If Thomas Bach were not a man of the world, he could easily be imagined as a successful businessman in other walks of life. In a car dealership, he would have the office with the most beautiful view, and his most loyal customers would get luxury cars that are considered sold out. At the weekly market, he would always get a taste as he walked by, because he makes sure the best vendors get the stalls at the entrance. In the local cinema he would always have a seat free for his acquaintances. No matter how full the movie theater.
But Thomas Bach has long since found the best job for him: He has been president of the world's most important sports organization since 2013. And will remain so. His re-election on the digital 137. IOC session considered safe today, Bach has no opposing candidate.
Dagmar Freitag: This is how Thomas Bach secures his power
Bach is neither big nor small, neither particularly original nor witty. His statements on sports policy are limited to platitudes. His appearance matches his image: friendly, smooth, aloof. How could this unaming man make it to the top of the IOC?
"The IOC was and is an exclusive circle of sports political power, and in the end, thanks to the Olympic Games, a gigantic business model," says Sports Committee Chairwoman Dagmar Freitag (SPD). "The keyboard necessary for the success of the business model is undoubtedly played by President Bach in a virtuoso manner, thereby also securing his own unchallenged power."
To describe Thomas Bach's doings, people often refer back to his sports career: Bach won team gold as a fencer at the 1976 Olympics. Without question an outstanding achievement, but in the context of his work as IOC president, what generally happens on the planche comes across as much more plausible: acting and reacting, attacking at the right moment, and withdrawing. The now 67-year-old from Tauberbischhofsheim has held many jobs in his life, and they always seemed to follow this pattern.
Criticism rolls off Thomas Bach's back
As an athlete, he became involved as an athlete spokesman, improved his eloquence and took a liking to the role of a lobbyist. In 1982 he became a member of the National Olympic Committee, and in 1991 of the IOC. He has been vice president since 2000, with a brief interruption. Early on, the lawyer also rose in the business world: The highly controversial Adidas boss Horst Dassler made him director of international promotion in 1985. Bach was president of the much-criticized Ghorfa association, which represents the interests of all Arab chambers of commerce in Germany. As a consultant for various companies Bach took a lot of money. But criticism of the expensive contracts repeatedly rolled off him. Bach parries, Bach attacks.
When he ran for IOC president in 2013, he was able to rally key supporters behind him, including Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmed al-Sabah, the kingmaker. In 2021, he won't even need it anymore: Sole ruler Bach has the other 101 voting IOC members under his thumb, there is no pronounced culture of debate. In short: He is the IOC. So Bach doesn't have to rely on al-Sabah anymore, nor could he: the 57-year-old is currently on trial in Geneva for forging documents, so al-Sabah is putting his IOC membership on hold.
Bach shows up with Kim Jong-un or Vladimir Putin
The duet with the mighty is Bach's parade discipline. He likes to pose with the rulers, always in the spirit of the sport's message of peace, of course. One sees him with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un or with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. The 2014 Sochi Winter Games sunk in the biggest doping scandal in history. Bach cleverly withdrew, defends his post to this day. "I was surprised how close and yet unapproachable Thomas Bach is. 'Just a politician,' Johannes Vetter, javelin world champion in 2017, says of him, for example.
The award process for the 2032 Olympics fits the bill. Bach's close ally John Coates, IOC vice president and chairman of the Australian NOC, created the evaluation commission that now recommended the Australian candidate Brisbane. Again, relationships seem to be involved, the Rhine-Ruhr initiative is therefore considered to have failed.
Thomas Bach leads "ship in stormy times"
Australia is a safe host for the IOC in the Corona crisis. And Bach a secure president who has brought the Order of the Ring record revenues in TV marketing and sponsorship deals. "Eight years ago, Thomas Bach took on what was undoubtedly a difficult legacy at the IOC and, at the same time, probably the most difficult task at the helm of world sport," says DOSB President Alfons Hormann. And Thomas Weikert, German president of the table tennis world federation ITTF, adds: "Thomas Bach is steering a ship through stormy times. He's often criticized, but you just have to say he's doing a good job overall in these difficult times."
But stability, if it exists, is always short-lived. After the Summer Games in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter Games are planned for Beijing. Fresh trouble brewing over Uighur repression. Bach will parry as long as it takes.