MONACO — The IOC approved a new Olympic bidding process Monday to make the system less costly and adopted a more flexible sports program that could lead to the inclusion of baseball and softball at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The International Olympic Committee voted in favor of the new rules on the opening morning of a special two-day session to adopt President Thomas Bach's 40-point "Olympic Agenda 2020" reform package, the biggest changes in the IOC in decades.
A proposal for creation of an Olympic television channel was also up for a vote later Monday.
The IOC agreed to abolish the cap of 28 sports for the Summer Games and 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.
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.
"This is a major breakthrough," senior Canadian member Dick Pound said during the debate. "We were at a dead-end situation with 28 sports. This provides the flexibility we need."
Bach said host cities asking for certain sports must make a proposal to the IOC and present an operational and financial model for their inclusion.
"This includes, in special cases, the number of athletes would go beyond the 10,500," he said.
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 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Several cities withdrew from the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the running.
The system approved Monday will make the process more of an "invitation" and allow prospective candidates to discuss their plans in advance with the IOC to tailor games to their own needs — and keep them affordable.
To cut down on costs and avoid white elephants, cities will be urged to make maximum use of existing and temporary venues.
In the most radical change, cities will be allowed to hold events in both the Summer and Winter Games outside the host city or country, "notably for reasons of geography and sustainability." This opens the door to joint bids by cities, neighboring countries or regions.
Several members raised concerns about the idea during the debate, saying it went against the idea of compact games and would cause extra travel and costs for athletes.
"I am worried that the unique character of the games could be diminished by the recommendation to allow some events to be dispersed over several locations within the same country, or even in a neighboring country," Swiss member Denis Oswald said.
IOC vice president John Coates, who headed the working group on the bidding issue, 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. "The cost and the time for athletes to get form the village to their venues is always going to be relevant, 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 measure passed unanimously in the end, with no members raising their hands to show their opposition.
The IOC was voting one by one on each recommendation. Eight IOC members were absent, leaving 96 members eligible to vote.
The reforms also include plans to launch 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, as well as broadcasts of sports competitions of Olympic sports outside the games.
The IOC also will reword Principle 6 on non-discrimination 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.
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