BidWeek: Bach’s Posturing On Double Olympic Bid Allocation Reveals Power Play

IOC President Thomas Bach in Lausanne June 9, 2017 (IOC Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach in Lausanne June 9, 2017 (IOC Photo)

BidWeek, Reporting From Toronto, Canada – IOC President Thomas Bach made a monumental announcement Friday, one that could forever be referred to as a pivotal point of the Olympic Movement – and a remarkable thing happened.

Nothing.

“The IOC Executive Board has today unanimously approved the recommendation of the Working Group to award the Olympic Games 2024 and 2028 at the same time,” Bach said at a press conference following an Executive Board meeting where the issue was discussed.

A double-allocation of the Summer Games has not occurred in a hundred years, and this one could happen at a moment in Olympic history where the concept of hosting an Olympic Games has become toxic, and is typically rejected by most capable Western democracies due to costs and risks that have burdened recent hosts.

But the announcement was not a surprise.  In fact, it was widely anticipated, and the absence of such announcement would have been far more astonishing.  And, though the Executive Board has approved the concept, the idea needs to be vetted and approved by the IOC membership at a newly called ‘extraordinary’ session to be held one month hence – beginning July 11 in Lausanne.  Expect approval to be rubber-stamped.

Why then, were there no celebrations or fireworks in Los Angeles or Paris – nothing, in fact, that is typical when a city learns it will be hosting the Olympic Games?  Both cities will likely be guaranteed of the fact that they will have the opportunity to host in either 2024 or 2028 (of course, exact year to be determined) – that is not a trivial result for either city, or nation.

For France – Paris bid, and was defeated in campaigns for the 1992, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.  The latest was a bitter loss to rival London after the French Capital had been odds-on favourite through the entire race only to be defeated by London with a narrow 54-50 margin.  It has been a long road for the City of Light since it last hosted the Games in 2024.

Paris skyline featuring the Eiffel Tower. The City of Light is set to welcome its third Olympic Games (GamesBids Photo)

For the United States, a third Games hosted by Los Angeles would also be a significant and hard-earned reward.  Since Atlanta hosted in 1996, the U.S has bid for Summer Games in New York in 2012 and Chicago in 2016 – both times soundly defeated by three other cities – for Chicago that amounted to a last place finish.  The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) officials sensed resentment of an unbalanced revenue sharing agreement with the IOC and a poor overall relationship with the members, leading to poor bid support.  Since then, the USOC has renegotiated the agreement and rebuilt its entire organization with a goal to host the Summer Games for the first time in the twenty-first century.

Friday’s announcement by Bach confirmed for the first time that the USOC strategy was a success.

So again, why no victory lap by the two cities who can be assured of hosting another Olympic Games?

That’s due to the other ‘nothing’ that happened.  Besides what we already knew, Bach told us nothing more about how the IOC plans to allocate the next two Games – and perhaps even less.  And that’s typical for a Bach press conference.

Announcing that the IOC wants to leverage the “Golden Opportunity” to sign up “two such great cities and such great countries” for the next two Games is easy, but building a plan that will allocate the sequence of those Games – i.e. which city gets to go first – that’s hard.  And we were given no indication of how the plan would proceed.  It’s possible the only reason the Executive Board spoke publicly last week about the double-allocation was that it needed to give members advance notice of at least thirty days to turn next month’s scheduled 2024 candidate city briefing into a full ‘extraordinary’ Session to vote on the proposal.

What Bach has planned for determining the sequencing of the Games was likely laid bare in the Executive Board meeting, yet to the press he deflected question-after-question from reporters asking for the mechanics of the plan.  Bach said details would be worked out only after the membership, needing only a simple majority, is expected to approve the plan in July.

Bach assured the press that the “working group,” the four IOC Vice President’s assigned to investigate the double-award and other bid reforms, were continuing their work on these details.  However, it’s impossible to imagine that the group – having already worked for a few months – have yet to arrive at other conclusions.

Bach’s posturing, and rhetoric coming from the two bids involved clearly show that there is a lot of activity already happening behind-the-scenes.

First, Paris 2024 Co-Chair Tony Estanguet has continually, and vehemently emphasized that only a 2024 Games is acceptable for his bid and that 2028 is not an option due to land unavailability for the Olympic Village the latter year.  But Bach said Friday “Both cities are open to being approached by the IOC after such a vote [for 2024 host city] and to discuss how to achieve a win-win-win situation.  This is what I am gathering from our conversations.”

Or is Bach just laying out the rules as he expects them to be down the road, ensuring that the optics show the IOC has selected the hosting order and not that it was maneuvered into doing so by the tactics of the bid cities?

Second, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has openly discussed his desire to be compensated for accepting 2028 instead of the desired 2024 edition of the Games.  He’s looking for a multi-million dollar package of funding for youth sports in the city to begin immediately.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks to the press in May, 2017 (GamesBids Photo)

But, in what was perhaps an opening salvo to a future negotiation with the Mayor, Bach rebuffed the notion of compensation explaining “The [2028] city would get the right to host the Olympic Games without risk of a defeat in an election procedure.”

He said that the 2028 host would be held in higher regard because of the challenges organizing the Games many more years out.

“You don’t need to reward somebody if you give them a present,” he added.

The Games as a gift to the host city?  Ouch!  Instead of a step forward, that sounds like a step back into the days before Agenda 2020, before the bids were to be a collaborative process.  And even before seven of the past 11 candidate cities dropped out of the race because they believed that gift to be a Trojan Horse.

Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland (GB Photo)

Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland (GamesBids Photo)

So the posturing by Bach has begun, and he clearly wants the upper-hand in laying the groundwork of his Presidential legacy from the final two Summer Games of his tenure.

And he’s doing it with the transparency of lead.

Bach illustrated his talent for creating answers that don’t really connect to the questions when he awkwardly elaborated on a German bird metaphor that is akin to the English “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”  He used it to describe why selecting a 2028 host now was worth angering other cities that had been developing plans to bid for those Games.

It was a great move, on his part, that had reporters spending time trying to understand the metaphor – and in some cases Tweeting about it – distracting them from the lack of real substance to his comments.

It seems all but certain that Paris will host in 2024 and Los Angeles will become the Games site in 2028, but celebrations in those cities remain on hold at the moment because there is still much work to be done and negotiations to be had.

Maybe Bach was foreshadowing when he wrapped up the press conference Friday that despite the lack of details that day, there will be lots to report soon.

He joked with the assembled media at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne “If you continue like this you can start renting an apartment here in Lausanne, no need to travel back-and-forth anymore.”

Indeed, that would give him closer control of the press, too.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-nominated journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil

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