Ideal time for IOC to practise what it preaches

5th meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro September 2, 2013.

SINGAPORE - WhenPierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on June 23, 1894, his vision was for the Olympic movement to be something the whole world would embrace.

He put it thus: "The six colours, including the white background, represent the colours of all the world's flags... this is a true international emblem."

The Olympic Games should be more than just a global gathering of nations showing off their sporting best, but also an advocate for the ideals of sportsmanship, friendship and peace.

As the Olympic family gathers this week in Buenos Aires for what could be one of the movement's defining moments, de Coubertin would be pleased to note the significant strides the IOC has made in the last century.

Aptly, the 125th IOC Session will be held in South America, which in 2016 will be hosting its first Olympic Games.

The Brazil Games are set to feature all 204 National Olympic Committees, representing both the world's sovereign nations and other geographical areas - a far cry from the 14 nations which competed in the 1896 inaugural Games.

Brazil 2016 is also set to see more women competitors, after efforts were made at the 2012 London Olympics to ensure that all disciplines were represented by both sexes. Middle Eastern countries, which once frowned on the idea of women athletes, are slowly opening up to having women in sport.

Yet, while the IOC may be breaking new ground, diversity is still not a word that is synonymous with its leadership. In the 119 years of the movement, American Avery Brundage (1952-1972) remains the only non-European president to head the IOC.

Europeans again make up the bulk of the six candidates vying to succeed Belgian Jacques Rogge as IOC president in Buenos Aires.

But that could change. While IOC vice-president Thomas Bach of Germany is the early favourite, both Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion and Singapore's Ng Ser Miang are seen as serious challengers for sport's top job - with Taiwan's Wu Ching-kuo, Switzerland's Denis Oswald and Ukraine's Sergey Bubka also in with a chance.

That two Asians are in the running for the IOC presidency is a first - and a signal that the movement could be ready for a shift from the status quo.

"If you were handicapping, you'd have him (Mr Bach) in front, but whether it's by a nose or a neck or open water, I don't know," Canadian IOC member Dick Pound told Associated Press last week.

Indeed, Mr Ng is optimistic that the time is right for an Asian to head the IOC. For one thing, the signs are there of the growing Asian influence in the movement.

Asian membership is at one of the highest levels ever, with more than 20 members among the current 103 in the Olympic family.

Asian countries hosted two of the last seven Summer Olympics and another Asian city, Tokyo, is in the running for the 2020 Games, says Mr Ng, adding: "The IOC has become very global and I think, for the organisation, it's important to have a different perspective."

He thinks an Asian appointment is important not just for its symbolism but also for the perspective an Asian leader can bring to the table "when we talk about universality, different value systems, different cultures, different ways of looking at issues and challenges".

At a time when Asia is seen as the new growth region and where corporations covet the Asian dollar, electing an Asian president makes sense.

Mr Ng's nationality makes him a minority in the IOC family, but does not reflect a lack of ability.

In fact, observers are calling the race one of the closest-ever IOC presidential elections, with any one among the three top contenders considered a more than capable leader.

Mr Ng, 64, the oldest among the front runners, brings with him more than a decade of experience in the movement, with eight years spent in the IOC's top branch, the executive board.

He is also well placed to tackle one of the key concerns of the committee: an inactive youth population.

Mr Ng, who was instrumental in the birth of the Youth Olympic Games (which Singapore hosted in 2010), aims to put youth at the centre of the IOC.

If he is elected, he wants the IOC to grow its Youth Sport Development Centre programme.

Aimed at providing quality sporting facilities to young athletes and local communities in developing countries, Mr Ng is committed to building 80 more of such sports facilities across five continents, over the next eight years.

With more non-traditional Olympic nations getting increasingly involved in the movement, either as host cities or beneficiaries of IOC initiatives, the onus is on the IOC now, more than ever, to ensure that it truly is an international body with the interests of the world at heart.

What better way to show that then by again crossing new frontiers - and electing its first Asian president.

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