IOC approves revised bidding system, flexible sports program and new Olympic channel

The IOC approved a wide-ranging reform package Monday, including a more affordable bidding process, creation of an Olympic television channel and a more flexible sports program that could bring baseball and softball into the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The IOC also approved the rewording of 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 International Olympic Committee voted in favor of the new rules on the opening day of a special session to adopt President Thomas Bach's 40-point "Olympic Agenda 2020" program, the biggest changes in the IOC in decades.

All the recommendations were approved unanimously in one day, rather than the scheduled 1 1/2 days.

"This Olympic Agenda 2020 is like a jigsaw puzzle," Bach told the delegates. "Now that you have approved all the recommendations, you can see the whole picture of this puzzle. ... It was a very important day for the IOC and the Olympic movement."

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 — and keep them affordable.

In the most radical change, cities will be allowed to hold events outside the host city or country. This opens the door to joint bids by cities, neighboring countries or regions.

IOC vice president John Coates said holding events outside the host country would only be considered in "exceptional circumstances." He said the idea would have to be raised in the early phase of bidding and would need approval from the IOC executive board.

"The compactness of the bid is always important," Coates said. "But the compactness of the games has to be weighed up with the cost benefit of being able to use existing venues rather than build new venues."

The IOC backed the launch of a digital 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.

"This is really a historical step," Bach said.

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."

"This is a pivotal moment for equality in sport," said Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of internal gay rights group All Out.


Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter: