LAUSANNE: Despite threats from climate change, AI-enhanced doping or competition from e-sports, the boss of the International Olympic Committee believes the future has never looked so bright for his sports movement.

Thomas Bach, a 70-year-old German fencer, has run the Switzerland-based guardian of the Olympic Games since 2013 when interest in hosting the event was near rock-bottom after repeated scandals over costs and corruption.

Its diminished appeal was clear at the time of bidding for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics when there were only two candidates, Paris and Los Angeles, who divided the honours between themselves.

Since then, the 2032 Games have been awarded to Brisbane, Australia, and Bach told AFP in an interview at IOC headquarters on Friday that there were “double-digit” numbers of countries in the running for 2036.

“We have never been in such a favourable position. We have never seen such a high interest in hosting the Olympic Games,” he said on Friday from his offices that overlook Lake Geneva.

After a string of Games in Western democracies, 2036 could be an opportunity for Saudi Arabia, sole candidate for the 2032 FIFA World Cup; Qatar, a losing candidate for 2032; Indonesia, or India.

“We are now 12 years away from these Games, so it is way too early to comment on any of these interests,” Bach replied when asked about Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose human rights records would make them contested destinations.

New model Olympics

Bach attributes the revival of interest in hosting the Olympics to reforms undertaken on his watch, which have sought to put an end to the wasteful spending that has near-bankrupted several host cities in the past.

Instead of oversized and gleaming new stadiums and facilities that often fall empty afterwards, the IOC now encourages the use of existing or temporary infrastructure.

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An estimated 96 percent of the sport during Paris 2024, which begins on July 26, will take place in existing or temporary locations, while LA 2028 might reach 100 percent.

“Paris is the first Olympic Games which is absolutely in line with our Olympic agenda reforms from start to finish,” Bach added.

As a result, French organisers claim that their event will be responsible for around half the carbon emissions of previous editions in London 2012 and Rio in 2016.

Critics, such as environmental research group Carbon Market Watch, commend the efforts to improve, but remain sceptical that the Games can ever be sustainable.

“The most significant factor affecting the games’ environmental footprint is its enormity,” a report from the group stated in mid-April.

AI-enhanced

Bach acknowledges that global heating is an increasing challenge, above all for the snow-dependent Winter Games but also the much larger Summer version.

He confirmed that in the future, the Summer Olympics might have to move from their traditional slot in July and August to the cooler autumn months – as the 2022 football World Cup did in Qatar.

He also stressed the importance of the ongoing revolution in artificial intelligence, which led the IOC to unveil a strategy last week to harness the computer technology to help athletes.

But he warned too of the potential downside – of AI-powered medical advances enabling even more sophisticated cheating.

“I’m not a prophet, but when you look at the combination of AI and biochemistry, you can arrive at a rather dystopian conclusion of what this could mean… to improve the performance of an individual,” he said.

The development of e-sports is also creating a growing challenge for eyeballs, particularly among young people.

“I don’t think that you will see e-sports events at the Olympic Games, but you may see very soon its own Olympic e-sports Games,” he said.

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