BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Within minutes of being elected to the top job in the Olympics, Thomas Bach got a phone call from a powerful leader he’ll work with closely in the next few months: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bach, a 59-year-old German lawyer, was elected Tuesday as president of the International Olympic Committee. He succeeds Jacques Rogge, who stepped down after 12 years.
Bach, the longtime favourite, defeated five other candidates in the secret ballot for the most influential job in international sports, keeping the presidency in European hands.
The former Olympic fencer received 49 votes in the second round to secure a winning majority. Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico finished second with 29 votes.
One of the first congratulatory phone calls came from Putin, who will host the IOC in less than five months at the Winter Olympics in the southern Russian resort of Sochi.
The Sochi Games are one of Putin’s pet projects, with Russia’s prestige on the line.
“He congratulated and (said) there would be close co-operation to make the success of Sochi Games sure,’ Bach told The Associated Press.
The buildup to the Feb. 7-23 games, however, has been overshadowed by concerns with cost overruns, human rights, a budget topping $50 billion, security threats and a Western backlash against a Russian law against gay “propaganda.”
Bach and the IOC have been told by the Russians there would be no discrimination against anyone in Sochi, and that Russia would abide by the Olympic Charter.
“We have the assurances of the highest authorities in Russia that we trust,” Bach said.
It remains unclear what would happen if athletes or spectators demonstrate against the anti-gay law. Rogge said this week that the IOC would soon send a reminder to athletes that, under the Olympic Charter, they are prohibited from making any political gestures.
“We will work on our project now and then it will be communicated to the NOCs (national Olympic committees) and then athletes,” Bach said.
“It will be elaborated more in detail.”
Earlier, Bach said his first priority would be to celebrate, and his second to get ready for Sochi.
“We have to prepare well,” he said, “and I’m sure the games will be a great success.”
A former Olympic fencing gold medallist who heads Germany’s national Olympic committee, Bach is the ninth president in the 119-year history of the IOC. He’s the eighth European to hold the presidency.
Of the IOC’s leaders, all have come from Europe except for Avery Brundage, the American who ran the committee from 1952-72.
Bach is also the first gold medallist to become IOC president. He won gold in team fencing for West Germany in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
He received a standing ovation for nearly a full minute after Rogge opened a sealed envelope to announce his victory. Bach bowed slightly to the delegates to acknowledge the warm response and thanked the members in several languages.
“This is a really overwhelming sign of trust and confidence,” Bach said.
“I want to be a president for all of you,” he told the members. “This means I will do my very best to balance well all the different interests of the stakeholders of the Olympic movement. This is why I want to listen to you and to enter in an ongoing dialogue with all of you. You should know that my door, my ears and my heart are always open for you.”
Bach has long been viewed as the favourite because of his resume: former Olympic athlete, long-serving member of the policy-making IOC executive board, chairman of the legal commission, head of anti-doping investigations and negotiator of European TV rights.
“It is what I and many of the others had anticipated,” said IOC member Prince Albert of Monaco. “I think it was very clear. You can’t argue with his experience and his leadership and his great knowledge about the Olympic movement and the world of sports, and also the outside world. I think we are getting a great president.”
Bach was elected to an eight-year term. In 2021, he would be eligible to run for a second and final four-term term.
Bach presented the 71-year-old Rogge with the IOC’s highest award, the Olympic gold order. The German could be overheard saying, to a few laughs, “I have to get used to this.”
After awarding the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo and bringing wrestling back into the games, the IOC completed the last of its three critical votes — choosing the person to lead the body for the most powerful job in international sports.
Bach’s supporters had hoped for a first-round win, but a second-round victory still showed that he had a big base of support.