The Olympic power brokers must be doing their happy-dances at the edge of Lac Leman in the Olympic Capital this week. Forget the doom-and-gloom reports of the demise of the Olympic Movement, and the outright rejection of playing host to the bloated and inefficient opportunity to host the Olympic Games.
Three of five bids have dropped out of the race to host the 2024 edition so far due to cost fears, but in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that’s only the cream rising to the top. The IOC could be in its best shape in years – but only if they move forward deliberately and effectively.
The IOC Evaluation Commission last week wrapped up back-to-back three-day visits to candidate cities Los Angeles and Paris – and it doesn’t seem to be much of a race.
“It is almost impossible to go under 10 out of 10 [for both Paris and LA],” Commission Chair Patrick Baumann said at a press conference held at the Palais d’Ièna last week.
Baumann, using phrases like “no major risks,” and “mind blowing venues” for both cities, without even a hint of any difficulties with either bid, left journalists scratching their collective heads in wont of some clarity into the progress of the race.
The 49-year-old Swiss, an IOC member who heads up the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) even went as far as naming Paris 2024 bid Co-Chairs Tony Estanguet and Bernard Lapasset the “dynamic duo” just four days after using the identical description for those in charge of LA 2024: Mayor Eric Garcetti and Chairman Casey Wasserman. Awkward.
The Paris duo are both athletes while LA’s pair are a politician and a business mogul and just like their bids – they couldn’t be more different from each other. Would it have been unfair to describe them using different adjectives?
In a favourable step in the right direction, the Commission held question-and-answer media briefings each day during the evaluation, and not just at the end of the visit as had become customary over the years. Baumann seemed more open and wasn’t automatically dismissive of questions that were intended to draw comparisons between the cities – answering such questions had been considered taboo as recently as the last bid between Beijing and Almaty for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
So consider this:
One, the IOC arguably finds itself in a comfortable situation right now (and that’s right NOW, it can all evaporate with a single bad choice) with two strong Western nations that want to host the Games with little taxpayer push-back.
Two, the IOC is currently investigating awarding both cities the Games, one in 2024 and one in 2028, and may come up with a proposal in June. That would cement two quadrennials of Summer Games, and everyone stays happy.
And three, it’s possible that the two candidates in the ‘race’ for the 2024 Olympic Games are the only two cities left on the planet that are both capable and willing to bid for the Games. For now.
If Baumann is being forward-looking (and he is) he’ll know that he will be partnering with not only one, but possibly both of these cities moving ahead for the next seven and eleven years. We already heard during both visits this month that he accidentally referred to the city under evaluation as the organizing committee when in fact, that title only belongs to the winner. Freudian slip? Hint: yes.
So in classic IOC style, he wouldn’t expose weaknesses or doubts about any bid that the IOC will be partnering with. And, as the IOC builds a roadmap toward a double-award, something soaked in politics and requiring the gentle hand of democracy, he wouldn’t make any bid feel like it’s in a superior negotiating position by giving a hint that it has an edge in the race. The IOC will keep the upper hand. It will keep control.
So, after I spent the previous week in both cities touring the venues and speaking with the IOC Commission, bid committees, athletes and Mayors, you want to know what city is leading for 2024?
It doesn’t really matter. They’re different flavours of the same ice cream. The carefree style of Los Angeles or the Je ne sais quoi of Paris. Zero venue cost and risks vs. a catalyst for much needed new housing. Privately funded or taxpayer backed. One dynamic duo or another. It all works.
It’s no longer a race. Both bids are flawless 10’s according to Baumann – of course, because they’re both going to be chosen to host the Olympic Games if IOC President Thomas Bach’s will becomes reality. Both bids would be future brands of the Olympic Games.
They’ll work out all of the details June 9 when the IOC Executive Board reviews reports from a special panel of four Vice Presidents who have been investigating the possible joint-award. Evaluators must have been so impressed that they scheduled the special meeting within hours of returning from Paris after wrapping up the inspection of the French Capital.
The IOC now finds itself on the brink of a luxury shopping spree, and like a spoiled child trying to choose between two toys at the market – they definitely want both.
So dismiss the past few days of of venue tours. Really. No need for courting, these partnerships are prearranged.
Baumann was forced to defend the expensive three-day visits to both Los Angeles and Paris amid the possibility that there will be “no losers” in the race.
He said “to make that [evaluation] report is not pointless, it has a lot of benefits. It’s the end of a long 18 months.”
Sure, we’ll go along with that.
But before we get overconfident there are some politics to address.
Both cities want 2024. Paris says its bid is not available for 2028 because the project that would be the Olympic village is about to start soon, and it is absolutely needed for housing by 2024. LA says it must be picked to host in the earlier year because its concept is what the Olympic movement needs now, so then why wait? In the end there will be a loser – one that gets the consolation prize.
So the IOC must proceed cautiously, with the utmost of diplomacy and care.
Should there be three-party negotiations in order to work out a deal before the Lima vote in September? This would give the IOC the best negotiating position but it will be challenging to get either city to concede 2024 to instead accept 2028. The IOC membership wouldn’t likely be amenable, either, to losing two consecutive Summer Olympic decision making opportunities.
Then there’s the wait-and-see option – go on with the vote as scheduled then the loser is offered 2028, and there will be a set period for that city to negotiate a contract if they wish to accept. I think the IOC will avoid this, it would put the organization into a poor negotiating position.
Instead, perhaps the IOC will ask the cities to prepare guarantees and plans for 2028 in advance of the Lima meeting so both contracts can be signed at the same time. It’s a big ask, but it would be the ultimate win for the IOC.
Finally, there’s a solution that’s hard for anyone to to object to – have the members vote for their city/year choice in Lima – assigning their preference for the 2024, and the 2028 Games. The Games would then be awarded accordingly. Again, it would be beneficial for the IOC, but a big ask to the cities, to have the guarantees needed to host in 2028 in place before Lima.
IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch, one of the members of the panel set to make recommendations on the 2024/2028 plans, said this week that it is unlikely that the IOC will change the rules mid-campaign, and that it would be up to Paris and Los Angeles to strike some kind of deal in order for the double award to move forward.
It’s hard to imagine any kind of deal happening between the two bids who can’t even utter “2028” in public, and impossible to believe that either city will relent on 2024 unless there is some very compelling reason. I can’t imagine what that reason would be.
But let’s be clear, the IOC won’t easily give up it’s luxury shopping spree. The market opens June 9.
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.