IOC approves new bidding process

MONACO -- Thomas Bach never thought it would be this easy.

In rapid fashion and without a single vote against or even an abstention, the International Olympic Committee on Monday overwhelmingly approved its president's 40-point reform package -- the biggest shake-up of the organization in decades.

"Even in my wildest dreams I would not have expected this," Bach said after the delegates unanimously backed his plans for a more affordable bidding system, creation of an Olympic television channel and a more flexible sports program. "That it would go this way was a very, very positive surprise."

Bach moved decisively since his election in September 2013 to put his stamp on the presidency and rally support for his "Olympic Agenda 2020" reforms, marking the most sweeping changes since the Salt Lake City bid scandal in 1999.

A vote scheduled to take place over 1½ days was wrapped up in just one day. The only thing that didn't pass unanimously was a suggestion for a coffee break.

"I hope in 20 years I can look back to this day with satisfaction and happiness and maybe a little bit of relief," Bach said.

Among other measures approved was the rewording of the IOC's non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation -- a move that followed the controversy over Russia's law against gay "propaganda" ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC abolished the cap of 28 sports for the Summer Games to move to an "events-based" system that would allow new competitions to come in, while keeping to about 10,500 athletes and 310 medal events.

Host cities will also be allowed to propose the inclusion of one or more additional events for their games.

The new rules clear the way for Tokyo organizers to request that baseball and softball be included in the 2020 Games. Both sports, dropped after the 2008 Beijing Games, are highly popular in Japan.

"Today, there is excitement circulating around the baseball and softball world and there is great hope that our athletes will now have a real opportunity ... to play for their country, aiming to win an Olympic gold medal," said Riccardo Fraccari, president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

Other sports like squash and karate are also hopeful of joining the Tokyo program. In addition, new disciplines and events within existing sports could also be considered. Some events may need to be dropped to make room for new ones.

"This is a major breakthrough," senior Canadian member Dick Pound said. "We were at a dead-end situation with 28 sports. This provides the flexibility we need."

The new bidding process, meanwhile, is aimed at making the system cheaper and more flexible to attract future candidates -- including the option of holding events outside the host city or country.

The votes came at a time when many countries have been scared off by the costs of hosting the Olympics, including the reported $51 billion associated with the Sochi Games. Several cities withdrew from the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the running.

The new system makes the process more of an "invitation" and allows prospective candidates to discuss their plans in advance with the IOC to tailor games to their own needs.

In the most radical change, the reforms open the door to possible joint bids by cities, neighboring countries or regions.

Bach said joint bids or events held in different countries would be allowed only "in exceptional cases."

The IOC backed the launch of a digital TV channel -- possibly as early as next year -- to promote Olympic sports between the games and engage with young viewers. The channel will feature material from the IOC's archives, transmit some international sports competitions and offer a promotional platform for bid cities.

The IOC said the channel -- to be run by the Madrid-based Olympic Broadcasting Services -- will cost $600 million to operate over the first seven years, with the goal of breaking even in the first decade.

The new Principle 6 clause says the Olympics should be free of discrimination "of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Former Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis said the new wording removes all doubt about the interpretation of the clause.

"Today's move will make it clear about open hearts and open minds in the spirit of the Olympic Games," he said.