Liam Morgan

The next International Olympic Committee (IOC) Presidential election may be just shy of four years away, but talk in the Movement has already turned to Thomas Bach’s potential successor.

Should Bach resist the urge to wrangle an extension to his term after its expiry, the German lawyer will be replaced by one of his IOC counterparts in 2025.

If early speculation and predictions are to come to fruition, the election may prove a historic one for the IOC and the Olympic Movement.

Some of the names being floated around and put into the mix from ardent Olympic observers, journalists and from within the IOC itself in background chats have one key similarity: they are women.

The IOC has never had a female President. It has never come close to electing one.

Anita DeFrantz is the only woman to have ever run for one of the most powerful roles in sport, finishing last in the 2001 election won by Jacques Rogge. But times have changed and it can now feasibly be argued that the early leading candidates to succeed Bach are all female.

It is likely Bach will have considerable sway in who replaces him in the IOC hotseat. As my colleague David Owen noted in his column earlier this week, he has the power to essentially hand-pick the heads of the IOC’s various commissions, including those with an especially important remit.

Bach has a track record for selecting people he trusts, and with that comes added responsibility which lends itself well to a possible shot at the Presidency.

Kirsty Coventry has long been mentioned in this bracket and her recent appointment as chair of the Coordination Commission for the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane will have done little to dispel her chances.

Kirsty Coventry is considered a candidate to become IOC President in the future ©Getty Images
Kirsty Coventry is considered a candidate to become IOC President in the future ©Getty Images

Coventry chaired the IOC Athletes’ Commission from 2018 until this year, closely aligning both the Commission and her own views with Bach and the organisation’s leadership.

The Zimbabwean Sports Minister, among the most decorated female Olympic swimmers of all time, was made an individual IOC member after her term as Athletes’ Commission chair expired following the pandemic-delayed Tokyo 2020 Games.

That decision means she could remain part of the IOC for the next 32 years, which seems more than enough time to mount a concerted tilt at the Presidency.

It had become apparent Coventry's relationship with the IOC would not end after Tokyo 2020, when she was appointed chair of the Coordination Commission for Dakar 2026 as far back as 2018. The Youth Olympic Games in the Senegalese capital - the first major IOC event in Africa - had been scheduled for 2022, still two years beyond the expiry of her mandate.

Not only that, but Coventry’s Brisbane 2032 role ensures regular discussion and interaction with the IOC Executive Board, the ruling body which has become even more autocratic during Bach’s tenure.

Bach also clearly sees something in former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who he chose to lead the IOC panel which recommends and identifies potential host cities for the Olympic Games.

As head of the IOC Future Host Commission for the Games of the Olympiad, Grabar-Kitarović’s first main task will be helping to decide - or at least giving the impression of deciding - where the 2036 Olympics will be held.

Given the Commission itself is arguably one of the IOC’s most important, it is not too far-fetched to suggest the 53-year-old as a future Presidential candidate, even if her term as head of her country was blighted by alleged human rights abuses.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was handed a key IOC role by President Thomas Bach this week ©Getty Images
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was handed a key IOC role by President Thomas Bach this week ©Getty Images

Grabar-Kitarović will no doubt be aware of what happened to her predecessor as chair of the Future Host Commission, Kristin Kloster Aasen. The Norwegian had to step down from the role after being elected to the IOC Executive Board in what some have interpreted as a reward for helping to get Brisbane 2032 through the various bureaucratic hoops under the new "bidding" process.

"Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović will bring rich and diverse skills and experience, including at the very highest levels of Government and international relations," Bach said in a press release announcing her appointment this week.

Aruba’s Nicole Hoevertsz is another possible female contender for the IOC Presidency. The former synchronised swimmer is already a vice-president and is well thought of within IOC circles.

Hoevertsz has enjoyed a steady rise through the ranks of the IOC after becoming a member in 2006. The 57-year-old is chair of the Los Angeles 2028 Coordination Commission, vice-chair of the Paris 2024 inspection panel and was also tasked with dealing with the mess that was Russian participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Bach himself was a vice-president of the IOC for seven years before emerging victorious in the 2013 Presidential election. The German is, like Coventry, an Olympic gold medallist and was instrumental in forming the very Athletes' Commission she went on to spearhead.

Of course, it is not just women who have been touted in the Bach replacement debate. Juan Antonio Samaranch has refused to rule out a run at following in the footsteps of his late father by the same name, who led the IOC from 1980 to 2001.

Thomas Bach is due to stand down as IOC President in 2025 ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach is due to stand down as IOC President in 2025 ©Getty Images

Samaranch junior is no longer part of the Executive Board after his term expired and the Spaniard has openly admitted he needs to regain his place before launching any potential candidacy for President.

World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe may also fancy his chances, although the 65-year-old would require a "one-time extension of an IOC member’s term of office for a maximum of four years, beyond the current age limit of 70" to stand any realistic chance of taking over from a man who he has frequently not seen eye-to-eye with.

There will undoubtedly be other names to emerge in the coming months and years before the election takes place, but for now, women are leading the way in what could be a watershed moment.

It is a topic the IOC and the entire Movement will be watching closely as the clock starts to tick down on Bach's Presidency.