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IOC top job up for grabs as VP Bach eyes win

By Karolos Grohmann

(Reuters) - The departure of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge after 12 years with his sure hand on the tiller marks the end of an era for the global sports organization, and sees six candidates vying to replace him on September 10.

Rogge, a Belgian surgeon, who took over from Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001, steered the IOC through the reputation-damaging 2002 Salt Lake City Games bribery scandal fallout, and oversaw the organization's trend-bucking financial growth as the economic crisis of the late 2000s bit into sports revenues.

With six candidates waiting in the wings, Rogge, whose reign comes to a mandatory end, has not openly endorsed any of them, but he looks most likely to be replaced either by a German lawyer, a Puerto Rican banker or a Singaporean millionaire.

IOC Vice President Thomas Bach of Germany is seen as the clear frontrunner for the job with Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion and Singapore's Ser Miang Ng as the other two main contenders.

Former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Taiwan's CK Wu and Swiss sports administrator Denis Oswald complete the lineup of IOC presidential candidates, the longest ever for an IOC election.

The latter three, however, are seen as having only an outside chance of making it past the first rounds of voting, with bookmakers establishing Bach as the frontrunner ahead of the IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September.

A former Olympic fencing gold medalist, Bach seems to tick all the boxes for the top Olympic job. A lawyer by profession with outstanding international contacts in the world of business, sport and politics, Bach has been a member since 1991.

HOT FAVOURITE

A Vice President since 2006, Bach, who also heads the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has been named a favorite long before he announced his candidacy this spring.

"This is not a campaign against my fellow candidates," Bach told Reuters this week. "It is a campaign for my views."

"My IOC colleagues know who I am, and what is important is to be in this campaign exactly the way they have known me all these years. It is a matter of trust."

Asked whether he did enjoy much-rumored support from powerful Kuwaiti member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, head of the Olympic solidarity fund and chairman of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), Bach just said: "I am very happy about support from National Olympic Committees and I hope to have support from international federations."

The programs of most candidates touch on similar points such as "empowering IOC members", reviewing the size, cost, sports program and bid procedure for the Games to make them more attractive, and finding ways of bringing young people to the Games both as fans and as a way to persuade them to compete.

While the programs provide some indication of what the candidates intend to do once voted into office, getting elected means winning over the support of fellow members.

That requires intense lobbying over several months or years. with some 100-plus IOC members expected to attend the session in the Argentine capital.

Carrion, who is chairman of Puerto Rican lender Popular Inc, heads the IOC's finance commission and is a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

MONEY MAN

Arguably his biggest pitch is the IOC's solid financial footing which he helped create.

As head of the finance commission since 2002, Carrion, who is also responsible for negotiating broadcasting rights for the IOC, has overseen major revenue growth over the past decade despite the global economic downturn.

He also helped to negotiate a four-Games deal to 2020 with U.S. broadcaster NBC, worth $4.38 billion.

Sponsorship revenues for the IOC through its TOP program for the 2013-16 period are set to exceed $1 billion for the first time, compared with $663 million for 2001-4.

Broadcasting revenues, the biggest source of income for the IOC, are seen topping $4 billion until 2016, with revenues for the 2002-4 period at almost half that.

"If you look at the IOC, it has a great standing but by nature when things are going well I think about what could go wrong. This is a great standing but it is not something that is guaranteed," Carrion told Reuters.

"We cannot do everything on our own. We have tremendous resources in the work our members do. We can create associations with other organizations around the world, learn from best practices."

ASIAN BID

Singapore businessman Ng, also an IOC Vice President, is hoping to become the first Asian IOC president after seven European and one American head of the organization since 1894.

A former Singapore ambassador to Hungary, and currently to Norway, and a former member of parliament, Ng's profile improved after he helped stage a successful inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010.

The event is the brainchild of Rogge.

"I believe I have the experience and the knowledge to be a universal leader of the IOC, to empower membership and unify the movement," Ng told Reuters on the day of his candidacy announcement in May.

"I humbly believe that I have the experience in consensus building, the understanding of the Olympic Movement, and a deep passion for Olympism that qualifies me to be that leader."

For former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka, undoubtedly the most recognizable face in this election for the general public, it is the first major candidacy for a top sports job.

Some analysts argue that it came too soon for the 49-year-old, who was seen as more likely to go after the world athletics (IAAF) presidency before considering an IOC presidency bid.

"I am here because of athletics," Bubka told reporters recently. "But today we have elections for the IOC. This is a good time to run for the IOC presidency." ž

International boxing federation (AIBA) boss CK Wu and tough-talking world rowing chief Oswald, a member for 12 years until 2012 of the powerful IOC Executive Board, are seen as having an outside chance at only the second election of its kind since 1980.

But their presence in the early rounds of voting could prove critical if one of the frontrunners fails to win an outright majority early on.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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