By Tom Degun, republished from Inside the Games.
With London 2012 already feeling like a distant memory, 2013 has dawned.
And in the Olympic Movement, these next 12 months is likely to prove the most important and dramatic year for some time.
It is a year that will see a host city selected for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a new sport join the 2020 Olympic programme as one is almost certainly removed) and the small matter of a new International Olympic Committee (IOC) President elected.
Rather significantly, all three of these major decisions will be made within a matter of days, and all of them during the 125th IOC Session in the Argentinian capital city Buenos Aires this September.
The Session itself will take place at the five-star Buenos Aires Hilton between September 7 and 10, and the luxurious establishment should prove up to IOC standards given that recent guests include former US President Bill Clinton.
In the Olympic world, much of 2013 will consist of speculation as to what will happen in one of South America’s most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities when the good and great come together under the IOC flag.
It is still difficult to call, as nine months is a long time in Olympic Movement, but one could make informed guesses.
In the race for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo are jostling to follow Rio de Janeiro as the next host city.
Spain’s major economic problems have so far left Madrid’s bid trailing behind the other two. But I am warned by many senior figures never to count Madrid out, especially with Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior in their ranks.
The younger Samaranch does not wield nearly the same influence as his legendary father, Juan Antonio Samaranch Senior, who served as IOC President from 1980 to 2001 and completely transformed the organisation.
But the Samaranch name does still have the support of many loyal followers in the IOC, and Junior’s recent election to the IOC Executive Board could prove significant.
But even with Samaranch Junior, Madrid simply does not appear to have the stable economic foundations Istanbul and Tokyo do right now and that is a major factor with the IOC.
Tokyo seems the safe option having got to this stage relatively unscathed while Istanbul, looking to stage the Games in a Muslim country for the first time, has had internal trouble due to a conflicting bid for Euro 2020, which they hope has now been resolved by the radical plan of UEFA President Michel Platini to stage the continent’s premier football tournament across several different countries.
The IOC Evaluation Commission, led by Britain’s Sir Craig Reedie, will shed further light on the issue following their visit to the three cities in March but it is difficult to look outside Turkey and Japan at the moment.
Also on the agenda, the new sport to join the 2020 Olympic programme.
The seven bidders are climbing, karate, roller sport, squash, wakeboard, wushu and a joint baseball/softball bid.All have been visited by the IOC, and have presented to the Programme Commission, who are reluctant to give too much away, making the contest difficult to call.
But it is fair to say that karate, squash and the joint baseball/softball bid have been the most proactive in getting their message out so far. Whether this will play a big factor is difficult to say, although it is unlikely to any harm.
Equally intriguing is which sport could make way to accommodate a new entrant, and modern pentathlon will perhaps be most wary of the axe, even though any sport would understandably feel hard done by after all enjoyed successful London 2012. Either way, time, and Buenos Aires, will tell.
That brings me to the final contest in Argentina, which is perhaps the most important. The IOC Presidency.
The race to replace Jacques Rogge in one of the most powerful roles in sport is already well underway, and it won’t be anything like the last one.
Rogge took the helm easily in 2001 as Samaranch’s chosen successor. Rogge though, who is not exactly out of the Samaranch mould, has made it clear that he will stay well out of this one.
Leading the candidates is Germany’s Thomas Bach, the IOC vice-president who seems to be the name on everyone’s lips. Bach has been discreetly campaigning for several years now and offers a safe option as a respected lawyer from mainland Europe to maintain the IOC’s statue as one of the biggest and most influential organisations in the world.
Remember, of the seven IOC Presidents, only one has been a non-European – the American Avery Brundage who was in charge from 1952 to 1972.
Bach’s most vocal potential rival so far is Ng Ser Miang of Singapore, another IOC vice-president with a strong powerbase in Asia.
He drew huge praise after heading the successful, inaugural Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games and has made little secret of his desire to stand, although like everyone else he has stopped short of actually declaring “I’m in”.
Puerto Rico’s Richard Carrion is another leading contender. A high profile banker by profession, he chairs the IOC’s Finance Commission and Audit Commission which has allowed him to build strong support in the Movement.
CK Wu of Taiwan appears the dark horse after the AIBA President showed himself an election master in becoming the leader of world boxing in 2006 and then again in crushing Ireland’s Pat McQuaid last year in an election to join the IOC Executive Board.
Among the outside contenders are René Fasel and Denis Oswald, both of Switzerland, and Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel. Moutawakel has long been tipped to become the first female IOC President, but 2013 may be too early for such a radical move just yet.
While no one has officially declared their candidacy, British bookmakers Ladbrokes have made Bach the even-money favourite, with Carrion and Ng at 2-1 and 6-4, respectively.
But like the other races, all will be decided in Buenos Aires.
The Argentinian city is itself currently involved in a bid race for the 2018 Youth Olympics with Glasgow, Guadalajara, Medellin, and Rotterdam.
That race incidentally, will also be decided in 2013 in July.
But it is undoubtedly the 125th IOC Session in September that will shape the next decade of Olympic Movement.
It’s going to be a fascinating few months.