid cities were barred following the 1999 vote-buying scandal involving Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Ten IOC members resigned or were expelled for taking cash, gifts, travel and other inducements.

A possible reinstatement of visits was discussed by the executive board as part of Bach's agenda. While he declined to give specifics of recommendations on other matters before informing IOC members, Bach directly ruled out a return of visits.

"I hope my executive board members and other members will forgive me if I say here already, but there will be no recommendation for a change in this regard," Bach said in a conference call with reporters.

Reinstating visits would have opened the IOC to criticism of going back on its reforms and exposing the bid process to corruption.

Bach was less clear on possible changes to the IOC's 70-year age limit, which also was enacted following the Salt Lake scandal. He said only "there will be some recommendations" about the structure and membership of the IOC.

Bach said a total of 40 recommendations would be put to the assembly in Monaco. Details will be sent to IOC members in mid-November, he said.

Overhauling the bid process is one of Bach's key reforms. The issue took on added urgency following Oslo's recent withdrawal from the race for the 2022 Winter Games, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan in the running.

Several cities dropped out or decided not to bid because of concerns over the costs, especially in light of the $51 billion price tag associated with the Sochi Winter Games.

Bach said the goal of the recommendations was "to turn the bidding procedure into more of an invitation for discussions and partnership with the IOC rather than just an application for a tender."

"What we did in the past was send out a paper at a certain point in time saying, 'If you want to bid for the games, here are the conditions you have to fulfill, so you better tick all the boxes in the questionnaire because otherwise you have no chance,'" Bach said.

"In the future, we want to invite potential bidding cities to study how Olympic Games would fit best into their social, sports, economic and ecological environments, then present this plan to us," he added. "Then we are ready to discuss and give our advice rather than just judge what has been presented to us."

Bach noted there has already been "very strong interest" from prospective bidders for the 2024 Summer Games. Cities in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa and Qatar are among potential candidates.

Bach said other proposals will add "more flexibility" to the Olympics sports program. Currently, the IOC has a limit of 28 sports and 10,500 athletes for the Summer Games. Bach said specific sports and numbers were not mentioned.

He reiterated that there would be flexibility for changes in mutual agreement with organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Games. That includes the option of adding baseball and softball, which were dropped after the 2008 Olympics but are very popular in Japan.

Bach said the board received a positive feasibility study on the creation of an Olympic TV channel, which would promote Olympic sports and ideals between games. It would include a mix of sports coverage, archive footage, news and other programming.

While officials have said the channel could be launched next year, Bach declined to give a timetable.

"Putting such a worldwide channel together is not going to happen within just a couple of months," he said. "The timing of the launch is not essential. We would launch at the time when we are ready."

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