IOC president encourages New Zealand bid to host Olympics
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 9, 2014. (Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)
AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach says there's no reason a small nation such as New Zealand shouldn't aspire to host the Olympics.
Bach, who is on a tour through the South Pacific, received a powhiri -- or traditional welcome -- from indigenous Maori in Auckland on Tuesday before saying: "The Olympic Games are universal and we should open doors and windows" to allow all nations that wish to host the games to try to do so.
"I think the Olympic Agenda is opening doors for other countries than the traditional host countries," he said. "We think you cannot reserve the right to host the Olympic Games just to 20 countries in the world."
Bach oversaw the implementation of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms in December to make the requirements on potential host cities less onerous and allow for the possibility of two countries co-hosting the games.
New Zealand, which has a population of nearly 4.5 million, has never hosted the Olympics, but neighbouring Australia has twice staged the Summer Games, most recently at Sydney in 2000. A few countries with small populations such as Norway and Greece have hosted the games recently, but none outside Europe.
"What we are doing now is we are asking potential host countries, how do you think the Olympic Games would fit best into your long-term planning with regard to sports, socially, financially, ecologically?" Bach said. "Then give us your ideas and we can discuss together whether we can make it happen."
Bach earlier visited cyclone-damaged sporting facilities in the island nation of Vanuatu and discussed how the $500,000 aid money pledged by the IOC might be spent to repair the venues.
He also met with Vanuatu President Joe Natuman and sports leaders before departing on Monday.
Cyclone Pam swept through Vanuatu in March, killing 16 people. The country is located about 1,750 kilometres (1,100 miles) northeast of Australia.
"What surprises me the most is the confidence and (level of) optimism Vanuatu people have, and that is the true Olympic spirit," he said. "We hope that our contribution will give hope to the whole population."
Bach's trip to the South Pacific also included visits to Australia, where he met with Australian Olympic Committee officials, and Fiji, where he attended meetings of the Oceania National Olympic Committees.