Reporting from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last week three of the four cities bidding for the 2024 Olympic Games crossed a line when invitations were emailed to members of the media inviting them to attend events at their National Olympic Committee (NOC) hospitality houses during Rio 2016. All four bids received an emailed “reminder” of the rules that govern the bid process.
The notices seem to have caught the bids off-guard, and have given the impression that the IOC’s rules are becoming excessively unreasonable. Is it really, perhaps, that the IOC that has crossed the line?
Bid Committees are permitted to create displays of up to 20 square meters in hospitality areas hosted by the their NOC’s to provide information about the projects to visitors and guest. However, in order to avoid aggressive campaigning, the IOC has asked that stakeholders and media aren’t to be expressly invited to attend the presentations. There is no rule, however, against members of the media from requesting visits on their own.
The IOC has limited bid committees to a team of twelve executives and consultants to attend Rio 2016 as part of an observers program, but it is not to be leveraged as a marketing opportunity. Additionally, each bid has been strictly allowed to hold only a thirty minute press conference at the Main Press Centre in Barra Olympic Park. No other press events are permitted.
It’s common for Olympic team hospitality houses to invite the press to attend, for promotion, special events such as honoring their medalists. However it seems the IOC has put the National Olympic Committees that are currently bidding for a Games in a special light with added scrutiny While some of the invitations were expressly from the bid, others were from the National Olympic Committee – but the IOC has red-marked the invitations either way.
Rome 2024 invited journalists to a hospitality event at Casa Italia, Paris 2024 asked the media to attend a “meet and greet” with bid officials at Club France. And the Hungarian Olympic Committee extended an open invitation for media to visit the Budapest 2024 bid display at Hungary House. L.A. also received notice by the IOC.
IOC bidding ethics rules say that “a first minor breach will result in a confidential observation, in writing, to the city concerned” by the IOC Ethics and Compliance Office.
A second breach will result in notification of the IOC Executive Board and the other cities, according to the document. Subsequent violations could lead to penalties that could include reductions in presentation time, loss of votes, fines and other punishments.
New rules enabled by the IOC’s Agenda 2020 call for more affordable and less wasteful Games bids and the IOC wants to avoid a marketing “arms race” that tends to add unnecessary costs to the process. Rules also restrict trips by IOC members to bid cities and narrow presentations to just a handful of official opportunities for each campaign.
An IOC representative said, “three 2024 candidate cities have contacted media and invited them to their hospitality houses here in Rio. They have all been reminded that this was not permitted and have subsequently stopped their activities”.
So then, why are the bids permitted to construct modest but informative displays of their projects, yet not expressly tell people about it? In order to level the bidding playing field, something that that IOC says they are striving for, shouldn’t the bids be able to capitalize on the opportunity of the Games where all cities have the same access stakeholders and media? Doesn’t the IOC want details behind the projects to be known so that informative decisions can be made?
There is a point when rules are so strict that they defeat the purpose they are designed for. By limiting the opportunity to promote, lesser known bid cities will have a distinct disadvantage – bidding “arms race” or not.
Paris held its permitted press conference August 5, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the Games while Los Angeles held it on August 9. Budapest has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday.
The 2024 Olympic bid campaign continues until September 2017 when the IOC elects a winner in Lima, Peru.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.