EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH IOC PRESIDENT THOMAS BACH

12 June 2024

Eurosport spoke exclusively to Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, to get the latest on plans for the upcoming Olympic Summer Games at Paris 2024.

Below is an extract of the interview, which is set to be broadcast on a special episode of The Power of the Olympics this evening on Eurosport 1.

You're in charge of your third Olympic Games. Just set the scene for me right now. What does it look like for you?
It’s a busy time, but it's an exciting time. All the preparations are going very well. We see the Olympic flame inspiring France and we feel the anticipation of the entire world. Because, all the people around the globe, they are fed up with all the news about wars, conflict, sanctions, hate, aggression. I think we all in our hearts longing for something that unites us, brings us together and gives us hope. And therefore, it's an exciting time and we want to give this hope to the people around the globe.

The torch relay is happening in France. How welcoming have the French people been to the torch relay on its journey to Paris?
I must say, I was overwhelmed. To see the images from the Marseilles, 230,000 people are welcoming. The flame, the ship, the French colours in the air, the Olympic rings being produced in the in the sky, it was overwhelming. I must admit at some moments, I had tears in my eyes seeing this.

Let's talk about gender parity. It’s the first games where we get to see the exact same number of men and women competing. How much does that mean to you and the Games?
We were working for this since the inception of our Olympic agenda in 2014. And we got there step by step, we made the first modest progress in Rio, because there was not much time, from 2014 to 16. Then we made a bigger step to Tokyo where we got close. And then finally, for a Paris, we managed together with the International Federations to allocate the exact same number of qualification places for female and male athletes. And there, you will see a very happy men.

On the Opening Ceremony, what were your thoughts when someone first came to you and said, this is what we'd like to do this year – have the ceremony on the Seine?
The approach was the following - we had an Opening Ceremony in the open in 2018, at the US Olympic Games, and this worked extremely well, we had hundreds of thousands of people there in the main avenue in Buenos Aires, around the obelisk, and there was great emotion. And there then, still in Buenos Aires, I turned to Tony Estanguet and said, Tony, I could imagine this in Paris. And Tony said it would be very difficult. We kept talking and came back to the idea from time to time. And then Tony said, you know, I need first consult security, the authorities, but I think it's really a good idea. And then at one moment, I said, you could do it on the Champs-Élysées. And then one day, Tony came back and said, I think we are there. This is the good news for you, because you wanted it. But the bad news is, it will not be the Champs-Élysées. So I said, where is it? And he said the Champs-Élysées. I said this is even better news than the first one, because this idea is brilliant, much better than any other solution. So, I was excited from the very beginning. Also knowing that from the very beginning, all the security services were included there in the decision making, all the authorities were included in the in the decision making, so that we can look forward now with great anticipation to real goosebumps moments.

Do you have any security concerns for the Opening Ceremony?
We have full confidence in the in the French authorities. They have been a part of this process from the very beginning. We are getting regular information and everyone is very, very meticulous and very professional. And they also benefit from a great cooperation from other intelligence services around the globe. So, we really have full confidence in the French authorities and the international partners.

Do you feel Paris maybe has even a greater responsibility to put on one of the best Games there has been considering what we have gone through in recent times?
This is the responsibility of any Organising Committee, they always have to pull off the best Games ever. And this is why you should never compare editions of the Games. Each edition of the game should be authentic, and should not be a copy of another edition of the Olympic Games. If there would be copies, it would get boring over time. So, each edition of the Games must show innovation, must show the culture of the host country, and must lead the way. And so far, in Paris, all the ingredients are there. But we're in sport, you know, a match starts and 26th of July and then the final whistle will be at the closing ceremony.

 

How important is not only the refugee team, but what we're trying to do as Warner Bros. Discovery with the Home Crowd initiative?
We are extremely grateful for what you're doing and how you're doing it. I'm really excited. I've seen some images. You're presenting it in a great way, because you're talking, not just about the team as if the team just fell from heaven, you're showing all the hardships each and every one of them was going through to get here. And this is the real message of the refugee team. You can show what humans can achieve, how resilient and how strong human beings can be and how our sport can help them to overcome these challenges. And how much and refugees with these human qualities are an enrichment to every society. With the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, we want to show what an enrichment of they are to our Olympic community. So, thank you for doing it and how you’re doing it.

One of your most high-profile refugee members is Yusra Mardini. Did you know she's going to be a reporter for Warner Bros. Discovery?
Yes, I know, because we are in regular contact. I think for her, it's a great opportunity, because she has to look at life after sport. She’s studying been studying in LA, but it will be her first really professional challenge. So, thank you for giving her this opportunity and I'm sure she will work there with all the determination and will she has shown over her whole career in sport and beyond sport.

How do you manage to see all the sports?
I manage. Before I came president, I had a bet with another IOC colleague and friend about who would manage to see all the sports in one edition of the games. And this bet was on since 92 in Barcelona and both of us never managed. And then in Rio, my first games as President, I managed. I won the bet. But I told him he doesn’t need to pay, which would have been very good to bottle of red wine, because I had the unfair advantage of the privileges of an IOC President. So, we were shaking hands and all good. And therefore, it's a challenge. But I'll make it. How we do it there, you have to ask other people in my office, they put this jigsaw puzzle together somehow!

Watch the full interview with Thomas Bach tonight on a special episode of The Power of the Olympics on Eurosport 1 from 6pm (BST) / 7pm (CEST). Check local listings.

Warner Bros. Discovery is the Home of the Olympics in Europe and its streaming platforms – Max and discovery+* - will be the only place to watch every moment of the Olympics – all 3,800 hours of live action - this summer. In addition, Eurosport’s channels will provide wall-to-wall live coverage for sports fans across the 19 days of competition.

* Max is available across the Nordics, Iberia, Central and Eastern Europe – and will be the only place to watch Paris 2024 in the markets where Max is available. discovery+ is the streaming platform for Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. 

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