Olympic Games open to joint city or country bids, IOC lifts sports limit

Monaco: The International Olympic Committee on Monday voted sweeping reforms to allow Olympic Games to be staged in two countries, to add new sports and create a new television channel. The measures are part of a push by IOC president Thomas Bach to make the Summer and Winter Olympics cheaper to stage and more attractive to the public as it battles increased competition for audiences.

Bach has proposed 40 reforms, his Agenda 2020, to be voted on at a special session of the 104 member IOC in Monaco. The most important measures were passed on the first day and Bach called them "a major step forward in the organisation of the Olympic Games." The IOC allowed for future Games to be hosted by two cities, or two countries, for "sustainability" and "geography" reasons.

While sports such as football have traditionally been spread across several venues outside the host city, these have been exceptional cases. Bach sought the new change to the Olympic Charter to reduce the cost of the Games and to allow smaller countries to bid. Bidding for the Games should become cheaper as the number of presentations will be cut and the IOC will pay more of the costs.

The IOC says it wants more talks with candidate cities on how the Olympics can be made more sustainable, particularly by using existing and temporary facilities. Host cities will also be allowed to suggest a one-off extra sport to the programme, which would have to be approved by the IOC. But the number of athletes will be capped at 10,500 for the Summer Olympics and 2,900 for the Winter Games, which means that if new sports are added, other sports will have to cut the number of medal events.

Baseball boost
Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Games may be among the first to profit from the change. They are pressing for the inclusion of baseball and softball. Squash is also pressing for a place at the Tokyo Olympics and World Squash Federation president N. Ramachandran said the vote had given the sport new hope. There were 26 sports at the London Olympics in 2012, but Franco Carraro, who led the working group on sports, said there could be up to 30 sports at future Games.

An Olympic television channel could be launched as early as next year after the IOC gave overwhelming backing to the plan. Estimated to cost about 450 million euros ($550 million) over seven years, the 24-hour Olympic channel will show sports -- but not live coverage of the Games -- and plunge into the burgeoning interactive market, seeking to appeal to the world's youth. Amongst other key decisions taken was to add "sexual orientation" in the Olympic Charter's declaration on non-discrimination.

It will also change its financial reporting and strengthen ethics measures. Bach has warned that the IOC had to bolster its credibility and transform the Olympics. "If we do not address these challenges here and now we will be hit by them very soon," Bach said at the official opening of the session on Sunday night.

Bach, who has pursued a reform agenda since becoming president in September 2013, said that once the votes are over, the IOC will immediately start talks with organisers of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea, and the Tokyo 2020 Games to see if savings can be made.

The 2012 London Olympics was widely hailed as a success and the Summer Games remains a huge money-earner with US channel NBC paying $7.75 billion (6.3 million euros) for the broadcasting rights to the next six Games. But the Winter Olympics is slumbering. Russia spent more than $50 billion on the Sochi Games this year and there are only two candidates -- Beijing and the Kazakh city of Almaty -- for the 2022 Games.

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