LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach strides through the hotel lobby between meetings with a phone pressed to his ear. Over in one corner of the foyer sits Richard Carrion, deep in discussion with a fellow member. A few tables away, Ng Ser Miang chats with a colleague over a cup of tea.
All in the same room, three leading contenders all quietly engaged in the so-far unofficial campaign for perhaps the most powerful job in world sports: president of the International Olympic Committee.
Just don’t say out loud that that the race is on.
With the election nine months away, the campaign to succeed Jacques Rogge is forging ahead behind the scenes without fanfare, policy platforms, debates – or any declared candidates for that matter.
Rogge, the Belgian surgeon who has led the Olympic body since 2001, steps down at the end of his term in September 2013.
Although no one yet speaks openly about replacing him, the list of potential contenders is an open secret in IOC circles.
The deadline for declaration of candidacies is not until June, three months before the vote in Buenos Aires on Sept. 10. Candidates are likely to wait until closer to the date before announcing their intentions, thereby avoiding the impression of being too hasty or undercutting the outgoing president.
“It’s little by little coming out in the open,” Gerhard Heiberg, a senior IOC member from Norway who is not in the running, told The Associated Press. “It’s still too early, but people are preparing for what’s going to happen. I think that’s good. It’s an open field with many possible candidates and that’s what we want.”
Heading the prospective field are Bach, Carrion and Ng. All three were in Lausanne recently for IOC meetings, and they were hard to miss. While Bach and Ng are vice presidents who sit on the ruling executive board, Carrion is no longer a board member and must make an extra effort from outside the inner circle.
All three also made the trip to Israel for the 70th birthday celebrations of IOC member Alex Gilady earlier this month.
Bach, a German lawyer and former Olympic fencer, shapes up as the favorite. He ticks several boxes: He’s from Europe, the dominant bloc in the IOC. Of the IOC’s eight presidents since 1894, only one – Avery Brundage of the United States – came from outside Europe.
The 58-year-old Bach has been on the executive board – as a regular member or vice president – since 1996. He’s a former Olympic athlete, having won the team foil gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Games. As chairman of the IOC juridical commission, he leads most of the investigations into doping cases. He’s president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation.
Carrion, chairman of Puerto Rico’s largest bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, has made his mark as a money man. Head of the IOC’s finance and audit commissions, he led the negotiations that secured the record $4.38 billion deal with NBC for U.S. TV rights through 2020. Carrion, 60, also oversees the IOC’s financial reserves, which have grown to more than $550 million from $105 million in 2001.
Ng, a 63-year-old member from Singapore, is seen as the candidate from Asia, a continent with growing influence on the world stage. Ng is best known for having led the organizing committee for the inaugural Youth Olympics – Rogge’s pet project – in Singapore in 2010. Whether he can marshal the full backing of Asian members remains key to his chances.
British bookmakers are even listing odds on the race – with Bach the even-money favorite with Ladbrokes, followed by Carrion at 2-1 and Ng at 6-4.
There are a handful of others in the frame.
Nawal El Moutawakel, the Moroccan who won a gold medal in the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, confirmed recently that she was thinking about a possible run. She was elevated to the IOC vice presidency in July and holds a high-profile position as head of the coordination commission for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Another woman, longtime U.S. member and former IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz, is a possible candidate. The former rower, who chairs the women and sports commission, ran for IOC president in 2001, but was eliminated in the first round. DeFrantz has failed in several attempts to return to the executive board since then.
Two Swiss members, Rene Fasel and Denis Oswald, are also weighing their options. Fasel is president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and led the IOC oversight panel for the 2010 Vancouver Games. Oswald, the former longtime head of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, chaired the IOC commissions for the 2004 Athens and 2012 London Games.
“There are a few colleagues who are trying to convince me to run,” Oswald told The Associated Press. “I haven’t decided yet. I will have to assess the situation and my chances. I will make a decision in a few months, probably.”
In the end, a field of four or five candidates would seem likely.
“Nobody is talking openly and declaring any firm intention but it’s always pretty much the same names floating around,” Oswald said. “I have the feeling that more than one (are) in the situation where they don’t know yet and still wait to see how it develops and talk with some people.”
Rogge was elected to an initial eight-year term and was re-elected unopposed to a final four-year mandate in 2009. The succession battle is developing as the 70-year-old Rogge, coming off recent hip replacement surgery, looks his age <0x2014> a far cry from the sturdy and youthful man who took over 12 years go.
Members believe the election campaign should not overshadow the remainder of his presidency.
“Jacques Rogge is still the president and should not be disturbed by candidates going out openly at this stage,” Heiberg said. “I hope the longer it takes before that starts, the better. The closer we get to the day for the voting, the better.”
Holding off before declaring a candidacy can have strategic advantages. Once members become official candidates, they are covered by tight ethics rules that restrict election campaigning.
Under rules drawn up the ethics commission, candidates must limit their travel to promote their campaign. So, until then, members can still benefit from traveling to meetings or conferences where they can approach colleagues and privately discuss the election.
The ethics code also prohibits candidates from using social media to promote themselves and bars them from organizing any public meetings or taking part in any debate. The intention is to “prevent any excesses” and conduct the campaign with “dignity and moderation.”
“In a way I think it’s not a political election,” Oswald said. “It shouldn’t be at least. We know each other pretty well. I don’t think we need to have a campaign the American way. The president who is able to have the best financial support is the one who is going to be able to win pretty much. It’s good that we don’t have something similar.”
Rogge, meanwhile, has pledged to remain neutral in the race. The idea of grooming a successor or endorsing a candidate has never been an issue.
“It’s certainly our president’s attitude in general not to show any preference,” Oswald said. “We have to respect that. I’m pretty sure he won’t give any instruction or show any specific support to anyone.”
For now, the instruction is simple: Shhhh! The campaign has yet to begin.
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