BidWeek: A Final Tumultuous Week Before 2024 Olympic Bids Head Into The International Competition

BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – It has been one crazy week for the three bids vying to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games – but hold on, the real campaigning doesn’t really start until Friday.

LA 2024 Olympic bid supporters rally at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to launch international campaign February 2, 2017 (USOC Photo)
LA 2024 Olympic bid supporters rally at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to launch international campaign February 2, 2017 (USOC Photo)

It’s true.  Sixteen-and-half months after the application deadline, the final set of bid documents are due into International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne February 3 – this Friday.  That triggers the start of the international phase of the campaign when the gloves really come off and the three remaining candidates may direct their messages across the globe, with the intent to reach IOC member voters and other key stakeholders along the way.

Up until now the bids were to focus on planning and the preparation of bid documents that the IOC Evaluation Commission will use to make recommendations to nearly 95 first-round voters before a decision is reached September 13 in Lima, Peru.  During that period, the bid committees engaged sport federations to advise on proposed venues; consulted with domestic governments to acquire various financial guarantees and assurances; retained experts to help build feasible concepts and branding; and rallied the general population to support and embrace the opportunity for their nation to host the Olympic Games.

Though at the outset the IOC promised that it wouldn’t cut any viable cities from the race – two cities were unable to survive to the International phase on their own accords.  In November 2015 Hamburg narrowly lost a general referendum over the bid causing the German city to immediately withdraw, and last year Rome’s candidacy collapsed when the newly elected Mayor withheld the support required to move forward.

That left three bids scratching and clawing their way through the final week of January to reach the important milestone, and they too have the ability to self-eliminate.

First, Budapest’s bid came under fire when political opponents launched the ‘NOlimpia’ referendum campaign designed to upend Hungary’s Olympic project through a public vote.  Threats to force a vote came and went multiple times last year but all failed due to a lack of organization behind the attempts.  But in January, the Momentum Mozgalom group took charge and recruited volunteers to turn the referendum idea into a possible reality.

A Hungarian Youth Organization seeks referendum over Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid (Facebook)
A Hungarian Youth Organization seeks referendum over Budapest 2024 Olympic Bid (Facebook)

This week the group announced that it had already gathered more than half of the required 138,000 signatures with three weeks still remaining before a deadline set by the municipal elections board.

It’s clear that Budapest 2024 bid organizers have recognized the looming threat.  A statement by the bid committee iterated “our first priority during this period is to continue to engage with the people of Budapest on the reasons why the Games would improve their lives.”

With that, the Hungarian Capital announced that it has delayed the launch of its international phase – presumably to focus inward in order to stave off the referendum threat.  Budapest, already considered an outsider in this small but competitive field, will lose time in these valuable final seven-and-a-half months trying to wrap up the support that should have been secured in the previous phase.

Underlining Budapest’s bad week was a new poll released Thursday revealing that 68 per cent of respondents opposed the bid.

If the referendum gets approved to move forward, win or lose, it will be a major distraction as Budapest prepares to host the Evaluation Commission for critical site visits and review starting May 10.

Last weekend the newly-inaugurated U.S President Donald Trump caused global furor when he unveiled his new immigration policy that includes a temporary travel ban to be immediately imposed on citizens from seven muslim-majority nations, as well as further restrictions on Syrian immigrants.

Trump’s executive order spun confusion over several international sport competitions that are scheduled in the United States over the next several months and the announcement ultimately cast a shadow on Los Angeles’ bid to host it’s third Olympic Games.  Reporters from America and abroad, as well as at least one IOC member, spoke harshly about the ban and said it would have disastrous consequences on Los Angeles’ 2024 Olympic bid.

Some even called for the complete withdrawal of LA’s bid, including veteran American Olympic journalist Philip Hersh who concluded his column on the topic with “…the real arrogance is bidding at all while this nation’s president continues to tell the rest of the world to get lost.”

U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive order on travel and immigration (@POTUS Twitter Photo)

Hersh also called out the initial silence of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the IOC after Trump’s surprise exclusionary move that flies in the face of everything Olympism stands for.  Indeed, the @LA2024 Twitter account that usually offers a steady flow of daily bid-supporting messages, was ominously absent for three days.

The IOC initially offered no comment on the issue, stating instead it’s usual filler:  “the IOC does not comment on the politics of sovereign countries.”

Besides the bold negative message that the new policy sent to the world, what is also at stake is the integrity of sport events already planned to be hosted in the United States because of the potential exclusion of qualified athletes due to their nationalities.

Later, according to a statement, USOC leaders Larry Probst and Scott Blackmun Monday said that they had been in touch with the “U.S. government” and were told that they would “work” to ensure that athletes and officials from all countries will have expedited access to the United States.

To that, the IOC responded in a statement that it welcomed the “pledge of cooperation” from the U.S. government.

The two top sport organizations patted each other on the back and looked to move forward while the Tweets began to flow once again from @LA2024.

But as LA 2024 Chair Casey Wasserman touted LA’s multiculturalism, (even to erroneously make the claim it is the most multicultural city in the world) at a “daybreaker” international campaign launch rally held at the LA Coliseum Thursday, has anything really changed?

Wasserman took the opportunity in front of a supportive California crowd to iterate IOC President Thomas Bach’s “unity in diversity” mantra, and though it may apply to the spirit of the bid – it will be a hard message for the world to swallow as they observe the divisive and exclusionary journey on which America has embarked.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti discusses LA 2024 Olympic bid in Rio (GamesBids Photo)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti discusses LA 2024 Olympic bid in Rio (GamesBids Photo)

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat and natural political opponent of Trump’s, spoke out against the executive order that targets refugees, and he said that LA will always be a place of safe refuge.  Will Trump, who on Saturday managed to turn a diplomatic call to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull into a lambasting of America’s staunch ally from down under, be the supportive partner of the bid he needs to be?

The messaging planned for LA’s international campaign may have to be tweaked a bit following this week’s events.

At the IOC, the Executive Board are watching closely, and nervously.

With Budapest on the same path that ended bids from Hamburg and Rome, and LA’s efficient and sustainable low-risk super-bid virtually in the hands of an unpredictable, no holds barred xenophobe – Paris could be the go-to bid.

But not so fast.

Paris may be sitting pretty now, but has some hurdles of its own.  Current political upheaval in France promises a radical shift when the Presidential election occurs April 23, wth a run-off possible for May 7 – just one week before the IOC Evaluation Commission is scheduled to visit the French Capital.  By then, the extreme right populist leader of the National Front may have taken control offering similar rhetoric and policies as Trump.

Paris 2024 tried to control the narrative though, this week introducing a new plan to embrace refugees through sport – and Taekwondo.

“…The initiative will help to use the sport to immerse refugees into the local community – offering them a positive means to socialize, learn about the local area and cultural values and stay healthy through physical exercise,” a bid press release highlighted as millions protested Trump’s refugee ban on streets around the world.

To fill the @LA2024 Twitter gap, it seemed @Paris2024 doubled its tweet ante with reinforcement for its refugee initiative as well as new plans to host the most sustainable Games ever.

Buckle up.  The race is wide open right now, and equally volatile.

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A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.

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