INCHEON, China — Sports must acknowledge its relationship to politics and big business and work with those who run global society while still maintaining its neutrality, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Saturday.
In a speech at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Bach said those relationships must be based on mutual respect. Global political and business leaders need to respect the autonomy of sporting bodies or risk diminishing their positive influence, he added.
"In the past, some have said that sport has nothing to do with politics, or they have said that sport has nothing to do with money or business," Bach said. "And this is just an attitude which is wrong and which we cannot afford anymore. We are living in the middle of society and that means that we have to partner up with the politicians who run this world."
Bach cited the universal application of competition regulations as an example of sports' ability to function as a sort of international law helping promote global peace and development. Allowing countries to set their own rules, in football or athletics for example, would mean that "international sport is over," he said.
"So we need this worldwide application of our rules to ensure also in the future that sport remains this international phenomenon which only sport can offer," Bach said.
Bach said managing the links between sports, business and politics has been a central theme of his first year in office, during which he's met with 81 heads of state and government. He cited the IOC's relationship with the United Nations as particularly successful, calling U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a "great friend of the Olympic Movement and with whom we really enjoy an outstanding partnership and relationship."
The sides last year signed an agreement to explore ways in which sport could support global development and Ban attended both the Sochi Winter Games and the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, last month.
Bach has tried to sought to embed his new approach through a blueprint for reform called "Olympic Agenda 2020" that envisions a more flexible Olympic bidding process and sports program, lower costs for hosting the games, and the creation of a digital channel to promote Olympic sports and values such as fair play. He said that would help maintain the Olympic Movement's relevance to global society in the years between games through a mix of sports coverage, archive footage and other programming.
The reform package will be put to a vote at the special session in Monaco from Dec. 8-9.