(Reuters) – German Thomas Bach was elected president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday, succeeding Belgium’s Jacques Rogge and maintaining a European stranglehold on the most powerful job in world sport.
The 59-year-old Bach, who is also the first Olympic champion to head the IOC, is the ninth president only in the body’s 119-year history.
All but one of its leaders have been Europeans, with Avery Brundage of the United States the only outsider to break the monopoly, heading the IOC from 1952-1972.
“I want to be president of all of you,” the German beamed as his fellow IOC members applauded the decision before hugging and kissing their colleague.
“There are really high emotions right now,” Bach told international news agencies.
“To feel this great support from all the IOC members is overwhelming. I cannot describe it,” said Bach, who had been in tears moments earlier when hugging his wife and close associates.
Asked what his first task was, he replied: “The first challenge will be to celebrate. We have the challenge of organising the Sochi Winter Games. We have to prepare well and I am sure they will be great Games.”
The first German to run a major international sports body, Bach will have to go straight to work with the Sochi Olympics, starting in February, under scrutiny over a controversial Russian anti-gay propaganda law.
In addition the 2016 summer Games in Rio de Janeiro are plagued by delays with the IOC eager to see work sped up.
Bach, a firm favourite in a choice of six candidates, secured victory in the second round of voting, polling 49 of the available 93 votes and beating Puerto Rican Richard Carrion into second place on 29 votes.
“I thought I had a realistic chance so I went for it,” Carrion told reporters. “I gave it my best shot but came up just short.
“Unfortunately there is no silver medals in this competition, now I will have to go on a diet after all those lunches.”
Bach, long the front-runner for the top job, ticked all the boxes. An Olympic fencing champion at the 1976 Montreal Games, the multi-lingual and affable German was the founding president of his country’s Olympic Sports Confederation with some 28 million members.
Congratulations started pouring in, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel
“I would like to congratulate you very warmly on your election as president of the International Olympic Committee,” Merkel said in a statement.
“Your election to this very important sports political body impressively shows the respect and trust you enjoy within the Olympic family,”
“I am delighted that Germany will continue to be outstandingly represented on the international level by you.”
Sitting on the boards of several companies, Bach is also the chairman of the Ghorfa Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and his involvement with the Olympic movement stretches back to the milestone Olympic congress in Baden-Baden where he became a representative of the athletes.
As head of the IOC’s juridical commission and its disciplinary commission Bach has also been at the forefront of sanctioning drugs cheats, in line with Rogge’s “zero tolerance” policy.
(Writing by Ossian Shine; Editing by John Mehaffey)