By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) - The Olympic Games can accommodate more sports than their current maximum of 28 and a global Olympic TV channel would boost their presence between the Games, IOC presidential hopeful Thomas Bach said on Friday.
The German lawyer and IOC Vice-President, who is one of six candidates bidding to replace outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge in September, said as long as the 10,500-athlete limit is respected there was no need to stick with just 28.
The IOC has been heavily criticized for excluding wrestling from the 2020 Olympics in a bid to revamp the sports program, although the ancient sport has been included along with baseball/softball and squash on a shortlist for one spot available.
"You cannot just simply replace one piece (of the puzzle) with others," Bach, long seen as the frontrunner in the presidential race, told a conference call as he outlined his manifesto a day after the deadline for candidacies.
The three sports will be put to the vote at the IOC Session in September, days before the presidential election.
"Whenever we take decisions on the Olympic program we have to know before and consider what it means to sustainability with regard to sports facilities," said Bach, who heads the German Olympic Sports Confederation.
"We should definitely keep the limits on number of athletes and establish a limit on number of permanent facilities," Bach said. "With this framework we could gain good flexibility with regard to the program."
"The number of sports, there we can be more flexible."
Bach said the Games also needed to become more attractive for cities planning to bid, saying the current process was "maybe asking too much from them."
There are three cities left in the 2020 Games bid process - Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. Qatar's Doha and Azerbaijan's capital Baku failed to make the cut while Rome, burdened with domestic economic woes, pulled out early.
"We must ensure that organizing the Games is attractive and feasible for as many cities and countries as possible," Bach said. "In this respect we may have to reconsider the bidding procedure to make it more encouraging while ensuring operational excellence."
"It should be a real invitation for candidates and should show we embrace the different social, cultural and political backgrounds. We should also ask if we are sometimes requesting too much, too early (from bid cities)?"
Running for the top job are also fellow IOC Vice President Ng Ser Miang from Singapore, Swiss Denis Oswald, world amateur boxing federation head C.K. Wu, Ukrainian former Olympic champion Sergei Bubka and Richard Carrion, head of the IOC finance commission and along with Bach, a chief IOC negotiator for broadcast rights.
Bach said the time had come for the IOC to consider setting up an Olympic TV channel to boost its product's global reach in the four years between the Olympics, given its already existing production resources.
"This is a vision, this is nothing you can manage in one two three, in four or five years," said Bach. "But as our Chinese friends say every long journey starts with the first step and it is time to undertake this first step."
"We have already an Olympic TV production and we see that many Olympic sports do not appear enough across the world on TV. This is not a question about money. This is a question about addressing the youth," he said.
"If it would be only about money and the Games the actual system works pretty well. We sell well our TV rights, we have excellent ratings all over the world so from this perspective there would not be the need for change," he said.
Broadcast rights revenues are the IOC's biggest source of income and will top $4 billion for the period 2013-2016.
"Having already the production company in hand we need a discussion with our TV partners, with the international federations about how we can get more Olympic sports in the period between the Games on the screen," said Bach.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Alan Baldwin)